Stories

Men of Honour Meeting. 9/6/2017

Almost 50 men signed the WWSOSA Pledge to speak up against sexual and gender based violence.

We have received positive reviews from the men who attended. My team members have gone on to say that this is the best network we’ve ever had in the 3 years we’ve been working together. The feeling we all have is that this was the most relevant and practical men’s meeting we’ve had. Since I’ve been placed to lead the ministry, the goal was to be as practical and basic as possible. I told the team 3 years ago that it makes no sense to me to preach up a storm unless our men walk out of the room with readily applicable principles to change their lives for the better. A lot of the men were absolutely shocked about how it is us as men who perpetuate the culture of rape/violence against women through the smallest acts we do not knowingly. That diagram you took us through was eye-opening. Right from the eldest man in the room to the youngest, everyone has gotten a huge wake-up call about what is actually going on in our society. We are so grateful.

The dialogue towards lasting change has definitely begun.

At our Father’s Day service, we had Cluster Commander Major-General B. Nxabela together with the Deputy Station Commander for the Umlazi SAPS come in to address the various interventions the police have towards combating the spread of violence. They have expressed a desire to work hand-in-hand with us in their efforts to influence men across our community. My team is meeting next week with one of our church psychologists to start plotting a way forward for us as men internally and then we will move to meet with our local SAPS branch from there.

News from South Africa Flag South Africa

Stories Of Change: South African Survivors of Sexual and Gender Based Violence Speak Out.

Survivors of sexual and gender-based violence are central to We Will Speak Out SA. A programme funded by Amplify Change  is documenting stories of Most Significant Change (MSC) of the survivors and survivor champions since joining support groups initiated by Tearfund SA.

In addition to this formal process, we would also like to share some individual stories documented by survivors and survivor Champions thus far in the process.

The final MSC report will be finalised by end June/early July.

Names in stories have been changed to protect the identities of survivors. Read the stories:

Ada’s story

After my mother died I went to stay with my uncle who is a police man. At 12 years old, I was in boarding school. My uncle took me from boarding school and treated me as his own daughter, and he was a father to me, we would always eat together. I trusted him, because he was my father. One day, during lunch time, I was eating and drinking Fanta and started feeling drowsy. I fell asleep and later woke up in hospital where I was given medicine. My uncle came to see me and told me that if I speak of what happened he will shoot me, he then showed me his gun.

I did not go back to school after that and I didn’t go back to live with my uncle. I fled to Burundi. There I found family – my sister’s friend took me to their home but couldn’t afford to send me to school. Only later I managed to go to school in Burundi and I had friends. I was influenced by friends to get a boyfriend who can pay for what I needed.

I started having problems at school. Male teachers tried to convince me to sleep with them in exchange to pass my grade. Because I refused they gave me low marks and I started to fail. I felt like I was losing. My boyfriend who was paying for my school fees at the time left me after hearing rumours about the teachers. He thought that I had slept with them.

One day, my sister phoned to tell me she was selling my mother’s house in Rwanda. I left to Rwanda and we shared the money from the sale. I was 18 years old by that time. I went back to Burundi where I met a friend of mine who was staying here in South Africa. During that time, the war in Burundi broke out. We planned and travelled from Burundi to South Africa together.

In South Africa I started to survive. I met my husband who is a Christian. He introduced me to his church and I became a born again Christian. I was Baptised and my life started to change. But I couldn’t feel love because I hated men. I had no feelings for men, they were only financial security for me.

At church one day, there was an announcement that they were looking for women who would like to talk about their challenges. I was curious. I met Solange (Tearfund) but had no idea why we were being called. We were given the day to meet and I will never forget it – 2013. We were 12 women and I was waiting to see what they were going to say. They spoke about rape. I was confused…how am I going to share my story?

We started to continue the group meetings and it was always about talking, every time. The day I finished talking, I felt like the heaviness I have carried in my heart was now empty. That night I couldn’t sleep and thought of what happened, worried that people will take it outside the group or even tell my husband. He didn’t know.

But the women I shared my story with kept the secret. The more meeting days came the more I changed. I became stronger and able to teach other new members. Having a group is teaching me how to recognise problems other women or friends may have and I can talk to them about it.

Through the group, I started to find a way to survive by myself. I work now, running my own business. My business is going well. Before this, I was unable to do anything because of self doubt.

Now I have taken the  responsibility of helping other women who have similar problems.

Ntombi’s story

There is nothing better than the opportunity to reflect on your own journey. It gives you the pleasure of seeing Gods work in your life and the grace that one takes for granted. I remember 4 years ago I was a bitter young lady who was angry with the world.  I had questions but sadly enough I had no one to ask. I was sexually abused on my way home from the library by a stranger. It was during my exams and after it happened I couldn’t concentrate so I decided to drop out.

