DAY THIRTEEN: Fursat ki Fizayen: a reclamation of space, rights and aspirations

Divya Chopra and Rwitee Mandal illuminates the importance of accessible spaces for women, especially in urban sites which are often planned with masculine vision and makes these spaces unsafe and non-inclusive for women.

Divya Chopra and Rwitee Mandal 

Featured image: ‘Top view of the terrace’ at Fursat ki Fizayen, credits to authors

Gender Biased Violence (GBV), especially Violence Against Women (VAW), is a living reality for migrant women living in resettlement colonies. Dislocation to under-resourced peripheries of cities is an iniquitous outcome of the urbanization process which deeply and disproportionately affects women who constitute almost 67% of the migrant population (Census of India 2011). While the underlying causes of GBV are rooted in patriarchal relations, the impacts of urban migration on gender compound those relations. Violence Against Women varies according to geographical location and scale as well as various other causal and contextual processes in cities. Migration particularly has deep ramifications on the lives of women by impacting their livelihoods, access to opportunities, resources, services and their ‘right to the city.’ Further, the physical configuration of urban areas planned with a masculine vision renders urban spaces unsafe, inaccessible, and non-inclusive. 

Within this larger discourse on GBV, VAW, and urban migration, ‘Fursat ki Fizayen’, a socially engaged art project supported by Khoj International Artists’ Association, engaged with the spatial realities of young, single, working women living at the margins – geographically, socially and economically – and artistically interpreted the multiple narratives around women’s leisure in the visible public domain, thereby encouraging women’s participation in public space.

The project explored the concept of leisure as a way of acknowledging women’s right to leisure time for personal growth as well as mental and physical well-being; as a way of addressing women’s right to leisure spaces in the city; and together with such an approach, contributed towards building gender inclusive cities. 

The project site, Madanpur Khadar, is a peri-urban, resettlement colony in Delhi, located along the southern banks of River Yamuna, where provisions of basic urban services and amenities are grossly inadequate. Open spaces within this tightly packed, built-to-edge, lower income neighbourhood are heavily gendered, unsafe, and hence inaccessible, discouraging young girls and women from enjoying these spaces. Instead, they avoid these spaces completely and remain invisible in their own neighbourhood.

Lacking access to physical leisure spaces, but having access to smartphones, they escape into a virtual space to live an alternative reality of public life. Through the construction and projection of self in an anonymous digital realm, they express their aspiration for leisure without being judged or afraid. Thus, providing access to a safe space where young women could enjoy leisure time without the fear of harassment or violence became the primary objective of the project.  

Leisure for women in cities, often determined by the intersection of gender with other identities, produce exclusion in complex ways. It is seen when women spend their leisure time, they construct their identities using space to express themselves and interact with others. Fursat ki Fizayen explored this dialectical relationship between leisure and space by engaging young, single, working women to reflect on how they think and construct their own images in the public domain. Participatory place-making and image-making being powerful tools for social empowerment were used to foster ownership and belongingness for their created environments. Stories of daily negotiations and contestations were curated to understand the lived experiences and spatial realities of these young women who access the site of power – the public domain – while exploring and reclaiming spaces for leisure in their own unique ways. Aspects of time, space and nature of leisure were discussed to co-design and co-produce leisure spaces with them. Their stories were used to understand and question the ways in which the world affects women at leisure. 

Among the many open spaces imagined and desired for at the neighbourhood, precinct, and city level, a space often forgotten, underutilized, and seldom used for leisure – terrace – emerged as the space of relief and escape from the confines of the four walls. Our facilitation partner Jagori provided the terrace at their community office at Madanpur Khadar for intervention.

The terrace at Jagori was also seen as a safe, familiar, and accessible space. Addressing multiple binaries, this space was reimagined as a personal yet collective, private yet public, internal yet external, an open-to-sky elevated space with lots of plants, seating, lights, decorations, music, mirrors, games (carrom, hopscotch, skipping), exercise equipment, a patch for a kitchen garden and various backdrops for selfies.

