The Sun News

Hell on earth

• Sad tales of abuses and violence against women with disability

By KATE HALIM

With each blow and kick her ex-husband dealt on her delicate body, her love for him dies. Assumpta Khalil is an amputee who endured years of abuse from the man who promised to love and cherish her till death parts them, but who visited on her domestic violence.

She took it all. She took the beatings; the verbal insults as well as his philandering because she felt no man would marry a woman with only one hand. He tells her while beating her that he could not have married her without being under the influence of a charm.

Assumpta Khalil was not born disabled. She became so after an accident that almost claimed her life on Abeokuta-Ifo road. The accident affected her right hand, which was later amputated eight days afterwards. She got worried about getting married and having children after her hand was amputated from her right shoulder.

Assumpta said even after she was discharged from the hospital, she refused to leave because she wasn’t ready to face reality, as the hospital provided her with some sort of protection from prying eyes. “When I got home, I didn’t accept my disability. I was always indoors and faced stigmatisation from my immediate family members. I was shocked to get such treatment from them. My whole world came crashing,” she said.

But that was not all. Her aunt whom she was living with told her that it was time to leave her house because she felt Assumpta was useless to her at home. That she did not have a place to stay, was not the woman’s concern at all.

Under the barrage of this maltreatment, Assumpta got depressed. She decided that it was better to die than to keep living like that.

She revealed that: “Many times, I attempted to take my life. I didn’t want to continue living. I didn’t know why I didn’t die after all my attempts.”

She felt so insecure that she was ready to do anything to keep any man who indicated interest in her as a woman. Then she met a guy who was all over her. She gave him her life. He was everything to her until he started dating someone else and told her about it.

“Sometimes, he would cancel our dates because his other girlfriend was around. And because my self-esteem was zero, I desperately held unto him, because I felt no man would want to date or marry an amputee like me. Things continued for a while until I broke up with him. He would insult me and call me names”.

With each day that passed, Assumpta got insults from her parents and siblings too. She recalled one day that her brother asked her if she was born with bad luck that made her life turn out this way.

She hated going out so that people would not see her amputated arm which they were fond of staring gossipping about.

Soon after, she said: “I met another guy who seemed like God -sent and after six months, we got married. But after marriage, he changed. He became verbally, emotionally and physically abusive. He would beat me not minding that I was disabled. His family members didn’t want him to marry me, because of my disability and they didn’t hide their hatred for me.”

Assumpta’s husband beats her at the slightest opportunity. He would beat her until she goes on her knees begging him not to beat her anymore because she could not defend herself with one hand.

In her words: “I became a liability to him. He complained about everything. He brings women to the house and insults me in their presence. He accused me of using charm on him, otherwise he wouldn’t have had anything to do with me not to talk of marrying me.”

But the beatings and abuse did not stop, even when she became pregnant carrying their first child. He would beat her and lock her up, so that neighbours won’t come to her rescue. It was not the kind of life Assumpta wanted for herself, but she kept taking all the abuse, because she wanted to make her marriage work.

“When I gave birth to my first child, my mother in law came for Omugwo and told me after some days that she could not be washing baby clothes and my clothes too. I was heartbroken. I had to learn how to bathe my child with one arm. I backed my baby myself and took care of us,” she said.

Assumpta Khalil did not get any respite, because she was being battered by the man she loved and married. Her family insisted she remained married to him. They always told her not to come back home, because it was unheard of that anybody in her family should be divorced. She kept enduring the beatings until one fateful day when he raped her after beating her for hours.

“I became pregnant again, carrying my second child and he was livid with me. He claimed I wanted to tie him down with children. He told me to go for abortion, but refused to give me money for the abortion. But I made up my mind to run for my life even if I had to go against my family.”

Determined to save herself and her children, Assumpta told her neighbours about her plan to escape from her abuser. Her neighbours contributed N10,000 for her and she ran away with her life intact.

After she ran away to her parent’s house, her ex husband came with his family members for settlement. He claimed he wanted her back but Assumpta had, had enough. During the settlement meeting, she told her family that she would never go back to him, but regretted that they could not defend her. They felt she disgraced their family.