I was given 6 sessions with the social worker but couldn’t finish them because to me it made no sense – going to someone who have a pile of work where I’m just one of many. I wanted someone who will at least understand my life. I joined Abanqobi, a support group which is under the Phephisa movement. When I joined, I thought it was one of those organisations who will just come and take your stories, but to my surprise they listened to me and did follow-ups.

We had healing sessions which helped me a lot, we shared and listened to other stories which I could relate to.  Having people who make time just to listen to you and encourage you is the best. The group motivated me so much and I went back and did my studies. I am now able to talk about my story without feeling angry or crying. The fact that I survived encouraged me to reach out to more survivors and encourage those who do not believe that there is life after such pain. Our hope as a group is to live in a community that doesn’t believe in one person’s power over another – but a community that is peaceful and is non-violent.

We meet the last Sunday of each month as a group, just to build our relationships with each other and do activities, which is mostly awareness. The workshops that TEARFUND and WE WILL SPEAK OUT has been providing us played a major role in my life and also to us as a group. We have learned more and applied what we have learned in our community.  I am convinced that where there is love and where women are empowered there is a way. Being with the ladies transformed my anger into empowerment. I am a powerful young lady. I hope that my efforts and my abilities will reach out to every survivor in this country.

Change lies in wisdom, wisdom lies in listening and listening is a tool.

I am a human made in God’s image, my purpose is to is to be available to serve others and my responsibility is to love.

Amara’s story

I am 28 years old and live in Umlazi and hold a diploma in travel and tourism. I was raped when I was 17 years old just a few days after Valentine’s Day by a boy who I thought was my friend. On my way back home from church he invited me to come and have lunch. It was a friendly lunch until he forced himself on me. I did not tell anyone about the incident, I went home took a shower and carried on with my daily duties. To this day I’ve never shared it with anyone from my family. Somehow I feel that they will judge me and see it as my fault. I feel safe and comfortable sharing it with other fellow survivors because they can understand how I feel.

Being a victim is very hard because you feel that it’s the end of the world and it changes your life a lot. You feel used and feel that you can never trust anyone, it changes the way of you think and how you carry yourself. Of course, to this day I’m not a fan of Valentine’s Day as it reminds of the days that followed my rape. Since joining Tearfund, I’ve recovered drastically because I’ve found myself after so many years. It has brought me so much healing and made me aware that rape is everywhere and not reporting your case is a big mistake. I’ve also learnt that sharing brings healing.

The things that I gave up on a few years ago, I now believe I can conquer, because the ladies have given me so much support and strength to go on. I’m currently studying a teaching degree – I have passion for kids. In the beginning, I wanted to be an air-hostess, because after the rape, I believed that flying away would heal all my wounds only to find that I was just chasing a destiny that is not mine.

Finally, I can say I’m in a better space and happy to work with kids and other women who have gone through the same pain. I’ve been a champion/survivor with Tearfund for four years and I have six other women that I lead in my group. Most of us have experienced rape. All the ladies in my group have diplomas and degrees that they have obtained after their healing sessions with our group. It motivated them to go back and study and finish what they started.

It is safe to say that not only uneducated and poor people get raped. We all do not matter our background. As a group, we support each other by being there for each other emotionally and physically. We are more like a family now than people who met in church. The meetings and activities that we engage in show that healing can improve your life.

Nandi’s story

When I was 16 on my way back from school I was invited by a friend to come and visit. We had been friends for over two years so visiting him was something that was normal to me. At the time, I would have never guessed that he would hurt me in any way. That Thursday which was a day after our last exam he forced himself on me.

After the incident, he acted as if everything is normal and our friendship to continue as normal. When I got home I felt so hurt and used. I took a bath and blamed myself for the whole thing because I felt that I might have led him on by being his friend. In our culture it is taboo to be friends with boys as a girl. Because of that, I decided not to tell anyone about the incident. The years that followed were the worst of my life. I believed that men just use women and throw us away. I never believed in love and I was very rebellious. I started drinking because it made me feel better. Until I fell pregnant with a child that had no father because once he heard that I was pregnant he moved away. After having my son my life seemed to change for the better because I had to be home for my child. So I decided to go back to church in order to ground myself that’s where I heard about a support group that is run by other ladies in the church. They shared about the group during a women’s conference in church. I joined the group and met other survivors that shared their stories and it made me comfortable to share my story.

Sharing my story really brought back a lot of pain that I didn’t realise that the rape had made my life what it was – a big mess. I was left with a child with no father and I hadn’t finished my studies. After a few healing sessions with the ladies my life has changed a lot. I finally got the courage to tell my family of the incident and my mother got to understand what had made me turn out the way I was. Now I have support from my family and my mother has offered me to go back to college to finish my diploma. With the support from the group I have found a new me and I’m much happier than before. I’m a born again Christian and a great mother to my son. So I can really say that being in a group is a good thing. I have new friends with the church and family in the ladies that we attend meetings with.