A central feature of the terrace, a colourful wall mural, was conceptualized along with the girls who co-created the mural along with two young artists. Together with the girls, the artists painted each of the girls’ avatars in joyful colours, enjoying both productive and non-productive means of leisure – reading, singing, working out, taking selfies, dressing up or just watching the world go by.  

Project team with group of girls. Image credits to authors.

The mural also strongly represents women’s right to experience leisure freely without the fear of harassment or violence. Since the young women have a strong digital presence, a Wi-Fi connection with boosters, charging points and speakers have been installed along with the creation of a beautiful backdrop for video calls/meetings, selfies/reels. A QR code printed on the wall connects the visitors to our Instagram page. The reclaimed terrace now has become a space for me-time, meet-ups and celebrations. 

Having an afterlife, way beyond the duration and scope of the intervention, was an inherent quality of the project and its associations. The women appropriated the space by growing their kitchen gardens, making their decorations, creating their selfie backdrops, holding their celebrations, and bringing along more women and girls to enjoy that space. The vibrant terrace continues to be used in creative ways to experience leisure by the community women. This terrace was built as a prototype that could be easily replicated allowing for additions and alterations. We hope it can trigger similar ideas to make use of underutilized terrace spaces to their full potential using local skill sets, locally produced products and locally available materials – which are low-cost, sustainable and support local businesses.

Together, these terraces could fulfil the need for accessible, and familiar spaces which women can access freely and use for personal and collective time, without fear of harassment and violence. 

Authors’ Bios

Divya and Rwitee are spatial design practitioners, researchers and educators based out of Delhi/Gurgaon. 

Divya’s practice primarily delves into themes of Inclusive Cities, Informality and Migration, Socio-spatial Justice and Urbanising Rural. Her current research pursuits revolve around formulating an integrated urban development framework that allows for a collaborative and structured way of envisioning, co-designing and co-producing our cities. She has been working across community partnered multidisciplinary engagements with a focus on placemaking through participatory art and co-design methods. She has been actively involved with the Urban Form Lab at the Urban Design programme at the School of Planning and Architecture (SPA), New Delhi. 

Rwitee is a Senior Program Manager at Safetipin, a social enterprise which uses technology to collect spatial data in order to make cities safer and inclusive for women and others. She has been working across multidisciplinary domains with a focus on gender-responsive spaces and placemaking through participatory art and co-design methods. She mentors the Social Urbanism Lab at the postgraduate Urban Design programme of the School of Planning and Architecture (SPA), New Delhi. 

DAY FIVE: Confronting Gender-based Violence in Ancient Rome: The Sexual Violation of Pubescent Boys

In this post, Ulrike Roth explores evidence from the ancient Roman world to raise questions about our preparedness to confront the issue of sexual violence against children, then and now.

Ulrike Roth

Featured Image: Warren Cup, c. 15 BCE–15 CE; Jerusalem. © The Trustees of the British Museum, London/UK (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

Although only recently given fuller scholarly attention, gender-based violence was a given in ancient Roman society over the long millennium of its existence, from before the middle of the first millennium BCE to the middle of the first millennium CE. Take the sexual violation of male teenagers in the context of slavery. Deeply disturbing from a modern vantage point, sexual interactions between free adult men and enslaved pubescent boys are repeatedly reported in the surviving sources as forced upon the youngsters, with a focus on youths up to 14 years of age. While taken for granted by many, not everyone agreed.  In fact, despite its prevalence we can find ancient voices exposing and condemning the practice as exploitation.

