As part of the #16Days global “UNite to End Violence” campaign, we are sharing the story of a woman who faced violence in the midst of a conflict zone. Drawing from “In Her Shoes,” a toolkit designed by the Gender Based Violence Prevention Network, Kemi’s story, a fictionalized account based on real experiences, illustrates the difficult choices women often face in conflict zones around the world:
I could not believe what was happening to me again. I could not even scream for I knew no one was nearby, so I remained quiet and obediently followed directions. The man tied my hands together and dragged me along behind him at the end of a short rope. I walked for what seemed liked hours in the hot sun, and as dehydration set in, I began to stumble.
“Keep moving,” the man ordered.
Soon, I found myself in a large encampment of many rebels, women, and young children. The man ordered me to kneel down and said that I was going to be his wife from now on. I must cook, clean, bear him children, and obey his orders.
Immediately, I was ordered into a house where five other women served the same man. He forced me to have sex multiple times a day, which reopened the wounds from the rebel gang rape. The pain was unspeakable. He also forced me do it in front of the other women and children with no regard to privacy. Many times, and often in the middle of the night, the whole camp was forced to get up and start moving.
I soon discovered that I was pregnant. I couldn’t imagine how I would survive pregnancy and was certain both my baby and myself would die of starvation before it’s time. But somehow the months passed and my labor pains began late one night. The labor was long and very painful, and I felt that I was not progressing.
I mustered the strength to go outside. The first person I saw was one of the soldier’s children who went for help. A few women came and took me to the bush. There, I delivered my first baby. It was a boy. As his head came out and I heard his first cries, I felt that maybe after producing new life, I would have a better chance at mine.
The baby’s father did not care much for him, even though he was a boy. Nor did he seem pleased with me for giving him a son. He shocked me by demanding sex only a few nights after I gave birth. My wound, which was sewn shut by one of the women at the birth, was still tender, and I was sure this act will finally kill me, but there was only a small amount of bleeding when he finished.
By the weekend I had to leave the camp again and walk for many hours waiting for the men and children to raid the villages before I could resettle. I knew it was horrible, what they were doing to the people. I was once in their shoes. But the raids were my only source of food, and I had become to rely on them. It is during the raiding of villages and staying out in the cold for so long that my baby fell sick. He was coughing and shaking and his small body rattled in my arms. I approached my husband and showed him our son, whose body was slowly changing color. He shooed me away. That night I held him to my chest and sung the lullaby my parents used to soothe me with, determined to save him at any cost.
My son’s life was hanging in the balance when the group stopped to make another temporary camp. A kind woman took pity on me and showed me how to make chest compresses from local herbs. He began to improve.
I have realized that life is not going to change, and I have begun to resolve myself to the challenges and disappointments. I have decided to become the best rebel wife I can be. I asked my husband to teach me how to fight and to defend myself. At first he was uncertain, but I reassured him that it was just so that I could protect our child and the home while he was away.
In time I have learned how to use a gun and have developed good aim. Sometimes I am even allowed to take part in the raids. My fear of killing has disappeared as I’ve relished the spoils a raid produces. I have been given a leadership position, teaching younger girls how to be good wives and strong defenders.
Life goes on. My husband beats me less frequently, and even his demands for sex have decrease. As time passes, he has acquired younger girls as his wives. Even though this is not the life I have chosen, it is the life that I have been dealt.