Once upon every time, there are hushed voices, burdened hearts, and unfairly condemned souls that all have no desire to feel joy or live on.
They convinced her that: “the shadow of a man is better than the shadow of a wall” and that “having a man is a mercy even if he were blackened as a coal”. Between searching for mercy and obtaining coal, many women died physically and were charred in spirit. The “walls” of injustice, oppression, need and pain sighed over her head, and above her the “walls” of society’s rulings and its harshest view, because she voluntarily or forcibly chose its dark shadow, not knowing that she announced her journey of withering and prepared by her choice the coffin of her slow death with her own hands.
Many of them believed the legend of “a man from threads is better than asking the neighbors for help”; thus, falling into a net woven from the same gleaming thread where they remained imprisoned in it until burial, and all their stories, secrets, and tears that cinder the heart and soul were buried with them. The bottom line was not “asking the neighbors for help”.
What we are about to unravel is beyond the ordinary, despite the fact that the torments and anguish in the tales to follow have actually come to pass, and are happening still, unfortunately. Nevertheless, their exceptionalism lies in the outspokenness and path-making of the victim-turned-heroines protagonists.
Before delving into the depths of their events and accompanying emotions that dig within readers and tellers alike, I’d like to stop for a moment of pride for the heroines (Sara, Naya, Zahra, Rima, and many others) to thank them for lovingly accepting to do the interviews, to bravely share their experiences, for being keen on sharing the keys of their success with every other female who still is undergoing her experience, till it sees the light. Before anything else, I’d like to thank them for the inspiration they provide with their patience and will to live, creating a lifeboat out of death.
It must be noted that:
- We have chosen surreal names for our heroines out of respect to their privacy and experiences.
- The stories contain violence and may evoke similar situations in the memory of the reader. Mentioning them is for the purpose of clarification, awareness, and understanding. Please, take into account that they are not read to those who are under the legal age.
Survivors’ Stories (1): The story of Sarah, 35,
“Don’t let the man slip off of your hand, you are young and don’t know your interest.”
I got married when I was 16 years old, it was a forced marriage, because my family believed that he had all the qualities that any girl would want, they also convinced me that I was young and did not know my interest. But I didn’t know it was the beginning of the disaster. After a very short period of our marriage, I experienced all kinds of violence with him, verbal violence of insults and abuse, belittling me, and breaking all the promises he made to me before marriage, such as completing my studies or visiting my friends and living my normal life like any girl of this age. Not to mention the physical violence, as he used to beat me severely, which usually ends in fainting or hospitalization. This misery completed with the intervention of my “family in law ” to make the tomb of my daily death narrower and darker. Can you imagine what it means to turn brutality into a daily routine and lifestyle?
Divorce is an extremely taboo line.. drawn by the family, society and our fears.
I continued bearing this injustice because divorce, according to our family heritage, is a “taboo” which is forbidden to think about it or even mention it, but I have reached an absolutely unbearable degree of psychological and physical pain, here, I decided to save myself after five years of torment, and to put an end to the bleeding and wear and tear of my soul and body, and i succeeded indeed in reaching the final separation after I resorted to the judiciary.
I spent two very difficult months at that time, during which I only lived with the feeling of loss, not the loss of a person, but the loss of the marriage experience. I wasted my days and lost my childhood, after that I was determined to stand on my feet and complete my studies and obtain the “baccalaureate”.
I took my right peacefully.. and their negative words were the motivation. I received nothing but frustration from society. The environment around me believed that if I completed my education and became stronger scientifically and socially, my strengths would multiply, thus my scientific, practical and emotional opportunities would increase, And “I won’t return to him.” My education frightened their ignorance, and my love of life and search for light frightened their darkness. I used to turn people’s negative talk into a motivation to take back my right from these words that lacks humanity, mercy and respect for the pain I experienced.
It was a surprise and shock to everyone when I got a high score in high school, and entered the university field that I wanted and dreamed of, my name also was always at the top of the honorary lists of outstanding students in the college. Here I entered the third stage of my story, after I took back my right peacefully with my continuous successes without dealing with abusers or worrying about wasting my energy responding to them.
But I was able to change society’s view of me.. when I changed my view of myself.