In the 60s CE, Seneca, the former tutor and advisor of the Roman Emperor Nero, publicly criticised the sexual violation of boys by their enslavers:

Another, who serves the wine, must dress like a woman and wrestle with his advancing years; he cannot get away from his boyhood; he is dragged back to it; and though he has already acquired a soldier’s figure, he is kept beardless by having his hair smoothed away or plucked out by the roots, and he must remain awake throughout the night, dividing his time between his master’s drunkenness and his lust; in the chamber he must be a man, at the feast a boy.

Seneca, Moral Letters 47.7

Elsewhere, Seneca refers to the abused as ‘luckless boys’, and calls their abuse ‘shameful treatment’ (95.24). A wall painting from a dining room in the ancient city of Pompeii, in southern Italy, likely visualises this ‘treatment’ of enslaved boys for sexual purposes: while three servants assist various dinner guests in the foreground, another, possibly North African boy, appears embraced by an adult figure, seated in the centre-right at the back of the room.

Wall painting from the House of the Triclinium in Pompeii (V, 2, 4), 50–79 CE.
Courtesy of: Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli (Naples/Italy), via Wikimedia Commons.

The overlap between the serving function of boys at banquets and their exploitation for sexual purposes is powerfully brought out in full-size sculptures displayed in many an elite Roman home. Intended to appear sexually alluring, the naked ‘dumb waiter’ cast in bronze – such as the statute known by its find-spot as the ‘Xanten Youth’ – underscored the commodification of enslaved boys who could be forced to satisfy their enslavers’ every desire. The tension between Seneca’s critique and these artistic representations that catered to the enslaver’s sexualised gaze is unmistaken.

‘Xanten Youth’, c. 50 BCE–100 CE (Xanten/Germany); without serving tray.
© Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Antikensammlung / Johannes Laurentius (CC NC-BY-SA)

What makes approaching this material especially tricky for the modern scholar seeking to identify gender-based violence in the ancient Roman world is the fact that same-sex relations between males of different ages were not in themselves frowned upon in antiquity, particularly in culturally Greek contexts, and that they were regularly consensual in nature. Indeed, there is no reason to think that all or perhaps even most of these relationships were framed by the coercion of the younger male. A prime example often cited by modern scholars for such a consensual relationship is that between the Roman Emperor Hadrian and the much younger Antinoos, a youth from Bithynia (in modern Turkey), with whom the Emperor slept. Known for his love of Greek practices, Hadrian even publicly idolised Antinoos, and deified him after his premature death in 130 CE, aged 19.

Relief portrait of Antinoos (on a modern slab), c. 130 CE; Louvre (Paris/France).
Courtesy of: C. Raddato (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Much of the relevant evidence for studying gender-based violence is therefore open to different interpretations – from consensus to abuse. This makes pinpointing occurrences of sexual violence difficult. But history books and museum exhibits ignore these uncomfortable ambiguities when they only talk about Antinoos as the Emperor’s lover. They ignore the signs that he might well have been the victim of what we would now call sexual abuse. Could a provincial boy from Bithynia really have said no to the Emperor’s advances? Could abusive dynamics explain his mysterious death in the Nile, possibly by suicide? We don’t have a shred of evidence from Antinoos to know what he felt.

He shares a mute and muted destiny along with the ranks of enslaved individuals whose voices we just don’t hear. But when privileging a consensual interpretation of Antinoos’ sexual interaction with the most powerful man of his day, we are only listening out for one side of the story.

The same holds for the imagery on the Warren Cup that heads this blog. What are we witnessing? Male homosexual love-making? Perhaps even a consensual sexual act between a slaver and a boy enslaved to him? This has been the view of several modern scholars. What do visitors to the British Museum who see the Cup make of it? If slavery defined the two figures’ relationship, how can a focus on a consensual reading be justified?

How, to ask the question more broadly, is one to talk about this kind of Roman evidence with individuals who have experienced sexual violence if we marginalise in our interpretations the very real possibility, even probability, that sexual violence drove many interactions between enslaver and enslaved in the Roman world?

