DAY TEN: ‘My pain became my beautiful testimony’: breaking the silence on the sexual abuse of girls

“There is great power in our voice.”
Nigerian author and activist Fatima Ishiaku turned her traumatic past into a memoir – and a beacon of hope for young girls like her.

Fatima Ishiaku

In our society, a lot of youthful and defenseless adolescents are victims of malicious rape. 

These streaks of sexual brutality affect them substantially, physically, psychologically and otherwise.

Such acts of violence and sexual harm turns into a route that contributes to so many other social vices and often a path to the self-destruction of these unprotected young girls if they don’t find help.

If these acts of brutality don’t get nipped in the bud, it will shatter the fabric of our society and the world at large.

Often, victims are forced and intimidated to stay mute in the face of a vicious series of violent rape. 

These threats and coercion makes it a struggle for victims to open up to anyone about such issues. And when victims finally open up, they get bullied by the people they confide in to tell their stories, an act that renders them psychologically and emotionally traumatized.

These adolescents end up getting impregnated by their rapists, a condition they find themselves unprepared for, bearing a child at an early age. Some of opt for abortion and often die in the process.

For those that survive, it becomes a psychological disorder that makes these youthful and defenseless girls find comfort in alcohol, drugs, and other social vices. Some of them even end up as school dropouts due the effect of rape and the consequences become endless.

Victims most times are very vulnerable, rude, disrespectful, and aggressive. Because of what they’ve been through their lives becomes miserable. They live in fear, hardly trusting anyone and often becoming wild. 

Look around you today – there are so many vulnerable children on our streets, many of them are drug addicts and a substantial number of them are victims of sexual abuse. As humans, we need to understand that the abused child is fighting a battle caused by a terrible experience.

Therefore, I believe “they need love not hate, help not bully and a confidant they can trust.” We need to help them discover their inner strength and God-given talent, because the event of rape makes them regard themselves as weak, useless and vulnerable. These helpless girls need the inner strength to help them fight their fears and weaknesses.

My story is a precedent of what defenseless young girls go through.

As a victim of sexual abuse, I was molested from the age of seven till I was fourteen. This is the most awful experience of my life. 

I grew up with a man I thought was my dad, not knowing he wasn’t. And he took advantage of my innocence at a very tender age.

He made my mum despise me so much that we became enemies. To him, that was the only way to make my mum not to listen to me whenever I tried telling her what I was going through.

My mum hated me so much that she had broken my head with a rod so many times, cut my vagina, and put hot chili pepper on the cuts.

She didn’t find out why a calm child like me became so stubborn or why I started running away from home from the age of 10. Whenever I returned home, she would beat me and put hot chili pepper in my eyes and on my private parts.

She only believed what her husband told her. 

When I turned 14 years old, she found out that I had been sexually assaulted by her husband. Around this time, I found out that her husband wasn’t my dad. Two years after my mum discovered her husband molested me, she couldn’t deal with it. She died, and the rape continued.

I remember trying to commit suicide so many times. 

I dropped out of school and most of the men that got to know my story called off our engagement. Whenever these men find out about my story, they say they “can’t be with a lady like me”, that I’m a “cursed child.”

This is a cross I still carry till today.

In the year 2016, in the United States of America, an American Professor heard my story and advised me to write a book about my life. 

It wasn’t a straightforward thing to do, but finally I had the courage to publish my book, which I entitled “I Called Him Dad” by Fatima Ishiaku – a book that was published in the United States.

I had to tell my painful story in my book so that society will see what abused girls go through in our society, mostly In Nigeria. 

My book is about saving the girl child and breaking the silence. It’s a very educational book based on my true-life story. “I Called Him Dad” is my painful story.

The best part is me using my painful story to help victims like myself.

There’s light at the end of the dark tunnel. 

My pain became my beautiful testimony.

Today I run a registered non-governmental organization “House of Fatima for Abused Girls Foundation”. This foundation caters to the needs of sexually abuse girls and boys in our society. I finally went back to school and now I am a graduate of Sociology from one of the best Universities in Nigeria. 

