Journalists are not immune

In Lesotho, violence against women is widespread. However much of it goes unreported. Although there are many reasons for not reporting, in many instances women are intimidated by the support services (police and medical personnel) or threatened into silence.

My intimate male partner physically assaulted me. Unfortunately, that is not a rarity. According to the World Health Organisation, one in four women around the world, experience violence during their lifetime.

It all began on 31 December 2004 when my husband dragged and assaulted me, the first of what came to be a tradition of beatings.

I carried this burden and secret silently for two years, praying for relief. I never spoke about what happened to me because I was ashamed to do so.

I had no idea things would never change until July 11th 2005. My husband hit me again, and this time harder and worse than before. I made up my mind. I pressed charges, moved out of the house and we have since separated.

I used to wonder why some women stayed with men who beat them. It all became clear when it happened to me. I thought it would not happen again because that is what he promised me. I should not have believed him. If he laid his hand on me once, he would definitely do it again.

My marriage was a struggle of its own kind, unique in some respects but not distinctively different from the stories I had been reporting. I struggled to make ends meet but this man never appreciated my efforts.
<BR> All he did was to drink more alcohol and abandon his responsibilities as a husband and a father. He spent all his weekends away from home and would come home in the wee hours of the morning drunk and shouting with the boys, waking up the neighbourhood.

The next morning, with him still wrapped up in his sleep, I would leave for work without a goodbye. I missed my husband terribly even though we lived under one roof.

I convinced myself that things would get better. I remember telling him that it’s the things he does that bother me and not the fact that he was not working, life is all about sharing isn’t it, especially when you love someone?

His friends always asked me to give him a little more time arguing that he would eventually get a job and grow up to be a man, a husband and father. They claimed his behaviour was a result of an inferiority complex many men go through when they are not working and their partners are providing for them.

Meanwhile my friends thought I was a hero and brave for being a sole breadwinner supporting my husband and his family. I was pretending to be strong but breaking apart and dying inside.

I desperately wanted to live happily ever after and to prove I had everything under control; I could not admit I had a problem and needed help. I fooled myself, so it seemed.

I always wondered how long I had to wait for my man to come around. What if he never gets a job all his life, could this be what I had vowed, through sickness and health, till death do us part while the slow death was happening inside and we were already apart?

I had a choice to stop the cycle of abuse, a privilege some women in my position and state do not have. I was empowered, and fully aware of my rights as a woman, a person and a citizen. As a journalist, I knew all the steps I could take to report domestic violence. I could advise survivors of domestic and other forms of violence on my shows, but I distanced myself from this practice and suffered in silence.

One day I decided to share my story with my editor and she told me she was going through worse.

I knew of a number of my colleagues who were also survivors of violence but as empowered as we were, often encouraging others to open up and report abuse, it did not make us less vulnerable.

A very close friend of mine, a television presenter, could not read news one time because her boyfriend, who was a boxing champion, had given her some of his famous TKO blows.

Many times, women have no economic recourse, have nowhere to go and feel they are in a state of helplessness. They lack the physical and emotional strength to get up and go, make that most important call or take that walk and seek help.

My colleagues in silence and I have a buffet of choices to stop the cycle of violence; reporting it, opening up and talking about it as well as choosing to get out of it. We are survivors but we perpetuate the culture of silence nevertheless. We know what many forms gender-based violence takes, and are aware of the support systems available in our countries.

We know that most incidents of gender-based violence remain unreported for reasons including shame, social stigma, and fear of reprisals. This despite and the fact that violence is the 10th leading cause of death for women aged 15-44 years.

I think we need to address our own prejudices and baggage first in order to effectively make a difference and fulfil our role in publicising gender-based violence. I personally value the important role that we, as journalists, play in publicising gender-based violence, which is critical for raising public awareness and political accountability. We cannot fulfil this role adequately however if we do not count ourselves in the statistics we normally report on.

I have some regrets today that I should not have waited until the water ran dry, but I gained wisdom and self-appreciation. To other women I want to say – don’t tolerate abuse in any form, not once; not ever!

l Teboho Senthebane is a freelance journalist.

December 2006
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