Confronting the more disturbing settings that lurk behind some of the most aesthetically pleasing relics from the ancient Roman world is not about ignoring the many other interpretative options, to pass anachronistically judgement on a dead society; it’s about contributing to a debate that we, today, must have. Trying to uncover the tracks of abusers is, after all, the same challenging task today. Acknowledging the ambiguities in the ancient evidence, and listening more carefully to the signs of abuse in it, helps to ingrain in our mindsets the kind of sensitivised attitude that is so essential in identifying, and combating, sexual violence today.

Author’s Bio:

UIrike Roth is an Ancient Historian, researching and teaching at the University of Edinburgh. She specialises in the study of slavery, primarily in the ancient Roman world, and has recently directed a 3-year project on child slavery in the Roman Empire, funded by the Leverhulme Trust: ‘Enslaved childhoods in the Roman world’.

DAY FOUR: Invisible Impact: Gender-based Violence and the Sikh Women’s Alliance 20 years on

A conversation with Balvinder Kaur Saund who has been at the frontline of activism within the UK’s Sikh community for over two decades.

Balvinder Kaur Saund and Zubin Mistry

Balvinder Kaur Saund has been at the frontline of activism within the UK’s Sikh community for over two decades. “They don’t want their gurdwara tainted with the words domestic violence, ‘honour’-based violence, female infanticide,” she explains. “They say to me, ‘It’s in the other communities, it’s not in our community. Why are you making us look bad?’”. 

But Saund knows these problems exist inside, not just outside, her community. Underlying them is a misogyny that endures even as times have supposedly changed. Centuries ago, she reflects, some families resorted to burying their daughters alive. Then modern technology enabled sex-selective abortions while richer families still attempt to use reproductive technologies to get the son they want. These are the most extreme expressions of a preference for boys that persists to this day. Saund is not surprised whenever she belatedly learns about the births of girls almost as an afterthought. “If it had been a boy,” she notes, “I would have had a phone call, I would have had ladoo, I would have an invitation to the party, an invitation to the gurdwara – and they would announce it on Punjabi radio!” Women’s lives are still devalued.

 But groups like the London-based Sikh Women’s Alliance (SWA) galvanize women to tackle the deep-rooted attitudes and structures that fuel gender-based violence and constrain communities from tackling it. Originally launched in 2001 by a male-based Sikh studies group, Saund and four other women quickly took over the reins because “we didn’t want men to tell us how to run the group”.

Video above: Interview with Balvinder Saud (part 1)
Video above: Interview with Balvinder Saud (part 2)

Founded to empower, inspire and educate women, the SWA is a cross between a support group, social network and consciousness-raising organisation. At monthly meet-and-greets the group holds workshops on everything from emotional well-being to financial independence. If it’s somebody’s birthday, they’ll bring along food and everyone has a song and a dance. Each year on International Women’s Day they celebrate achievements of ‘Sikh Women of Substance’ like Preet Gill, the first female Sikh MP, and Jasvinder Sanghera. SWA conferences have addressed the sexual exploitation of South Asian women and the silence that isolates women in difficult and dangerous circumstances.

With a wealth of experience as a local councillor and magistrate as well as community activist, Saund knows those circumstances all too well. Working out of a safe room at the gurdwara, she has used her know-how to direct desperate women to domestic violence groups and navigate them through the court system. She is hopeful the SWA really has had an “invisible impact” that is not easily recorded. But she also recognises how challenging it is for women to leave violent situations. Like many people at the front line, she knows the pandemic has only made things worse.

Gender-based violence is, of course, not unique to Sikh communities. Far from it. As Saund puts it, “We are just a reflection of the wider world.” But she also has little time for the kind of hand-wringing that inhibits talking about the specific challenges of tackling problems within particular communities. In her estimation Sikh women have lost out because the police and other agencies become complacent if communities like hers “don’t make much noise”. Women’s trust in the police has long been an issue. That trust has hit “rock bottom”, Saund fears, following the terrible circumstances of Sarah Everard’s murder and the police’s much criticised response.