I’m using my story to help victims, to educate mothers on how they can protect their children from sexual abuse and help parents identify the signs to look out for. I emphasise the need for parents to listen to their children whenever they want to talk to them. To read the complete version of my story you can pick up my book on Amazon. Use this link: https://amzn.to/3mz5JeW

As I conclude, everyone, both old and young needs to understand that there is power in their voice and that they should never allow anybody to silence them. Speaking out will make a difference. It will expose the intent of rapists and bring to justice those that are into these acts.

  • “We say No to any kind of abuse.”
  • “We stand against gender-based violence.” 
  • “We stand against child marriage.”

Every girl child deserves an education and it is her fundamental right to be happy.

There is great power in our voice. 

You can visit our social media for more information:

Website: houseoffatima.org

Instagram: @houseoffatima_ng

Twitter: @houseoffatimang

Facebook: House of Fatima for Sexually Abused Girls

DAY EIGHT: South Africa’s Blue Dress: art as an alternative record of sexual and gender-based violence

In this post, Eliza Garnsey explores how the powerful South African artworks “The Blue Dress” provide an alternative record of women’s experiences of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV).

Picture above: Fig.1: Installation view of Judith Mason, The Man Who Sang and the Woman Who Kept Silent (The Blue Dress) (1998), triptych, inside the Constitutional Court of South Africa. Photography by Akona Kenqu (2014). 

Eliza Garnsey

Inside the Constitutional Court of South Africa hangs Judith Mason’s The Man Who Sang and the Woman Who Kept Silent, more commonly known as The Blue Dress (Fig. 1). The Court is a unique space by international comparison because it houses a large visual art collection developed by the court, and for the court.

In this post I explore The Blue Dress as an alternative record of women’s experiences of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV); experiences which are largely absent from the official record of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (SATRC).[1] [MF1] 

Mason created The Man Who Sang and the Woman Who Kept Silent (The Blue Dress) to commemorate Phila Ndwandwe and Harold Sefola who were members of the African National Congress (ANC) fighting for freedom from apartheid. They were murdered by security branch officers of the South African Police in the late 1980s. The stories of their deaths emerged during the amnesty hearings of the SATRC . 

Sefola was an ANC activist, who—along with two of his colleagues, Jackson Maake and Andrew Makupe—was abducted, tortured and murdered. During his interrogation, Sefola requested to sing Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrica (God Bless Africa). Maake, Makupe and Sefola were electrocuted to death. Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrica is now the national anthem of South Africa. Sefola was the man who sang. 

Ndwandwe was a member of uMkonte weSizwe (spear of the nation, also known as MK) which was the armed wing of the ANC. She was exiled to Swaziland after being arrested in South Africa. From Swaziland, Ndwandwe was the acting commander of Natal MK activities. Ndwandwe disappeared in 1988. The SATRC investigation into her disappearance uncovered evidence against seven security branch officers who were responsible for Ndwandwe’s abduction, detention, and murder. Their testimonies led to Ndwandwe’s remains being located; her body was found with remnants of a blue plastic bag, most often cited as being fashioned into a pair of underwear, wrapped around her body. Ndwandwe was the woman who kept silent; who was silenced. 

Fig 2. Judith Mason, 1998, The Man Who Sang and the Woman Who Kept Silent I (The Blue Dress), found plastic bags, thread, white paint, approx. 200 × 70 × 45 cm. Constitutional Court Art Collection, Johannesburg. Photography by Ben Law-Viljoen. © Succession Judith Mason | DALRO

In response, Mason sewed a dress from blue plastic bags (Fig. 2) on the hem of which she wrote a letter to Ndwandwe: 

Sister, a plastic bag may not be the whole armour of God, but you were wrestling with flesh and blood, and against powers, against the rulers of darkness, against spiritual wickedness in sordid places. Your weapons were your silence and a piece of rubbish. Finding that bag and wearing it until you were disinterred is such a frugal, commonsensical, house-wifely thing to do, an ordinary act… At some level you shamed your captors, and they did not compound their abuse of you by stripping you a second time. Yet they killed you. We only know your story because a sniggering man remembered how brave you were. Memorials to your courage are everywhere; they blow about in the streets and drift on the tide and cling to thorn-bushes. This dress is made from some of them. Hambe kahle. Umkhonto [Go well, Spear of the Nation]. 

Judith Mason, artist

Mason uses plastic bags to emphasize Ndwandwe’s resistance to the violation of her bodily autonomy, and ultimately her life. In contrast to their material fragility, plastic bags become markers of Ndwandwe’s defiance. They are transformed from refuse into powerful sacred objects.