Miryam’s story

Before I came into the support group called “Silence no more” I had lost my baby. I was not thinking of anyone, not even my baby’s twin who was left behind. I fell into a deep depression and started losing my mind. I couldn’t control myself, it felt like the whole world came to a standstill. I was an angry person who would snap if anybody said anything to me even – if it was a compliment. I felt that no one understood me and I couldn’t tell anyone how I felt. Not until I met my group Champion (“Aunty B”).  She asked me to attend a group session that she held by the library. I didn’t know what to expect and when I got there it was a support group I felt I didn’t need any support but when Aunty B started sharing, she had such a sweet manner and tears filled my eyes. I was glad I came to the group. As everyone in the group also started sharing I started to feel comfortable and I opened up about everything. I spoke about the time the abuse started and how I lost my baby. I know my baby was murdered and it hurts but my baby’s daddy still didn’t not stop the abuse – physical and sexual abuse. It just made me more and more angry, but thank God, Aunty B kept encouraging me. Each week that I attended the group I started to feel much better. She then encouraged me to go back to school and that also made me look at life in a different way (a positive way).

Aunty B then got me involved in different kinds of community work which kept me busy. I started sharing and the more I spoke the better I felt. We then went for training by an organisation which works with rape survivors. After our training a new victim friendly centre was opened at the Mariannridge police station and that is where most of our ladies are now working after our training. I can finally see a brighter future thanks to the first day I went to the group and for all the support I got from the ladies, especially Aunty B. Together we are stronger. Helping each other every day is still a challenge but we are getting there.

Grace’s story

I suffered from depression and planned to run away. I was giving up and running, but my God had another plan for me. I met a lady from church who didn’t say much or even judge me, she just asked me to stay for a while. She introduced me to a women’s Bible study group (support group) and we grew close. I heard their stories which made me change my mind about running away. I have realised that my problem was small and I went back to my own community to start my own Bible study group with women who have been through similar problems as I have.

I thank God for this. It has pushed me to finish my studies because now I am able to speak out to my husband and tell him how I feel which makes me stronger. I now have my Master’s degree and I have rebuilt my relationship with my husband.

Mary’s story

My childhood home was a warm home. We were good hearted people who were welcoming to everyone with a problem or who didn’t have a place to stay. We would take people in as a brother or sister like real family members.

One day my mother wasn’t at home and left us children at home. She wasn’t worried as she knew there were older people to look after us. A man at home came to me and forced himself on me and raped me. I was a child. I was so confused and I didn’t know who to tell or what to do. As I was young, it was physically painful for me and I struggled to walk. When my mom came back she asked what has happened to me. She started crying because the man said if she reports him he will kill us – my mom and her family. My mother cleaned me and told me to have a rest. She went to confront the man again and chased him away from our home.

I am an older woman now. I joint the support group and realised more girls and women are experiencing rape every day and not speaking out because they fear being blamed or judged for it. I saw the importance of sharing and showing that even an old lady like me was raped. But it is important to speak out, report the incident and get help as soon as possible. For me, I took time to accept or report as it was back in the days where it was hard to speak about sex.

Lu’s story

Coming into a new relationship, I didn’t know I was bringing my hurt into the marriage, but my support group has helped me in a huge way. As a Champion, you speak to someone but then realise you are speaking to yourself as well and not only the group in your community. Most of all, the Champion group has played a huge role in helping me, the Champions may not realise this, but they have helped me rebuild my marriage and be open and loving to my husband – I was abused in previous relationships so when my husband tries to come close to me I would push him away. He would buy me things but I wouldn’t accept it because I will feel that he thinks he owns me. Even our sexual relationship was bad. By the time we have been married for 6 years he hasn’t seen my body because I was always told in the past how ugly I was.

I was so used to be beaten badly and even when the blood was dripping from beatings I had to still have sex (not ‘make love’). I am grateful for the support group, and mostly for the group of Champions.

Now, I have even taken a picture and sent it to my husband, he now has seen my body and our relationship is better. He even told me he was giving up but now he has his beautiful wife and he loves me. I really didn’t know love, because all my life I had to fight. I was abused, but now I can laugh.

Sarah’s story

I’m 21 years old, I live in Durban. I live with my mother my sister and my brother. My mother is a domestic worker and we survive only on her salary. When I was doing grade 11, I was not on good terms with my sister, she was jealous of me because I was slim and she was a plus size.

One day when my mother wasn’t at home and my brother was working night shift, my sister and my nephew came into my room. She made my nephew rape me in front of her while she was laughing – asking why can’t the beauty I always show off with fight for me. I was so hurt emotionally and physical mostly because I loved my sister. I couldn’t believe she had done such a horrible thing to me.

I woke up the following morning and went to school. It was a Tuesday. I couldn’t remember a single lesson at school as my mind was not at school. I decided not to tell anyone. I failed my grade 3 times and I decided to quit school.

In 2015, I joined the support group in Umlazi which was introduced by my friends. Initially I didn’t talk I would just come and sit and listen to other people sharing. Eventually I felt comfortable around these women and felt loved and supported by them. They encouraged me to go for counselling.  I am now doing my matric in IET and have realized that silence is very dangerous and can stop you living your life while the person who did the damage does not even care.

