Knowledge is power the notion goes. Who ever dreamt that a rural based 65 year old woman can change the narrative of an abusive marriage? Her forty-eight years in marriage has less happy memories but rather a lot of scars to show, wounds to nurse and experiences to share. It is only in 2019 that her life took a dramatic twist from being a ‘prisoner of marriage’ to an independent empowered woman.
Getrude Matyeka (65) of Mutamangira Village Ward 11 in Mutasa is among many women with stories to tell when it comes to Sexual and Gender Based Violence experiences. She had been married for the past forty-eight years to an abusive husband and they were blessed with one child.
Four years later, after failing to bear more children, the husband Mr. Chikuni married a second wife. Everything changed. She became a victim of physical abuse. At one point she had a knee fracture which was attended to by a local Doctor – Dr Sadziwa.
Getrude was neglected and she could only find solace from her child. She would face all sorts of abuse and even relatives could not assist her.
“After my husband married the second wife, things were never the same again. He started to neglect me and I would work for my child. Emotionally I was hurt. He would call me names in front of neighbors such that I lost all my self-esteem and I could hardly participate or associate with people in my locality. I was a living scorn in our village. Things got worse and he started to be violent. I shared my situation with his relatives but still I did not get any protection or support from them,” said Gertrude.
Gertrude could not bear it anymore and she opted to leave her matrimonial home. After sharing her opinion with other women and her own relatives to leave, Gertrude was told to endure and protect her marriage.
“Murume haasiiwi, shingirira imba yako, ndozvinoita dzimba. Gara uchengete mwana wako unoda kutinyadzisa pachiwanhu chedu kuti wakasiya imba,” (You cannot abandon your husband, be strong and fight for your marriage- marriage is not that easy to handle. Remain in marriage and take care of your child. Do not humiliate us that you left your husband, it is unheard of in our culture), said her aunt.
Getrude became even more isolated. Her own family members could not support her as well. All she could resort to was to toil in the fields all year round working for her child. The abuse continued. It became worse when her child went to stay with a relative. She was all by herself.
Isolation and loneliness led to Getrude joining Diocese of Mutare Community Care Programme (DOMCCP’s) SASA! Faith project. She joined as a community activist and became very pro-active. She was equipped with knowledge on SGBV and women’s rights.
It was during that period she recognized that she was a victim of SGBV. Getrude politely engaged her husband to reform something he did not tolerate.
“I am the head of this family and you cannot tell me what to do. You are under my authority and I will do whatever I want with you,” Getrude recounted his response.
Knowing all the referral pathways after being educated on women’s rights by DOMCCP, Getrude boldly told his husband that she would report him if he continues with his abusive behavior.
“I told him that he had been abusing me all along and now I know my rights. That night he physically assaulted me and I had to forcefully escape his wrath. Drenched in blood after the assault I went on to report my case at Mutasa police station. That night I slept at the village head’s homestead,” she said.
DOMCCP facilitated her access to justice by providing resources for her to attend the court proceeding. She was also assisted with preparing her case and the necessary knowledge to validate her case in the courts.
The case was presented before the courts and there after she was protected by the law after acquiring a protection order.
“I am now living happily, freely and independently at my home without fear. It is hard to believe that I am now free from my abusive husband. Women must first know their rights so that they understand issues of abuse. For the past forty-eight years I was silenced by culture, beliefs and ignorance. Now that I am an empowered woman, I will stand for what is right and I deserve to be respected as a woman,” said Getrude.
Getrude is now living independently at their homestead with a protection order. She is now safe from the physical and emotional abuse she earlier faced. Currently, she is building her own house which is almost complete.