“My mother sent me away and I had to go and live with my grandmother. My family abandoned me, because I refused to be abused by a man who felt he was doing me a favour. But today, I feel better about my situation. I still face stigmatisation and discrimination, but it doesn’t get to me anymore, Assumpta revealed.”

Tobiloba Ajayi lives with cerebral palsy. She didn’t walk until she was 12 years old. She said when it came to discrimination ,because of her condition, people tended to think she was stupid.

“I was eight when my mathematics lesson teacher tried to sexually molest me. I was confused about what he was doing to me. I couldn’t report to my mother, because she wouldn’t have believed me. I threatened him I was going to report him to my mother and that made him back off my case.”

But when she got into secondary school, discrimination and stigmatization came from her fellow pupils. She grew up hearing people ask her parents why she was looking different from other children. They did not mind that she was there.

Tobiloba said: “I wasn’t regarded as a complete child by other people but my parents taught me to be independent and strong. They didn’t allow me wallow in self pity because of my condition.”

She revealed that many people told her that, aside the fact that she could not walk, she was too proud as a disabled person.

“Many people ask me who will marry me the way I look? They remind me that as a woman, I was supposed to be humble and not proud, so that I can get a man to marry me.”

Tobilola hears these humiliating and disciminating statements all the time. She attributes them to the poor level of the understanding of Nigerians. She advised women and girls living with disability to rise above societal exclusion and discrimination if they wished to live well.

“Women and girls with disabilities need to build their self esteem to avoid feeling bad about their lives in a society that excludes and discriminates against them,” said Tobiloba.

President, Deaf Women Association of Nigeria, Deaconess Adedoyin Beyioku-Alase, fondly called Mama Deaf is not new to stigmatisation and exclusion from society because of her hearing disability.

Mama Deaf said that disability could happen to anybody and people should stop being negative about them. She says she often feels she is in a dream because she would not believe anyone who told her in the past that she would be deaf in her lifetime.

Her ordeal started when she started feeling feverish one day and went to the hospital for treatment. In the hospital, she was given injection on an empty stomach. The nurse who attended to her did not bother to find out if she had eaten something before injecting her. “That was the beginning of my journey into disability. Initially, I would be hearing noises in my ears as if people were playing loud music inside my ears. Later on, I became deaf from the reaction to the injection I was given,” she explained.

Her sudden disability made her sad and withdrawn. She started hiding from family and friends. She ran away from church and from social life. She withdrew into her shell, because people felt she had become a burden.

She said: “I became lonely. Loneliness nearly killed me. I became depressed and thought that the only way out was to kill myself. I tried killing myself twice, but I didn’t succeed. One time, I chewed camfour, so that I would escape my life of disability, but it didn’t work. At another time I tried to hang myself, but my aunty who came to visit me from afar saved me that day.”

Lovelyn Peters is a blind mother of three. She became blind five years ago after treating malaria. It was a heartbreaking reality for this fair -skinned woman who had her whole life ahead of her. But her predicament just started.

Her husband abandoned her and their children when she became blind. He told her he did not plan living with such a burden at his age. He moved out of the home they shared and only visits her occasionally to check their children.

Wiping away tears and reaching for her 10-year-old daughter, who sat close to her, Lovelyn told Saturday Sun that life had been hard for her since she became blind. She has become the topic for gossip among her friends and family members.

“At one time, my sister told me to stop disturbing her when I told her I needed to use the bathroom. She said I had become a burden. Right now, my first daughter doesn’t go to school anymore because she has to take care of me,” says Peters.

Doris Akintayo is deaf and has suffered discrimination too. Recently, a landlord refused to rent out his unoccupied apartment to her because of her disability. Akintayo who became deaf after a polio attack when she was two, could not restrain her tears. She begged the landlord to no avail.

Akintayo revealed that many times when people met her, they thougth she was proud and arrogant for not responding when they talked to her. They got angry without knowing she was deaf.

She said: “I have shed many tears because I am living with a disability. One day, someone pulled a chair from under me because he was seated there and I didn’t know. When he was telling me that it was his seat and I didn’t hear him, he pulled the chair, thinking I was just being arrogant. I fell on the floor.”