During college years – Sarah continues – my passion was to learn, train and develop, and to make up for the many lost years of my life. At that time, I wasn’t able to attend paid trainings due to financial hardships. Therefore I relied on available free trainings and those available on the Internet, my relationships and acquaintances network expanded, and my opportunities increased, especially the voluntary ones, as volunteering gave me a lot of experience, I was empowered more, thus increasing my opportunities to work and volunteer in associations. My passion is what always made me stand on my feet and take steady steps, especially when I began to reap the results of my self-development through several successes and achievements. Here began a new challenge related to the “stigma of divorce” and the double frustration from society and its unfair view of it, so I was glimpsing in the eyes of society a look of shame, because in my imagination it is a failure similar to any other failure such as failure in studies, trade or any other matter. However, some people who live with this mentality deliberately ignored me and avoided interacting with me, even within the same work. Their dealings with me became in many aspects based on the fact that I am divorced and that I am “less than others.” And in their view, I had to give up many rights, and the taste of this cruelty tasted as bitter as the violence I felt in my marriage, as the husband is the one who abuses you and considers you his opponent, but here, it’s the majority of society, and by the virtue of your innate human need, you cannot live your whole life without a “society” which you feel you belong. Do you know, Manar, what it feels like to live as an outcast and have to hide as if you “did something wrong”?!
Keys to my survival:
“I have no choice but to move forward after I have achieved the hardest parts.” This is what I always used to say to myself. It was a stage of consolidating strengths and confronting weaknesses and internal fears, until I started talking about them with courage.
Reading helped me a lot in addition to motivational videos, and any opportunity i had, I would invest in it immediately and not say “no” to any space for development that I get invited for. My undergraduate studies were the red line. I obtained a master’s degree and i work with many associations and organizations.
I have empowered myself to be my own healer. My view of the divorce experience, my pain and my fears, I no longer run away from them, but I face them with all containment and wisdom, here I made the biggest difference with my own hands, what I built internally in ten years, I was able to achieve in one year and to show the most important fruit. I believe that when the female is strong from within, she is capable of achieving miracles. Even the judgments of society I have come to accept as points of view, and thinking about their words no longer takes space from my thoughts and feelings and absorbs my energy.
I summarize my method in this story: “There is no such thing as an end point. Every end point we can make it as the beginning of something better and a turning point. Empowerment, self-support, training, opportunities, volunteering and surrounding myself with people who look like me and like my inner world, are the keys to survival and life. “
I seek to transform all negative messages into opportunities for development and for achieving something new. I know my path and where I am going. I don’t care about bumps in the road unless they add something to my learning journey. Every year I set new goals and work towards them. My goals for the new year are to obtain a PhD “with distinction”. And establishing a profitable service project that provides me with economic sufficiency.
Survivors’ Stories (2): As for Naya, the 29 year old, she summarizes her experience for us as follows:
We used to meet at the beautiful old carob tree after school, where we carved the letters of our names on it and many promises of love, loyalty and sincerity, he used to openly brag that he had the heart of “the prettiest girl in school,” as he called me.
He did not complete his studies under the pretext that education “won’t provide bread” and that learning a profession in this country is the surest thing after “ninth grade”.
As for me, I entered the pharmacy field, and love itself motivated me to be the best among my peers. He told me that the “Van” he was working on would be the mobile “Titanic” for our future family, and he weaved many pink fairytales for me. We got engaged before graduation, and the marriage and the opening of “My Pharmacy” took place during the few months following graduation, and everything was going well until something began to appear on the horizon of our marriage after a few days of it.
Out of jealousy and care – as he convinced me – he used to ask me not to speak in front of guests and not to share my views on any issue, even health issues that my family and relatives used to consult me with. Until It reached the point of great embarrassment for me , and I felt that there was no logic in this behavior, and no level of jealousy justifies for me sentencing my years of study, knowledge, and social presence to life imprisonment. It was the first time that I received a psychological and physical slap when I decided to share the distress i was going through, and my respect for his feelings of jealousy, and my keenness to practice it in a logical and rational manner befitting our love and marriage.