The form of the dress and the way in which it gestures to women’s experiences in anti-apartheid struggles is critical. The SATRC has been widely critiqued for failing to address the experiences of many women, especially in relation to the politics of SGBV. By focusing on the direct victims of gross human rights violations, the SATRC resulted in a blindness to the types of abuse predominantly experienced by women. This was compounded by the Commission’s determination that in the context of their mandate to grant amnesty for politically motivated violence, rape was not considered to be political. Although this determination was “motivated by an interest in heightened accountability for rape” it sent a problematic message about the recognition of the politics of SGBV.

The SATRC report emphasizes Ndwandwe’s modesty, dignity, and nakedness at the time of her death over and above her role as a trained political operative and her resistance to torture and rape. The Blue Dress points towards the suspected sexual violence experienced by Ndwandwe which the SATRC record failed to acknowledge; violence represented in the paintings by the imagery of the hyena tearing the dress in the dirt (FIGs. 3 and 4).

In the letter on the dress, Mason describes the plastic bag as a weapon; one which shamed Ndwandwe’s captors. The implication is that the plastic bag prevented further violence. The focus is on Ndwandwe’s resistance to victimhood, rather than her victimization—a contrast to the official record.

Fig. 3. Judith Mason, 1998, The Man Who Sang and the Woman Who Kept Silent II, oil on canvas, 190 × 160 cm. Constitutional Court Art Collection, Johannesburg. Photography by Ben Law-Viljoen. © Succession Judith Mason | DALRO 
Fig. 4. Judith Mason, 1998, The Man Who Sang and the Woman Who Kept Silent III, oil on canvas, 166 × 122 cm. Constitutional Court Art Collection, Johannesburg. Photography by Ben Law-Viljoen. © Succession Judith Mason | DALRO 

The Blue Dress comes to symbolise the many victims and survivors of SGBV whose stories remain absent from the official record. The artwork imbues plastic bags and their ubiquitous presence with symbolic meaning about “the pervasive violence enacted on women’s bodies”. Taken together, the materiality of the plastic bags and the gendered symbolism of the dress, create the possibility of an alternative record. 

The presence of The Blue Dress at the centre of South Africa’s constitutional democracy is a critical reminder of what is missing elsewhere. 

[1] The post draws on six months of participant observation fieldwork at the Court, which involved 54 interviews with people associated with the Court, including judges, law clerks, staff members, artists, and visitors, as well as visual and archival research. 

This post draws on ideas explored in The Justice of Visual Art: Creative State-Building in Times of Political Transition(CUP, 2020) and in ‘South Africa’s Blue Dress: (Re)imagining Human Rights through Art’, Angelaki 24/4 (2019) 38-51 (published here with the permission of Taylor and Francis). Free copies of the article are available here

Eliza Garnsey is a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow in International Relations at the University of Cambridge and a Junior Research Fellow at Wolfson College Cambridge. She is currently an Honorary Associate at the Centre for International Security Studies, University of Sydney. Eliza’s research focuses on art and visual culture in international relations and world politics, particularly in relation to human rights, transitional justice, and conflict. Her book, The Justice of Visual Art: Creative State-Building in Times of Political Transition (CUP, 2020), explores how art can engage and shape ideas of justice in ways which have the capacity to address identity divisions and exclusions in nations emerging from conflict.

You can follow her on Twitter @Eliza_Garnsey

DAY FOUR: “If I’m not in Friday, I might be dead”

This week the Femicide Census released a ground-breaking report analysing ten years of men’s fatal violence against women and girls in the UK.

Picture above: cover of Femicide Census report of Femicides in the UK between 2009-2018. Source: femicidecensus.org

Karen Ingala Smith

This week the Femicide Census released a ground-breaking report analysing ten years of men’s fatal violence against women and girls in the UK.

The report entitled UK Femicides 2009-2018:  The police said, “there is no risk to the wider community” offers an in-depth analysis of the deaths of 1,425 women and girls aged 14 years and over killed by men and boys between 2009 and 2018.