But reticence within her community is also a problem. She once overheard a group of men point her out as the person who was going round breaking up marriages. “Excuse me gentlemen,” she responded, “if you treated your daughters-in-law like your daughters, they would not come to me for help”. The loud energy that typically greets perceived slights against the religious book contrasts with the deafening silence when a woman from the community is raped. Saund is endlessly frustrated that the gender equality promoted by the founder of Sikhism, Guru Nanak, gets spouted in sermons, but is all too rarely put into practice.

Community leadership is a case in point. “The men like to hog the seats”, Saund explains. One or two women might be  put in charge of the kitchen for langar. Saund has long advocated for targets on national councils and local gurdwara committees.

Leadership has failed to acknowledge, let alone address, a very serious issue: the abuse of women and children in gurdwaras. While the #MeToo movement has energised women to speak out against abuse – and while some religious organisations are belatedly having a painful reckoning with entrenched histories of sexual abuse – Saund is troubled that safeguarding remains a word she almost never hears uttered in gurdwaras.

Things are changing. A new women’s group, Kaur Sisters, is exploring legal routes to expose abuse. Many people within her community “love [their] children no matter what gender they are”. She sees plenty of high-flying younger women gaining an education and securing financial independence. But many have prospered precisely by “reaching out into the mainstream”. This is one reason why Saund is more pessimistic when she considers how much her community has truly changed. “I would have liked to say after twenty years,” she says ruefully, “that we’ve had an impact, a big impact, but I’m afraid there’s no way I can say that we’ve done that…the community still digs in its heels and refuses to accept problems are there”.

What would she have done differently if she could start over again? “We have more or less become a support group for women now,” she ponders, “but I would have liked us to be more of a group where we pick up our banners too”. Women’s support for one another is essential. But, looking back, Saund‘s advice to young women willing to “pick up the gauntlet and carry on” is clear: “Be loud and make yourself heard”.

Balvinder Kaur Saund is the Chair of the Sikh Women’s Alliance. A former local councillor in Redbridge, London, between 2006 and 2014, she has also served as a magistrate. In 2013 she was profiled in the inaugural iteration of the BBC 100 Women series. This blog is based on a conversation between Balvinder Saund and Zubin Mistry (University of Edinburgh) in October 2021.

DAY TWO: Where it all began

Almost 50 years on, Anne Summers writes about the opening of Elsie Women’s Refuge in 1974 (Australia).

Anne Summers

It is almost impossible to fathom that in just 27 months it will be 50 years since we opened Elsie Women’s Refuge.  In March 1974 a rowdy group of feminists in the inner-Sydney neighbourhood of Glebe broke into an abandoned house, which serendipitously bore the nameplate Elsie (many houses in Australia used to have names). We changed the locks, declared squatters’ rights, and opened Australia’s first modern women’s refuge. As luck would have it, the adjoining house was also unoccupied, so we smashed our way in there as well, giving us two tiny cottages to operate from. It took three nerve-wracking days before the first woman and her kids showed up. We had opened the refuge under the most precarious of circumstances: our tenancy legally questionable, no funds, very little support from other sections of the women’s movement which questioned whether feminists should be providing services. And now, after much media fanfare on the need for safe housing for women and kids escaping domestic violence, no one had shown up.

Video above: Excerpt from the film ‘Brazen Hussies’ featuring Anne Summers. Reproduced with permission from writer and director Catherine Dwyer.  

We learned later of the women who had written down the phone number after hearing me interviewed by Sydney’s most notorious shock-jock radio host (who turned out to be amazingly sympathetic and kept repeating the number long after I had left the studio). After our first ‘client’ arrived, a Scottish woman and her three little boys who, to her astonishment, was given an extremely effusive welcome, we were never not full to overflowing.  