Siyanda’s story

I am a 23-year-old lady born and raised by a single mom in a township of Umlazi. I matriculated in 2012 and I was very passionate about travelling and exploring nature. My mother is a hard worker, a good hearted strong woman. She was my role model growing up. I’m the eldest daughter of her 3 children.

In 2013, my mother had a fight with her sister (my aunt). My aunt, out of anger, told my mom to tell me where I came from and why I don’t have a father.

I was very confused because my mom told me my father passed away while she was pregnant. That evening, my mother called me and told me who my father was. She said that he had raped her and as result, she fell pregnant with me. I have never felt so betrayed and upset in my life. I ran away from home and stayed with my friends for a week. I could not understand how a woman I love so much can lie to me and I was upset that I’m a product of rape.

Eventually I went back home but nothing was the same again. One morning I woke up and decided to go see my “father”. I was not sure what I wanted to hear from him but I just wanted to confront him.

When I confronted him, he said that he was sorry for what he did to my mom and he’s been trying all his life to be a father to me but my mom has been blocking him. This was more confusing to me and complicated things even more for me. In church I heard about the support group, so I went and shared my story. We then started counselling with my mom and we are still finding a way to normalise the situation. I enjoy the time we share as a group and the activities we do together. My mother has forgiven my father. I pray to God that one day I can be able to see him as a father and not as a rapist.

Survivors new to support groups.

The two survivors below are new to support groups and will keep documenting their experience of the group and process of change over the next months. They are in the beginning stages of their healing and finding their voices in the groups they belong to.

Sophia’s story

In 2015, November 18, I was at a bar and had an argument with a local man. He slapped me. I got angry and wanted to phone the police. Another (local) man insisted that I lay charges. He offered to accompany me to the police. There was sugar cane and forest-like vegetation on the way. I knew this man, he is my neighbour. In the middle of the road he refused to take me home and said we were going to have sex in the sugar cane. I realised that he was serious when he pointed a knife at me. I tried to run away but he tripped me, beat and kicked me. He removed my clothes and raped me twice. Afterwards, he told me: “Do you know that I can dig your eyes out so that there will be no proof?”

He forced me to stand and dress myself. He then accompanied me home to make sure that I don’t go to the police station. On the way home, he asked me if I was going to press charges against him and I said no. He told me to tell my family that it was the man I had an argument with at the bar who did this to me. At home, I knocked on the door and my mother opened. He told my mother that the man I had an argument with at the bar had done this to me. As soon as he left, I told my mother the truth.

The next morning, I took the clothes I wore and phoned the police. They took me to the police station for a statement. They also took me to the hospital. At hospital, I was checked and cleaned. The police started to look for my rapist, and found him. He was arrested, taken to the police station and detained for 8 months. By that time, I was working at a convenience store and was always short in my till. I was unable to focus and couldn’t cope. I ended up getting dismissed at work.

The investigator brought me the dates of the case, I attended 3 days consecutively. On the first day, everyone felt sick in the courtroom. He was found to have 8 previous convictions but have always managed to win the cases.

When he testified, I was always taken outside, but when I testified, he was always in the courtroom.

On the 3rd day, the court called the man I had the argument with as a witness. Later I heard that my rapist was free, but there was evidence to support my case. I heard that he won the case. It is bitter that I still see him. I don’t know what he thinks about me – to this day he even greets me.

I received a call from Kwazulu Regional Christian Council (KRCC). We met at KRCC offices and I spoke to them about the incident, there were other survivors of rape and they also spoke – we all spoke. Solange (Tearfund), asked me to bring the case number.

I am still angry and I still want to appeal because I cannot stand watching him walk free. Since the case was finalised I have not been able to get into contact with the investigating officer. He is always out of the office.

What I wish is for the support group to help me to appeal because I cannot do it on my own and the man who raped me is a gangster. On the first day of the support group I found some healing in the fact that there are so many other women who survivor the same and worse.

Throughout my ordeal, I only received counseling once.

Lethabo’s story

I was 14 years old, on my way to church in the evening far away from home. It was my brother’s birthday. We passed by a shop, boys were shouting at us telling us to stop. They then started chasing us and we ran in different directions. One of the boys carried a golf club and he forced me to love him – he claimed that I was his girlfriend. He forced me to go to his place. He beat me with the golf club and took me into an empty room. He pushed me to his bed and took off his clothes. He gagged me with a towel and raped me.

Later on, women came looking for me. He escaped through the window. In the door, I saw people including my sister. They took me to a house. From there I went to my mother and she accompanied me to the clinic and the police station. I was examined and given medication.

I haven’t received any counselling. I have tried to kill myself with contraceptive pills. My neighbour’s sister was laughing at me, asking me: “how does it feel”.

We attended my case in January. He was arrested and I went to court to testify. The investigator told my sister that if she agrees to have sex with him (the investigator) I will win the case. She refused and the case disappeared.

