International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women
Monday 25th November is International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. Although women and girls account for a far smaller share of total homicides than men, they bear by far the greatest burden of intimate partner/family‐related homicide, and intimate partner homicide. The Day aims to raise public awareness around the issue as well as increase both policy making and resources dedicated to ending violence against women and girls worldwide.
Yet, there is still a long way to go. To date, only two out of three countries have outlawed domestic violence, and 49 countries currently have no laws protecting women from domestic violence. [Source: UN]
This is one woman’s story:
Hands Against Violence
For most, it was just another evening in Nairobi. The sun dropped into the horizon as hundreds of taillights cruised along slowly, intermittently, to their destinations. For Magdalene though, it was a far cry from the mundane. It was her first evening as a convict for murder at the Lang’ata Women’s Prison, Kenya.
Her first night in “Condemn Block”- a separate space within the prison for those charged with murder - was long and hard. She felt confused more than anything, but also afraid and humiliated when at arrival at the prison, she was stripped naked and coarsely searched for contraband as part of the check in process. And so it began, a life sentence filled with deep regret. She had killed her husband and for it, she lost all she knew as her life.
Aside from the fact that it ended in her husband’s death, that life-altering incident was no different from other interactions between the two of them. Magdalene came home after an event. Her husband did too, later that evening, there was some provocation and a fight ensued. For more than two decades, her husband had physically and emotionally abused her. “Battering became the norm”, Magdalene explained, and it left her feeling worthless. She lost herself and her self-esteem was extremely low. She was angry, depressed and exhausted from handling all their responsibilities as her husband, an alcoholic, had become unable to provide.
Hoping For Change
Tragically, of course, Magdalene’s story is not an exception. According to the United Nations, “1 in 3 women and girls experience physical or sexual violence in their lifetime, most frequently by an intimate partner.” Magdalene, like many of these women spent the majority of her marriage hoping that things would get better, especially because her husband became abusive only after he started drinking too much alcohol.
An article published by the National Institute of Health states that women from collectivist cultures such as those in Asia and Africa place a lot of emphasis on societal opinions of self. ‘Face-saving’, or the need to avoid public embarrassment stops abused women from leaving violent relationships and/or seeking help. Magdalene confirmed this when she elaborated her reasons for enduring an abusive marriage. Cultural expectations, self-blame and stigma plagued her. “Our mothers never left their [marital] homes”, and Magdalene was not going to be the first.
Living With Regret
Everyday, she regrets her husband’s death and the circumstances that led to it. She recognizes the atrocious act of taking another life. “The very family I fought to keep, I lost, and I fought for a marriage that didn’t last in the end anyway.” Along with her marriage, she lost her freedom. What she gained, unfortunately, is the label ‘prisoner’- a title that will follow her for the rest of her life. She is remorseful to her community because she feels she failed them. She was a teacher, a role model for many, but found herself in a position that can rob one of dignity.
From Prisoner to Paralegal
Today, Magdalene lives with hope and determination. So much so that through APP she has become a certified paralegal. This service to her fellow inmates is unquestionably fulfilling. She also desires to support women who are in abusive relationships. She wants them to remove themselves from violent homes because they too could end up in prison, or worse, dead.
The UN has reported that while 1 in 20 men were killed by their partners in 2017, 1 in 2 women killed were killed under similar circumstances. Magdalene’s project dubbed ‘Hands Against Violence’ is an ode to her story and a call to women to act before it is too late.
It has been about two years since that evening, when she first stepped into Lang’ata Women’s Maximum Prison. At first, hope was scarce, but everyday, she is actively forging ahead with as much optimism as she can muster.
Become A Changemaker
Women like Magdalene have overcome so much to stand before others and offer them hope through shared experience and legal services. We support and train others like her to enable them to provide legal advice and representation to others.
Support these women and become a changemaker, just like Magdalene.
Names and dates have been changed to protect the privacy of the individuals included and photos have been used which reflect the prison communities where we work in, but not the individuals in this story.