Constant abuse and “belittling”… Her fault: beauty and education
That day was the clear beginning of the emergence of his personality’s dark side, which is full of psychological gaps, insecurities, and “inferiority complexes.” All subsequent data proved that he resorted to the “belittling” method, destroying my morale, and underestemating me and in my capabilities, due to his sense of difference between us, Unfortunately, this is how he saw it at the time when I saw us as two complementary selves. Not only did he marginalize my social and scientific presence, rather, he denied all the “expressions of flirting describing my beauty” considering what he said all these years was “adolescents talk” that has no base to it, and that I need a lot of plastic surgery to look beautiful, like the rest of the women he sees daily or ride with him in the “Titanic”, he tried a lot to undermine my self-confidence.
made me addicted,
he uprooted my dream from me.. because my work is the kitchen, not “blabbering.”
I used to see him as everything in my life, he saw me as his opponent and competitor in social presence knowing that I respected his work, his choices and the details of his world, even his spoiled “Van” which he treated with kindness and respect more than me. But there was a huge difference between what I was living and what he believed. The story did not stop at his indignant sense of difference. He forced me, with threats and then beatings, to leave my pharmacy because “a woman’s place is in the kitchen” and her job is not to “blabber with customers.” As for the pharmacy, it was run by his relative, on the pretext that I was tired due to pregnancy , and he, in turn, gave him the daily “yield” of the profit, so that he would spend it on his pleasures and evenings until the break of dawn with his friends. Not only did my husband take my money, my effort, the harvest of my nights and years of knowledge, but he started taking narcotic drugs from the pharmacy, which are only dispensed according to an official medical prescription, and every time he drank a pill, he would grab my head and pull my hair without mercy forcing me to take the same pill, so I swallow it by force, and my tears preceded the water spilled with the medicine. He did not care about the number of miscarriages I had, pregnancy after pregnancy, due to my poor psychological and physical condition and the effects of poisons that I forcibly ingested, not to mention that our physical relationship was coercive, rather it was rape.
Here I want to mention something important that I would like to share with all women who have gone through similar stories. My great delay in taking any deterrent action or telling my surroundings about what is happening, has always given him the motivation to get harsher, as he saw me afraid of my family’s reaction, since I insisted on this marriage, and that I married him in a way that was like an imposition on the family. And that I’m also afraid of gloating and tarnishing my good reputation as a pharmacist among my colleagues and in my community. But will I remain content and submissive to the his rule of burying me in spirit, presence, knowledge, body, while I am alive between the walls of his house, his insulting words, and my daily disappointments of him?
I was the victim.. Today I am one of the survivors supporting family issues:
Here was the beginning of the end of this toxic relationship, as I decided at that time to escape from home and seek refuge with my family, who lived through the shock and sadness of what befell on me all these years. They gave me protection so that his indiscretions would not affect me. And because our environment relies in solving many social problems on the mediation of the clergy, I went with my father to the sheikh of the area who undertook to help us, inviting a council that brings together the two families to discuss the case, compensate for the damage, with an ensure not to be harmed, this was also done with the help of a lawyer, and a complaint was filed against him, and I had the choice between staying with him after the trial as a wife on a guarantee of not being harmed, or separating with compensation for all damages, even the damages in the pharmacy, in both cases, but I chose to separate, not because I do not forgive or call for revenge. Humanity and tolerance do not mean negligence and complacency, But these days dug a lot of grooves in my soul, heart and body, I will start my working life again like a new birth. I wish him recovery from all his psychological complexes. My goal was not for him to be imprisoned or punished, but rather for injustice to stop, and to invite every muffled voice imprisoned in the chains of darkness to come out and see the light and have a listening ear.
What I was wondering about the most for such cases: Are there no sanatoriums and rehabilitation centers? And places that provide psychological counseling so that problems do not escalate, or without being stigmatized as crazy if you go to a psychiatric clinic? Are there no safe spaces for abused women to resort to?
Now I am happy and satisfied that I am telling you my story while I feel comfortable, confident and courageous. Thank God I have returned to my work, my activity and my passion, and currently I am a co-founder of a center concerned with family issues and psychological support.