In 2009 we heard that the investigating officer was discharged from service. He used to propose to me and tried giving me his money but I did not give in to his demands. I was scared to go to school because there was a man who looked just like him always standing outside the school with sunglasses.

In 2013 I met my boyfriend and we had a baby together. He cheated on me while I was pregnant, and made another woman pregnant who used to threaten me. There was no support at home which is why I found myself dependent on this relationship. I nearly had a miscarriage.

Later on, I used to be absent at school because I had no one to look after my baby. A friend connected me with a woman who then introduced me to a Champion in Durban and also to Solange (Tearfund).

I started to trust again and had people to talk to. My life was changing.

My baby boy is 3 years old now. But I’m still angry.

The investigating officer was found shot dead in a ditch.

 

 

News from South Africa Flag South Africa

Equipped for Research

Written by Siyabulela Tonono, Published in New Dimension newsletter

From the 24-25th April, the Justice and Service desk of the Methodist Church Mission Unit hosted a two day training workshop on gender-based violence at the MCO boardroom. The aim of the workshop was to train research field workers that will be administering surveys in various parts of the Gauteng province, as part of the Amplify Change project that the Methodist Church is an implementing partner of.

Through funding from Amplify Change, the MCSA is part of an initiative that is aimed at creating a movement across faith communities and civil society, including survivors of Sexual and Gender Based Violence, that will work together to prevent and end the pain of Sexual Gender Based Violence nationally and specifically in communities across 4 provinces of South Africa. The project has been rolled out in two provinces already, Kwa Zulu Natal and the Western Cape, and is currently being rolled out Gauteng.

The project is a partnership between Tearfund, Sonke Gender Justice, CABSA, Zoe-Life and the MCSA. The aims of the intervention are to

  • Build a Sexual and Gender Based Violence Survivor Movement in South Africa
  • Support the development of We Will Speak Out South Africa coalition in its vision of ending SGBV
  • Work with faith communities to create safe spaces for SGBV survivors
  • Activate men and boys to spearhead ending of SGBV

In the Gauteng province, the role of the MCSA has been that of identifying communities and congregations that have been actively involved in the field of sexual and gender-based violence.  The plan for the research arm of the project is to conduct research on the knowledge, attitudes and beliefs and practices of faith communities  on SGBV. The research will be conducted in the communities of KwaThema, in Springs, Kya Sands informal settlement north of Randburg and Alberton.

The research fieldworkers that were part of the training come from these communities and work in as community activists within their communities. The purpose of the training was to better equip them with the technical skills that will be necessary to conduct research in the communities. Upon conclusion of the research, the findings will be fed back into the community and serve as way for the community to look at the issues that the research highlights.

The fieldworkers will commence their work in May and should complete the data collection by the end of the month.

(For more information on the project contact the Justice and Service desk on 011 615 1616 or email Siyabulela@mco.org.za)

News from South Africa Flag South Africa

Support Groups – Stories of Freedom and Growth.

It is June in Durban, the city of perpetual summer. A diverse group of people come together to explore the role of grass roots advocacy in bringing social change. A very important part of this group are representatives from sexual violence support groups. I have the opportunity to get to know a few of these women better.

Six women. So very different; Adolescent to grandmother; doctorate student and women who are nearly illiterate; South Africans and refugees.

Initially their lives and their stories seem very different, but soon it becomes clear that there is much that unifies them.

Hope*

Hope* is nearly forty, busy with her PhD in Gender Studies. She heard about the support group at a Women’s Bible Study.

‘I always said I am fine,’ she says, ‘I didn’t feel comfortable to speak about my personal life. You have a secret life that you hide and that no one sees.’ She said that no-one knew that she had been raped, not even her husband.  She feared ‘being caught in the negative. She says that she knows what her husband’s views are about those that have been raped. Like so many others in her community, he would say:

  • ‘It is your fault
  • You have demons
  • It is your fault
  • You were not respectable
  • IT IS YOUR FAULT’

Hope* shared this feeling before she joined the support group. She said that it is easy to feel this way if this is the message that your community constantly conveys, and if you fear that speaking out may ‘cause you to stand alone.’

This changes, she said, ‘the moment someone accepts you.’ She explains how easy the welcoming and accepting nature of the 10 members of the survivor group made her feel: ‘I was not even ashamed to tell the details. It was as if I had power.” This power grew as she could release the pain and memories in her heart, to the extent that she now runs her own support group.

Hope* feels that the church has a powerful role to play in supporting people who have been victims of sexual and gender-based violence. Her pastor supported her; he invited all the women to stay behind after a church service and allowed her an opportunity to speak about her plans to start the group: ‘I explained about sexual violence and about the value of support group, and of the 30 ladies, 15 stayed and started the group. We share our stories and our social life. We become friends and share all our needs. We look at how we can improve our lives and find activities that keep us connected. We even started a “stokvel” (community savings club) with business development in mind.’

