Changing family violence

Date: January 1, 1970
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I was brought up in a very strict and conservative family of 9 children. As an Indian girl, I was taught to respect others and myself at all times. Decisions were forced upon me whether I approved of or not. When someone visited my parents, they did not allow me to be in the same room and listen to their conversations. My dad just had to give me one of those looks that said it all. I attended a primary school and later a high school where white teachers taught me. This is where I realised that as a young Indian woman I had rights as well. I exercised some of these rights I learned at school and put my bullying brothers in place.

When my mum passed away when I was still at school, I was devastated. This had an adverse effect on the rest of my teenage years. I felt betrayed by mum when I most needed her. Thereafter my dad became overprotective and a control freak. He put emphasis on how I should carry out my duties if I was going to be a perspective future bride. He did not allow me to talk to boys, as they will hurt me. For me it was like “if they did not touch me how would I be hurt?”. This affected me and I became rebellious and had no faith in men.
After I had completed my studies, I worked at a recoding company as receptionist. This place was male dominated from the clerk to the salesman. When things did not go right and everyone was having a bad day, it was Debbie’s fault again. They took advantage of me as a young naïve girl who was at her first job, the abuse became intolerable, and I resigned.
A few years later I met a young man and I fell in I love. The first week into our relationship I had to introduce him to father for his approval. I had come under a lot of criticism in terms of still being very young. Whenever I was out of line for some reason my father would verbally abuse me saying, “I was in a hurry to get a husband.” I used to cry myself to sleep and pray to get away from my dominating father.
Two years later I married and thought my dream had come true. Only to find my in-laws
were in their own domestic violence conflict. My mother-in-law, who was a very beautiful women, was in an extra-marital affair. At night, my father-in-law physically and verbally abused her. In the next room, I would hear the screams for help. As the detail of the affair was exposed, my mother-in-law felt very embarrassed, as I was her new daughter-in-law. One night he dragged her out of the room and threw her into the yard and, as a result, suffered neck injuries.
My husband and I took her for medical attention where she was treated and discharged. The sad thing about this all was that she had to return to this abusive environment all over. I became very supportive and learned very early in my marriage about gender based violence. My mother-in-law and I became best friends and supported her through the divorce. I learned that my father in-law was a man who could not apologise or make amends. This was something that he passed on to my husband.
A few years down the line, I had three sons and found I was pregnant with my fourth child. My husband had lost his job and things became difficult. I had a family to support and a maid that I had to pay salary for. To survive I cleaned sheep heads and trotters in a nearby clothing factory, using this for the maid’s salary and other bare essentials. I felt I should not be crying poverty but to overcome it. My husband never assisted but socialised with friends and returned home drunk. When I confronted him he would verbally abuse me and blamed me for trying to have a daughter. The next day he would blank out what happened and not apologise. He did not believe a man should say sorry. A good outcome of all this was that I was blessed with a daughter.
Ten years ago I joined a domestic violence network where I empower women to educate themselves about domestic violence. Women should overcome poverty, move away from the domestic violence environment, and know their rights. I am currently a mediator with a local organisation helping women. Today I am a proud mother of four successful children. I am an excellent wife, mother, mother-in-law, and grandmother, and still married for years.
* not her real name
This story is part of the “I” Stories series produced by the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service for the Sixteen Days of Activism on Gender Violence.

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