1,425 dead women over ten years is an average of 142 a year, though in fact the range was from 124 women in 2016 to 168 women in 2010; a woman dead at the hands of a man on average every 2.5 days. The majority, 888 women (62%)’ were killed by a current or former partner, meaning that for ten years, a woman was killed by a current or former partner every 4 days. The report also addresses the suspicious deaths of another 117 women, for which, owing to various reasons addressed in the report, a suspect could not be legally held responsible. 

Femicide, the killing of women and girls because they are female, is not a specific offence in the UK.

  The specific sexed contexts of these women’s deaths were erased. Instead they were homicides (murders and manslaughters) – or where the man killed himself before he was detected, charged or convicted – unlawful killings.  But whether the law recognises it or not, there is much that is sex-specific about men’s fatal violence against women. 

The subheading of the Femicide Census is, “If I’m Not In On Friday, I Might Be Dead”. These are the words of  Judith Nibbs who said this to colleagues as she left work in April 2014. She did not go to work on the Friday in question. She was murdered by her husband.  

It’s true that there were a far greater number of men killed over those same years: 3,796[1] males aged 16 and over. But women are disproportionately victimised, comprising approximately 36% of victims but only 8% of those convicted[2] in the year ending March 2019. Between 2009 and 2018, annually between 4% and 8%[3]of men were killed by a current or former partner compared to our finding of 62% of women who were killed by men. Men are also much more likely to be killed by a same sex partner. There are sex differences in histories of abuse between couples where intimate partner homicide ends the relationship, women killed by male partners or ex-exes have almost always suffered months of years of abuse from him prior to their death, while men killed by female partners are usually those who have been inflicting abuse. There are also differences in methods of killing, sexually motivated killings and use of sexual violence, and overkilling.

Men kill women because they can and because they decide to

Men’s violence against women is often framed as a loss of control. Indeed, this is available as a partial defence to murder. But men’s fatal violence against women is much more about control, than the loss of it, particularly, but not only, when we’re looking at intimate partner femicide. Of the 62% (no. 888) of women who were killed by a partner or former partner, at least 378 (43%) were known to have separated from or to have taken steps to separate from the man who killed her. The majority of them, 89% (338) were killed in the first-year post separation and 142 (38%) in the first month. This finding ties closely with Jane Moncton Smith’s 8-stage model of domestic homicide, where four of the eight stages: coercive control, trigger, change in thinking and planning, relate to men increasing their control not losing it.  

It is not only women who are partners of abusive men who are controlled, and whose liberty is restricted by abusive men, – it is all women – in the routine choices we make, in the ways that we’re judged and whether we do or don’t comply.  

Men’s violence against women is a critical tool of patriarchy. 

Women are killed by husbands, partners, lovers, exes of all these, by men whose advances they reject, by their sons, so-called friends, neighbours, maintenance men, burglars and sexual predators as well as men who get off on women’s pain and humiliation, be they women they know or women they don’t.

Less than a month before we published the report, Peter Sutcliffe, who had killed at least 13 women and attacked at least 10 more in Yorkshire and Greater Manchester between 1975 and 1980, died in prison. His death is a timely reminder that femicide extends beyond men killing current and former partners, or other family members. Also, that the sexism and misogyny that are characteristic of systems and institutions that regulate our lives are not restricted to those that deal with the domestic. Joan Smith has argued that in the policing of West Yorkshire, men’s arrogance and misogyny meant that Sutcliffe was able to kill more women than could have been the case if survivor accounts had been taken seriously, that is, if women had been believed. Men charged with murder lie about their intent and actions even when the consequences of their crime, a woman’s dead body and the injuries that they inflicted, are plainly available as contradictory evidence.

Rape convictions have fallen to a record low, to the extent that feminist campaigners suggest that rape is as good as decriminalised. Yet stereotypes about women’s false allegations rather than men’s false protestations of innocence, and juries’ false ‘not guilty’ verdicts are those which dominate popular consciousness.

So-called ‘gender neutral’ responses to domestic and sexual violence, including prostitution, are anything but. Ignoring the sex-specific nature of women’s victimisation hides disproportionality.  The Femicide Census team are very clear that statutory services and the criminal justice system could make a difference by doing their jobs properly and implementing existing laws and policies. At the same time an inquiry into institutional sexism and the state apparatus would surely reveal a system stacked against women.