Her feelings about the church and the role of the church in sexual and gender-based violence are not only positive, though: ‘Most of the women in our church are beaten by their husbands, even in church. Not one of the group has disclosed to her husband. People cry, they cry!’

Hope* verbalises a number of the reasons why she thinks people are not willing to speak about their experiences at church. ‘We think Church is holy and we cannot associate with this GBV, but it is happening! If you go to the church and say your husband beats you, the pastor will say it is just a misunderstanding, you will be asked to pray more or submit more. We know violence is a sin, so no one in the church does that! They support those who are abused outside, but do not accept that it is in here. They think that men who abuse their wives are out there and need to be saved.’

She also has clear ideas about what should change for churches to play a meaningful role in addressing gender violence:

  • Speak directly, have a sermon or activity
  • Have a special sermon, name rape and violence specifically in sermon
  • We Will Speak Out SA can assist to give pastors resources, as they do not know how to start.

She says it is a power and joy to share with the survivor group what she has learned and received. She has also changed her view on rape: ‘Now I see rape as a crime and people who are raped as being forced to keep silence because of shame.’

Hope* says she has come a long way, even though she is still not able to share with her husband that she has been raped.

‘I am a survivor’, she says, ‘because I accept my story and want to make sure that I help others.’

Sindisiwe

Sindisiwe is 27, HIV positive and the mother of two. She left school in grade 9 at the age of 15, when she fell pregnant.

She shares that she came from a poor home with little support and that she made poor choices.

She was scared to disclose her HIV status – even with partners – and continued to have sex without condoms.

Two things changed her life.

‘I was so scared to tell my boyfriend (about my HIV status), I thought he would reject me,’ she said, ‘But then he told me that he was positive! I decided why would we leave each other – he was honest and we can rather walk together.”

And then a friend introduced her to the support group and to the work of WWSOSA.

She explains the challenges of her community:  ‘There is a high rate of rape, even grannies and men, children. I decided I have to speak: Some of us committing suicide; Some of us protecting boyfriends. We must stop this!’

‘The first thing that made me speak – my daughter was raped when she was two by her uncle. The community said the we should keep this under our shoes (keep this within the family, secret).’

This traumatic event triggered an older memory: “I was 12 or 13, my best friend was having a party, it was night. Her uncle came and told me granny called me. He walked with me to the gates, it was far, and he started to touch me and tried to force things. I ran away and told his mother. I was nearly raped at that time. I thought I was healed, but one day I met him and all the pain came back. When I asked him why (he did this), he said it was because I was the most beautiful. He tried to make me the guilty one, but once I could talk about it, it brought healing.’

Sindiswe says her involvement in the support group helped her deal with both these traumas; ‘We call our group “Phepisa”. It means “We have wounds; we are trying to heal that wound.” The support group make me grow and grow and grow. (It) Give me a mind that says…I can do this, I can do this, I can do this.”

I asked her what helped her to heal:

  • ‘To see young people come to the group and hearing that others have bigger problems than I, this makes the wound come smaller and smaller
  • Start to talk to others about your story
  • We can walk this way and heal as we walk and talk
  • And then you can see that you can change
  • I was committing suicide three times because I thought my mother hated me, through the ‘We Will Speak Out’ my mother and I connected again and she told me: “I did not hate you, I tried to keep you under my wings.”
  • I want youngsters to know what they can do with their life – Some of us go to clubs and they drink and they don’t know what they do.’

Sindiswe is very ambivalent about the role of the church in gender based violence: ‘It makes you feeling better… when you are singing, then you feel better, but when you go back the anger comes back. The pastor and priest only preach and sing and ask money, but they don’t recognise people with problems. I am going with hope and hoping things change, take my sins to God, but others come for gossiping, speaking about what you are wearing etc. In church you come to put all your heavy things down that you cannot talk about – but there is no thing that goes if you do not talk.’

She is not ambivalent about her involvement in the support group, though: ‘I go there with the hope that my problem will still get smaller and smaller. The people there, I feel “You are my sister, you are my brother.” I am excited to see them.  You know that today you will meet your sister, your brother, your mother.’

She speaks often about how much she has grown and how the role of the support group has helped her to start to dream again. She says that her dream is to be a good example in her community.

‘Sometimes we keep quiet. I would like my community’s HIV rates go down and (to) talk with the young people to stop this.”

Clare and Yvette

Clare*(38) and Yvette(28) are both refugees. They prefer to see me together, and talk in tandem, interrupting each other and struggling to communicate in English.

Clare* and Yvette also emphasises the feeling of freedom their participation in the support group has brought. Clare* said: ‘At the group I listened to others and that motivated me to talk. Now I can go to other groups and be free to tell them my story.’ And Yvette echoed: ‘You feel free. For me, now, I am not shy to talk, I can talk everywhere. In the group there are women like me.’

They again emphasise the negative community messages about people who have been sexually abused or raped: ‘We were shy because if you tell your story, in our culture if they know something like that happened, they say it is because you wanted it. It will be hard for you to get a fiancé. They don’t give you respect.’