NGOs to the rescue

To address this issue of gender-based violence as it affects women with disabilities, Project Alert on Violence Against Women, Christoffel Blinden Mission (CBM) Office in Nigeria and Disability Rights Advocacy Centre (DRAC) recently held a programme tagged ‘Networking to stop violence against women and girls with disabilities project.’

The project shed more light on the violence suffered by women living with disabilities. The project is aimed at creating awareness on the various forms of violence, discrimination and exclusion that women with disabilities are subjected to in Lagos and in Nigeria as a whole.

Josephine Effah-Chukwuma, Executive Director of Project Alert on Violence Against Women, says: “The project is about networking with all stakeholders in the society to create awareness and increase knowledge on gender- based violence and women with disabilities.”

According to her, while all women are susceptible to gender- based violence, for women with disabilities, the risk is multiplied by three: Their gender exposes them to such violence, their disability adds to it and then their poor financial status triples it.

Says Effah-Chukwuma: “While all people with disabilities encounter discrimination and exclusion, women with disabilities suffer second level discrimination and violence because of their sex, disabilities and poor financial status.”

Although society expects such women not to be sexually active because of their disabilities, they are, she says, raped, physically abused, maltreated, abandoned and sometimes killed because of their dependency on people including family members who assist them in doing things.

“This project will get traditional rulers and religious leaders involved by sensitising them and by so doing, increase awareness on gender-based violence and women with disabilities in their communities in particular and Nigeria as a whole,” she adds.

Government intervention

The Lagos State Office for Disability Affairs (LASODA) was established by the Lagos State Special People’s Law (LSSPL) in June 2011.The Governing Board was inaugurated on July 9, 2012 and charged with implementing the law.

The law seeks to uphold the rights of all persons living with any form of disability (PWDs) in the state by safeguarding them against all forms of discrimination and giving them equal rights and opportunities.

The provisions of the Lagos State Special People’s Law include advocacy, public enlightenment and reorientation of the public, registration and coordination of associations of PWDs in the state, as well as establishment of a PWDs database to ensure proper planning.

Others are: issuance of directives and guidelines for the education, social development and welfare of PWDs, including preventive and curative exercises, issuance and revocation of certificates of disability and customized insignia to be used at parking lots.

The law also ensures compliance by receiving complaints from PWDs, investigation, prosecution and sanctions in appropriate cases of any violation of the law and establishment and promotion of schools, vocational and rehabilitation centres for the development of PWDs.

Deputy Managing Director, LASODA, Mr Ajoju Adegboyega, says that the agency frowns at violence against women with disability and is working hard to alleviate the plight of women living with disabilities in Lagos State through its advocacy work.

His words: “The agency is devoted to implementing the points in the special people’s law so as to ensure that people living with disability live a good life.”

Recently, Lagos State under the leadership of Governor Akinwumi Ambode recently distributed empowerment funds to over 500 persons living with disability in the state.

Adegboyega says that “disability aids and appliances such as wheel chairs, hearing aids, clutches, special aids and vehicles were given to registered persons living with disability.”

Myths about women with disabilities

Women with disabilities should not speak or be heard. They do not have sexual feelings or do not have sex. Women with disabilities cannot get married and be mothers. Women and girls with disabilities can neither go to school or work. Disability can be transferred by relating with afflicted persons.

Facts about women with disabilities

Over 24 million Nigerians are living with one form of disability and more than 50 per cent of this population are women and girls. Women and girls with disabilities are three times at risk of suffering physical, asexual, psychological and economic abuses than women without disabilities.

Women and girls with disabilities are prone to violence than men with disabilities. These women and girls are abused by their caregivers, parents, family members and health workers.

Women and girls with disabilities do not report abuse due to fear of being accused of lying or being stigmatised. They are also vulnerable to HIV because of sexual abuse and they do not have access to anti-retroviral drugs.

Women and girls with disabilities are usually isolated, locked in a room and refused access to things that will make life comfortable for them. They are also used for begging, thereby depriving them of opportunities for education. In many cases, their disability is seen as a curse.

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