However, without a clear and ambitious strategy that addresses the individual, relational, institutional, cultural and cross-cultural factors that create a conducive context for men’s violence against women, we fear that men’s violence against women, girls and children will not be eradicated.  Approaches that see incidents of men’s fatal violence against women as isolated incidents and that do not recognise that some members of the community – women, by virtue of our sex – are at risk of victimisation by men that is disproportionate and different in nature to any violence we inflict, are doomed to reinforce the structural sex inequalities of patriarchal societies. The Femicide Census is a call to action and a commemoration of our sisters.


[1]https://www.ons.gov.uk/file?uri=/peoplepopulationandcommunity/crimeandjustice/datasets/appendixtableshomicideinenglandandwales/current/previous/v3/homicideappendixtables201718correction.xls

[2] ONS Y/E March 2019 https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/crimeandjustice/articles/homicideinenglandandwales/yearendingmarch2019

[3] Ibid

Karen Ingala Smith is a co-founder and Director of the UK Femicide Census. She set up the website Counting Dead Women (CDW) in 2012, now replicated across the world. She is Chief Executive of nia, an East London charity providing services for women, girls and children who have been subjected sexual and domestic violence, including prostitution. Karen is also a doctoral candidate at the University of Durham. Karen was awarded the Positive Role Model for Gender at the 2014 National Diversity Awards.

Her social media handles are @k_ingalasmith @femicidecensus @countdeadwomen

You can find the Femicide Census report here.

Day Sixteen | Women, gender-based violence, and resistance in Kashmir

On 5 August 2019, the Indian government annulled Kashmir’s semi-autonomous status and split Indian-administered Kashmir into two federally-administered territories.

Seema Kazi

On 5 August 2019, the Indian government annulled Kashmir’s semi-autonomous status and split Indian-administered Kashmir into two federally-administered territories.  Astonishingly, the promotion of women’s rights was invoked as one of the discourses to justify the revocation of Kashmiri autonomy, whilst at the same time there have been widespread reports of gender-based violence by Indian troops. 

In the run up to the abrogation, the central government mobilised a million troops across the territory of Kashmir in parallel with the unlawful arrest of over 4,000 civilians (especially young boys), widespread use of torture, sexual molestation and harassment of Kashmiri women, together with a climate of extraordinary repression against the local population. Curbs on the media have restricted public access to information on Kashmir.

In addition to these measures, the central government imposed a crippling communications blackout: internet, landline and mobile services were cut off; Kashmiris could no longer stay in touch with each other or know what was happening to them, or indeed about them in Kashmir, or in the world at large. Landline and mobile services have since been partially restored but the ban on the internet continues. 

whats happening in kashmir

Day Fifteen |Understanding dowry and dowry abuse in Australia

Manjula O’Connor, Jan Breckenridge, Sara Singh and Mailin Suchting

dowry abuse
Reproduced from Shutterstock via The Conversation

The practice of dowry usually involves the giving of money, property, goods or other gifts by one family to another before, during or any time after marriage. It is a universal practice. For example, Bombay Island – now called Mumbai – was a former Portuguese outpost which was gifted to England as dowry in the marriage of Catherine of Braganza to Charles II (and was later leased to the East India Company in 1668). 

In its modern day avatar, dowry as a practice has different customary characteristics across different communities. Dowry exchange in South Asian communities is characterised by the woman’s family providing goods (including but not limited to money, jewellery, furniture and appliances) to the man and his family. In North African and Middle Eastern communities, dowry is characterised by the man’s family providing goods (predominantly in the form of money or cattle) to the female and her family.

Dowry is an ancient practice most frequently associated with India, but in reality, it is a cultural practice globally. This blog mostly addresses dowry in the South Asian context. Dowry in ancient times originated as a form of ante mortem inheritance, meant only for the bride. In modern times dowry gifts are expected by the family of the receiver as well and has become a practice that is a product of patriarchy reinforcing gender inequality. Women activists have campaigned against dowry practices in India since 1961, recognising the toxic impact of patriarchy combined with greed, and growing evidence of serious violence, murders and suicides associated with dowry in India. 

The Australasian Centre of Human Rights and Health (ACHRH) has refined the definition of dowry as ‘substantial gifts’ in the context of a marriage, where the value of gifts is out of proportion to the income of either family and causes financial distress to the giver.

what about dowry abuse?