They emphasise the emotional and physical support of their support group, but also mention that it is not possible for all women to be part of such a process:

  • We meet, if someone has a problem we go and visit her, comfort, talk and council – we support each other
  • Maybe some get tired, she is a single mother without job or her husband stops her
  • When we speak we get healed, but some people feel they need more, they maybe need something for food
  • We invite someone and tell them how it works
  • We have a shared background, hear story first and know what to advice
  • We help with understanding the steps of protection order
  • Tell them to be patient and love yourself
  • You can talk to teenager and help them understand- I advise her that a daughter must be a friend to her mother and tell her.

Although they are very clear about the benefits of the support group, they also seem to be frustrated at times by their inability to provide more assistance.

Jean*

Jean* is also in her 40s, and a refugee.

She shares the fear of sharing about her rape: ‘I can tell my mother everything, but not when I am abused.’ She feels that although there is the possibility to get help at home, it may not practically be possible: ‘So you have to stay quiet.’ She also speaks of the need for women to protect their children: ‘Better me I can suffer to keep my children be good.’

She heard about the support group, and said: “It was first time to hear that you can share the story of being raped.” The group she joined is called ‘healing heart’. This motivated her: ‘I was having a lot of pain in my heart and I wanted to join them so that I can heal my heart.’

She feels that it was easier to join the group in South Africa, and that it would have been more difficult in her home country. She also has an interesting perspective on cultural differences when dealing with gender-based violence: ‘For the Zulu people it is easier, they feel no shame.’

She emphasises the relationships in the support group, as well as the practical help and support: ‘I learn something new when I go to the group – LOVE. If you can’t love someone you can’t tell them what you feel in your heart. You develop trust in the group. We are carrying the burden – it help if someone had the same experience. We helping each other when someone is sick or if they lose a partners, we have “stokvel” (savings club) to help.’ She also mentioned that they meet with other groups from time to time.

She describes many changes after joining the support group. Even right at the beginning of her involvement she notes: ‘The first time I spoke about my story it feels as if there is a release in my heart. As if something is changing.’ Later on she says: ‘It make me change to be open – I can speak whatever I want in the group and that gives me courage to speak outside.’

After the many years of secrecy, this was however clearly not just an instant change. Jean* said: ‘From 12 years to 25 years I walked with this secret. It does not go straight, slowly slowly, the more I get to other people the more I changed. Before I used to think about what happened all the time and cried, it felt as if I was carrying a mountain, but now I feel free.’

Once again, there are also still many challenges. I asked Jean* what makes her a survivor. Her answer was clear: ‘I am a victim if something happens, I am a survivor when I start making decisions.’ However, she also told me about her sister having marital problems. I asked her what advice she gave her sister. In spite of verbalising the importance of making decisions, her response was: ‘You have to respect your husband, do everything he wants and pray.’

Thandi

Thandi is 55 year old.

I asked her how she became involved in the support group: ‘The daughter of my sister was raped three times. She is a slow learner and does not understand what happened to her, I feel so sore in my heart, so sorry. Some ladies from UKZNCC asked us about our churches and if there is someplace we can speak. We tried to talk at the church, but the pastor didn’t like you to talk about rape and domestic violence, the only want to speak about the Bible. The ladies told us about We Will Speak Out. Tearfund and WWSO taught us that this is in the Bible!’

She said that she was very surprised that there were examples of gender-based violence in the Bible.

She was invited to join a support group and said that the trust in the group enabled her to talk: ‘I feel free, because they open their hearts to us, they talk to us about what happened. We cry, we laugh, we work together and then we become friends.’

But the experience of abuse was not only that of a family member. Hearing about the stories of others, and being supported when she spoke about the rape of her niece, she also got the courage to face her own past: ‘I was working for a man who raped me. I did not say anything. When you are talking about rape, people think you were making that man to rape. That about rape, it made me not thinking straight, I decided to leave my job because I felt I was abused. That took my chances away. But if I talk about rape in the group, we know it is the same, we are in the same place. After 30 years I feel free.’

This feeling of freedom has had profound effects for Thandi. She feels empowered: ‘I talk to my family know, I know what to say.’ She still has many regrets, and feels that her confusion and stress after the rape had an effect on the rest of her life and limited her development: ‘Every time I am passing that place I think “What if you did not get raped? Sometimes I think I would have been somebody else.” Even this is being addressed by her experience: ‘Maybe I am getting something back, something from the Ma Thandi I would have been if I was not raped.’

Her experience is also encouraging her to empower others: ‘In the beginning I brought my niece and spoke on her behalf, but I learnt that she should speak for herself.’

Thandi also views herself as a survivor and not a victim: ‘We Will Speak Out and Tearfund helps me to be a survivor. We must not stay as victims; we must move forward.  We are not crying now, we are talking about things going forwards.