By June 1975, just fifteen months later, there were eight women’s refuges around the country, all operating on uncertain future funding. A friendly feminist who worked in the Office of Women’s Affairs in Canberra urged us to ring around the other refuges and “get some figures on how many families had come through”.

Diana Beaton, one of the volunteers who kept Elsie going for many years after that shaky start, made the calls: “Over that period, we’d sheltered 13,500 women and children. Even we were gob-smacked,” she said in a magazine interview many years later. 

Image above: Photograph taken inside a women’s refuge at Glebe, Sydney, New South Wales 1975. Source: National Archives of Australia, A6180, 2/6/75/11 

For years after I was no longer involved, I would hear stories from women who had sought sanctuary at Elsie.  Mandy Sayer, a well-known Sydney writer, tells of her mother piling into a cab with she and her brother, wearing only their pajamas, and asking to be taken to Elsie. It was a $50 cab ride. Her mother had no money but at Elsie they were welcomed, the cab was paid for, and Mandy and her family began the reset of their lives. 

Back on that first day, in March 1974, I had given countless radio and television interviews, to (always) male and often patronizing interviewers. A famous ABC journalist informed me that “nagging wives” invited such violence. Fortunately, such views were not commonly expressed (at least not to our faces). 

Our daring act in announcing that we – a bunch of 20-something students and others – were going to provide safety, succor and help in finding a new life for women and kids escaping violence, attracted scorn, curiosity, applause and a huge amount of overt sympathy and support. We were both astonished and gratified when a local men’s charitable organization, Rotary, turned up and offered practical help. They spent a weekend securing our back fence and building a playground for the kids. Joyce Mayne, a large Sydney whitegoods retailer, got on the phone – herself! – and asked what we needed. The next day a truck delivered a refrigerator, washing machine, and dryer. The locals in Westmoreland Street started dropping off clothes and other useful items. 

Image above: Women’s Liberation Calendar 1985, Women’s refuges opened 74/74. Source: Sybylla Cooperative Press and Publications Ltd

Our struggle back then was to secure funding just so we could keep going, and we did not think too much about the future.  I am certain that none of us could have contemplated a time fifty years on when there would be almost 100 refuges in NSW. Or that in 2021 a conservative state government would announce funding for a further 75 refuges designed to replace the communal style housing we started with the more appropriate ‘core and cluster’ model. This style of accommodation gives women more privacy, enables them to bring teenage boys, and pets, with them while still being able to access the support services provides by refuges.

Image above: Poster for a concert to raise money for the Elsie Refuge, 1975 featuring the women’s liberation band, Clitoris. Source: Toni Robertson and Julie Bishop / National Gallery of Australia Collection

Women’s shelters, as many prefer to call them these days, are now mainstream, supported across the political spectrum. It seems they are here to stay.

Is this what we intended? That we would have to accept that domestic and family violence would be with us forever? We probably did not articulate it clearly at the time, but I think that what we wanted was for the violence to end. Refuges were part of the plan, but they were a means to an end, never the end itself.

I don’t want to see it as failure that are almost doubling the number of shelters in NSW because we need those safe places. We need the services that help women and kids reset their lives. We need those brave and selfless shelter workers who have devoted their lives to helping other women try to leave violence behind them.

But as we move towards marking – celebrating? – 50 years since we opened Elsie, maybe we should once again be brave, break the rules, dare to imagine a future without domestic and family violence. And plan how to make it happen.

Image above: Anne Summers at Elsie Women’s Refuge

Author’s bio:

Anne Summers is an Australian feminist with a long involvement in the women’s movement. She is the author of nine books, including the ground-breaking Damned Whores and God’s Police (1975), and is currently involved in a project on how to reduce domestic and family violence.  She was one of a group of Sydney feminists who established Elsie, Australia’s first women’s refuge.

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:

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:


Instagram: @houseoffatima_ng

Twitter: @houseoffatimang

Facebook: House of Fatima for Sexually Abused Girls