Stories of the Survivors (3): The Mother of Girls and the Breeding Machine
As for Zahra, 54, and Rima, 46, who fate brought them together as friends, their stories intersect with many women in terms of pain and deprivation. The first one was abused because she was the “mother of girls” as she gave birth to one girl after another, she was beaten after each birth because she did not give him a “male” bearing the family name. As for Rima, she is the third wife of the head of the family in their area, he married her in a manner similar to a sale and purchase deal since she was 15 years old, in exchange for a piece of land and a group of sheep for her parents. He married her as the third wife for the purpose of “breeding”, because his children from the two previous wives, who are 19 boys and girls are not sufficiant for caring for the areas and plains cultivated by him are not enough for , and because the abundance of wives and children in the concept of that environment is an indicator of prosperity and gives its owner prestige and social status. However, a health condition affected her, so she gave him only one girl, after that she stopped having children. He was constantly abusing her, considering her to be a “bad luck” for the family. his other wives shared in her verbal abuse, as they repeated to her that the curse of poverty pursued them because of her. So the husband, to cure his anger , started depriving her of personal expenses, clothing, celebrations, attending family events, until she gives him more children.
Rima and Zahra met in a literacy course that was set up by an association for the remote countryside in 2009, and their pains and aspirations to change reality and rise from pain met. The two friends began to hold on to the strings of light little by little, A literacy course, then a sewing course, followed by a food preparation course, but the most important station for them was legal sessions related to raising awareness about rights and responsibilities.
Today, Zahra and Rima run a small sewing “atelier” and a “stall” in the vegetable market for dried vegetables, cut vegetables and jams.
The decision to break away from this environment was not easy, Rima left to settle in another area after her husband died and the conflicts over the “heirs” began. Rima says: After being absent from life and the most important of my rights, I decided to leave and “left the camel with what it carried”, and I only wanted to get out of this whirlpool.
As for “Zahra” and her daughters, they set an example in the whole region for their moral commitment and their educational attainment, as Zahra describes. As for her husband, the late family mediations played their role in limiting this violence after the birth of the fifth girl and leaving the house for three months until she returned after mediators vouched for the husband, as for transforming the form of her husband’s violence later into a state of stillness, then remorse and self-reflection, the greatest role and credit – as Zahra put it – belonged to herself, as she took care of her husband when he fell ill and supported the house economically from her small projects, after months of negotiation and attempts to implement them.
The four women who shared with us today their worlds, their pains, and the keys to their salvation are not the only ones nor the last in the endless chain of violence on this planet, regardless of the severity and form of this violence. It leads to a devastating and accelerating spread, especially in times of emergencies, disasters, and crises.
As the statistics of the World Health Organization for the year 2021 indicate in its report that 1 out of every 3 women in the world is exposed to violence, whatever its form and severity. Younger women are among those most at risk. The global figure is 736 million women, according to the aforementioned statistics.
“Violence against women is endemic in every country and culture, causing harm to millions of women and their families, and has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General. “But unlike COVID-19, violence against women cannot be stopped with a vaccine. We can only fight it with deep-rooted and sustained efforts – by governments, communities and individuals – to change harmful attitudes, improve access to opportunities and services for women and girls, and foster healthy and mutually respectful relationships.””
Ending Violence Against Women is Everyone’s Business
Countries should also honor their commitments to address violence against women in all its forms, by:
- Sound policies that change gender perceptions, from childcare ones to equal pay, and laws that support gender equality.
- Having an enhanced health system response that ensures survivor-centered care is available and referrals to other services as needed.
- School and educational interventions to address discriminatory attitudes and beliefs, including comprehensive sex education.
- Targeted investment in evidence-based, sustainable, and effective prevention strategies at the local, national, regional, and global levels.
- Enhancing data collection, investing in high-quality surveys of violence against women, and improving measurement of the various forms of violence to which women are exposed, including the most marginalized women.
We Believe the Survivors
When a woman shares her story of violence, she is taking the first step to breaking the cycle of abuse, so we must all give her the safe space she needs to speak up and be heard.
Let’s be slow in making judgments, such as saying, “Why didn’t she leave” or allow ourselves to evaluate or interfere with her sobriety, dress, and sexual and social life.
Say, “We hear you, we believe you, we support you, we stand by your side.”
Listening to the survivors, understanding the case, researching it, and giving them that safe space is the most important step in a series of steps to ensure her safety and access to justice.
Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, they emerged from darkness into light, from death to life, so be, O’ society, a helper for them, not an executioner. Become the barricade that stops rumors, judgments, and the nonsense of the useless inheritance. Let’s reach a society that believes that it is not heroism and mercy to get a “heart blackened” husband in order to satisfy society and curb its tongue, but rather the heroism of when a man and a woman meet on the instinct of love and humanity, when they become each other’s home, passion, and mercy.