Conclusion

Six women – very different, and very much the same. They share the pain and shame of sexual and gender based violence, but they also share the joy and strength of moving from victims to survivors, of finding their voices, of growing and developing.

It is clear from these few stories that the support groups brought the opportunity for these women to release the burden of secrecy they have been carrying with them and to grow and develop their voice.

*Pseudonymns were used

News from South Africa Flag South Africa

FCO Human Rights Minister Baroness Anelay’s message on ending SGBV.

FCO Human Rights Minister Baroness Anelay speaks about the urgency of ending violence against women and the importance of the start of 16 days of activism campaign on 25 November 2015. We thank her for mentioning the work of our coalition in her speech and FCO’s continuous support for the work with faith leaders and communities to end SGBV.

News from United Kingdom Flag United Kingdom

Read the Faith Leaders’ Declaration on Domestic Abuse – Restored Update

Pledging to Be Part of the Solution

On 15 July 2015, faith leaders from across the UK gathered at the House of Lords to speak out against domestic abuse. It was the first time that different faith leaders have stood together to acknowledge the problem of domestic abuse within their own faith communities, and to pledge to do something about it.

The first step: a nationwide Faith Leaders’ Declaration on Domestic Abuse endorsed by dozens of prominent UK faith leaders. Above all, the Declaration affirms that domestic abuse is irreconcilable with the teachings of our faiths. It commits faith leaders to addressing domestic abuse and promoting positive action. It also provides a practical definition for identifying domestic abuse in all its forms.

Hosted by Lord McColl of Dulwich and organised by Restored and FaithAction, the July 15th interfaith reception was an incredible opportunity for faith leaders to recognise our unique opportunities for challenging harmful beliefs and seeking an end to domestic abuse in our faith communities. The event featured speeches from Baroness Scotland (former Attorney General), Shahin Ashraf (Muslim Women’s Network UK), and Alastair Redfern (Bishop of Derby). Following the reception, we hope that faith leaders will endorse, circulate, and use the Declaration within their own faith communities.

For the next step of this initiative, Restored is looking for personal stories about how different people and faiths are working to end domestic abuse in the UK. On the 25th of November, we plan to publish these stories and show how effective a faith-based response can be in ending domestic abuse.

If you have any stories on how faith groups are working to end domestic abuse in your community, please send them to peter.grant@restoredrelationships.org.

 

Read the Faith Leaders’ Declaration on Domestic Abuse

 

Endorsements

‘Why is this declaration important? Because in all faiths in Britain right now, domestic abuse is being committed unseen and unreported. What this declaration says to perpetrators of domestic violence is that we, as faith leaders, will not tolerate it, nor remain silent about it, but, recognising the unique and positive opportunities we have within our faith communities, will challenge abusive patterns of behaviour, whether physical, sexual, psychological or spiritual, that have become too common within our faiths and wider society.’

– Peter Grant, co-director of Restored 

‘There are a number of misconceptions regarding domestic abuse and religion in our society. It is the duty of religious teachers to provide clarity and guidance on this issue as well as repel any incorrect beliefs and perceptions people may have about this growing problem.’

– Abdullah Hasan, Chief Imam at Holborn Mosque

‘Domestic abuse affects men and women of all faiths and backgrounds, and its impact can be felt across the generations. An estimated 1.4m women and 700,000 men were victims of abuse last year according to the ONS. There is much that faith institutions can do to challenge such behaviour and break that cycle of abuse. This declaration is a good first step in acknowledging that the problem exists and that all people of faith have an active role to play in changing society for the better.’

– Jasvir Singh, Chair of City Sikhs

‘Violence against women is a human problem, not a specifically religious one. But faith leaders have the potential to be part of the problem or part of the solution. In signing this charter we are pledging to be part of the solution.’

– Andrew Watson, Bishop of Guildford

Read the Restored press release: link

News from United Kingdom Flag United Kingdom

“Set aside the weapon of war, say faiths”

Read the Church Times coverage on the inter faith event 2015.

“The consultation, in Lancaster House, under the auspices of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, followed the summit last summer (News, 13 June 2014), and brought together its two prime movers, Ms Jolie-Pitt and the former Foreign Secretary William Hague, who is now the Prime Minister’s special representative on preventing sexual violence in conflict.”

Read more…

Posted in Stories.

The silence is broken…

A movement of survivors of sexual violence in KwaZulu Natal, South Africa, was launched on the 22nd of November 2013. 12 months on, the movement has grown in number, confidence, hope and purpose.

To date Tearfund has been accompanying over a 100 survivors in this province. The numbers continue to grow as women and girls find safe spaces and speak out, inspiring one another.

Click here to listen to their voices, their experiences and their hopes as they journey forward together.

 

Posted in Stories.

Using Performing Arts to End Violence against Women in Papua New Guinea

Article on UN Women website
February 3, 2012

Posted in News, Stories.

The stigma of rape – Christian Today

By  Charlene Winkel
January 30, 2012

 

News from We Will Speak Out US Flag We Will Speak Out US, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) Flag Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)
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