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Broken dreams, silent pain: I was tricked into an abusive marriage

 A young couple in an argument after they disagree on a family plan. [Getty Images]

Whenever Sarah Nkirote* reached out to friends and family for help during her 10 years of marriage to an abusive partner, they would tell her that she was not patient enough, that marriage needed work or that marriage was ‘like that.’

"They always insisted on this societally constructed phrase, 'ndoa ni kuvumilia' which is not true. I went to a point of reaching out to our area Chief for help but he was on my husband's side, no solution was reached, " Sarah says.

A resident of Nakuru, Sarah is one of millions of women around the world who suffer in silence due to Gender Based Violence (GBV.

According to United Children Emergency Funds (UNICEF), violence against women and girls continues to be a widespread and persistent human rights violation despite state and non-state actors promising to tackle it.

Women and girls continue to be subjected to multiple forms of violence; gender-based violence, sexual, physical and domestic violence, Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and intimidation and harassment.

Statistics from the Kenya Demographic and Health Survey 2022 indicate that over 40 per cent of women have experienced physical or sexual intimate partner violence. The survey conducted by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics showed that 34 per cent of women have experienced physical violence since the age of 15.

The Gender Violence Recovery Centre (GVRC) estimates that 1 in 3 women will experience sexual or physical violence in their lifetime and men are the main perpetrators of violence. Globally according to the World Bank, 35 per cent of women have experienced either physical or non-partner sexual violence.

Dr Tom Onyango, Educationist, Educational Psychologist and Psychological Counsellor at Rongo University observes the major causes of GBV, especially in a family set-up.

"Negative consequences of enforced idleness and the ensuing frustration on men. Ownership of the majority of valued household assets by men leaving women's possessions to mostly be confined to low-value assets. Alcoholism which leads to wife-beating as well as forcing them to have sex inappropriately,” Dr Onyango says. 

He adds that in the case of teens living with their parents, insufficient shelter can increase their exposure to abuse. 

“Parents, in search of privacy, may send away teenagers to spend the night with neighbours or relatives, thus exposing them to sexual exploitation," Dr Onyango observes. 

Looking back at how she ended up a married woman, Sharon says that poverty made her vulnerable and she ended up being tricked into a marriage. 

“When I did my first KCPE and got 462 marks in 2006, I could not join secondary school due to lack of school fees. I repeated Standard 8 the following year, believing everything would go well but I still could not raise the fees. I repeated Class Eight in 2008 after scoring 347 marks, " Sarah narrates.

Despite all this, she never gave up on her dream to join secondary school and she waited for any opportunity. 

"I just wanted to learn and prosper. My parents were unable to support my secondary education, this stressed me but I didn't have a reason to blame them, " Sarah says.

So when an opportunity presented itself, she jumped on it without hesitation.

"One day, my sister sent a message informing me that there was someone genuine who was willing to support my secondary education. I was delighted and asked her to tell me how I could reach him. Because he was a man, my sister who was married by then, didn't inform my mother about this -- she just kept it a secret. She planned on how I was to go and meet the man who was going to help me achieve my dreams, " Sarah narrates.

"My sister tricked my mother that she was going to take me to her place so that I could take care of her children as she looked for means to take me to school. By then, I was so innocent, you understand how pupils behave so I didn't give them a headache because in my mind I was ready to go to school and learn. On the way to the man's place, my sister told me the man was to support my secondary education and maybe I could be his wife thereafter, " Sarah explains.

Sarah says that since what she was promised was education, she didn’t think much about everything else. 

“School is what was ringing in my mind now and again. We met a 33-year-old man. The way he carried himself hinted at a blend of self-assurance and openness, making the first encounter inviting and comfortable. My sister went back to her place and we travelled from to the town where he was living, educational promises ringing in my mind, " she recalls. 

Sarah and the man arrived safely and she received a warm reception which gave her hope.  Sarah waited patiently as days went by. When a week was over, she gathered the courage to ask when he would ever take her to school.

"He told me that because it was already in the middle of the second term, he would take me to school the following term. I was shocked,” Sarah says.

"We were sleeping in the same bed but I didn't see this as a bad thing. The man kept telling me that after school, I was to be his wife and he would provide everything I needed. I didn't see that as a big deal. I was 17 years old and quite naive by then," Sarah says.

But school was never to be. Before the third term began, Sarah realised she was pregnant. 

“This is the time I realised that the plan had been for me to be his wife and it was not all about education. I was now a mother and it stressed me up. In 2009 I delivered my firstborn safely and when I asked about education, the man boldly told me I should raise my baby first and education will follow," narrates Sarah who is now 33 years old with two other children. 

A few years into the marriage, Sarah started experiencing violence. 

“Yes, I accepted to be a wife, but I couldn’t say anything in our home. He would abuse me verbally even in front of the children. Even my brothers-in-law would abuse me. I was just nothing in the family for all those years," Sarah narrates.

In 2018, shortly after giving birth to one of her children, the violence almost killed her. 

“I was still nursing wounds from a Caesarean birth when he kicked me in the belly. I reported it to the authorities but nothing changed since I was treated and everything was ‘settled,’ " Sarah says. 

Sarah says that she has been trying to leave her marriage but she was forced to come back. Her mother, who is now elderly, always told her to be tolerant and submissive to her husband.

"Considerable efforts should be enacted to promote women and girls autonomy and ensure realisation of their rights to ensure they lead lives free from violence. Let's not remain silent the way I did - it's time to speak up to save ourselves," says Sarah.

 Dr Tom Onyango, Educational Psychologist, Rongo University. [Courtesy]

According to UN Women, only 40 per cent of women seek help of any sort after experiencing violence.

Dr Onyango says that lengthy court procedures and lack of privacy prevent survivors from seeking formal legal redress due to lack of privacy. 

"The government has made attempts to tackle GBV through legislation but then these have had some challenges when it comes to implementation. Such challenges include the use of legal procedures is intimidating, especially for rural women and girls who may be illiterate or poorly educated and who, because of gender roles and norms, may not be accustomed to speaking for themselves (or speaking publicly), " Dr Onyango adds

Kenya’s legal framework – the Constitution of Kenya 2010, the Penal Code, the Sexual Offenses Act (SOA) 2006, and the Children‘s Act 2001 – provide a secure legal framework to prosecute SGBV cases. Although the SOA was a huge positive step towards addressing sexual offences, various challenges still hinder the reporting and prosecution of offenders. 

Dr Onyango says that to prevent violence against women, women and girls need to be empowered. 

He says the solution is empowering women and girls across their lifetimes –  in school and economically –  and using feminist approaches to tackle gender inequality, including in the home in addition to providing women and girls with safe spaces.

"Creating awareness among men about this violation of human rights and supporting males to create an enabling environment for women and girls. Including women in decision-making at the leadership level will also help," Dr Onyango says. 

"The community must be sensitized through mobilisation activities by volunteers, women groups and the society at large on how we can escape GBV, which authority to report to in case we face violence whichever the form because in my case I didn't have any knowledge where I could seek help," says Sarah.

*Names were changed to protect the survivor

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