As part of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Based Violence in the Rwenzori region supported by the USAID SAFE Program, essay writing contests were held in eight schools in the districts of Kasese, Kabarole, Bundibugyo and Ntoroko. To mark the end of the 16 Days Campaign, we share the two winning essays.
KYEBAMBE GIRLS’ SCHOOL
GENDRER BASED VIOLENCE IN HOMES
The kind of life which a house help goes through pains my heart and gives a reason to write about gender based violence. Scovia is sixteen years old house help and has stayed with us for two years. She tells me how her family is poor and she has to work tooth and nail to help sustain and support her mother who is a widow. She told me her father died three years ago due to HIV/AIDS though at first they thought he had been bewitched. It was after his death that her mother was constantly sick and she was compelled to test and found positive that they learnt the cause of her father’s death. Her mother’s health is so poor that she fears losing her when her siblings are still young. In addition to being HIV positive, doctors say that she has cancer of the colon. So this girl struggles so hard to help her mother survive.
Scovia works for sixty thousand a month. I like her because she does her work so well and in time. But am not happy with the way our mother treats her. She subjects Scovia to too much work that is really uncalled for. On top of the much work, she tortures her by beating and insulting her with abusive words. Mother stops us from helping Scovia to do any work even when we are on holiday. Actually life is harder for her when all of us are at home. There are heaps of clothes to wash, the house gets dirty all the time and the cooking becomes much, all is on Scovia ’s shoulder. Mother says she must work because she is paid.
Scovia wakes up at 4:00am every morning and goes to bed when everybody in the house has left to their beds. She does all domestic work ranging from cleaning, washing and cooking. The family has between ten to fifteen members especially during holidays. This means dirty clothes are in heaps, utensils for washing are so many and even polishing shoes for some family members as well as ironing. Her life style is so miserable because everything is on her shoulders. She must do all this before mother comes because any mistake yields her heavy strokes of canes.
I have seen mother slap her hotly in the face for what I would call simple reasons that are human. The first time, milk had poured in the fire as she left it on the stove to attend to our two years old baby who had wet her pants. For fear of mother finding the baby in wet clothes, Scovia rushed to change the diapers and milk poured. At that very moment, mother was just chipping in from the market. I looked on, in pity as innocent Scovia was being slapped. The second time was when she had misplaced the shoe polish and took long to look for it and find it. Mother did not only slap her but also deducted her salary to compensate for the lost tin of shoe polish. I felt for the poor girl. The third time I remember well, mother found Scovia and I washing clothes together and she rudely asked when I become her house maid. Both of us were beaten severely and I was sternly warned against doing what doesn’t concern me.
She insults her, reminding her of her status in our family. Sometimes I find her alone crying and murmuring to herself. But she tells me, she has nowhere else to go yet her mother needs to survive as well as her siblings. Scovia sleeps on the floor, in the store outside our main house and sometimes I fear for her security at night. She uses her specific cup and plate which nobody else is supposed to use. I sometimes wonder what is wrong with her that she is not allowed to share with us. She eats from the kitchen for some members don’t want to look at her as they eat. Much as she prepares our meals, she is not entitled to eating some types of food like meat, chicken, fish pork and eggs yet she cooks them. But she tells me, it would all be okay with her only if mother was not insulting her. What pains me most is the fact that, Scovia needs our love most which she never gets. I really feel for her, that I sometimes give her part of my little pocket money to make her feel loved but I fear the day mother will learn about this. My humble call goes to all families with house helpers to stop violence because these people are like us.
KYEBAMBE GIRLS’ SECONDARY SCHOOL
FORM THREE ‘B’
TOPIC: Gender based violence
HOW GENDER BASED VIOLENCE AFFECTED MY COUSINS
When I think of the 15th September 2015, my blood runs cold because of the nasty tragedy that befell our family and left our cousins orphans. This is the day Jean’s father Kantu smothered to death their dear mother in cold blood. The day was so dark and this act left their family in disarray. There had been several fights between their parents. Their father’s drunkenness and unfaithfulness caused constant fights almost every evening, we used to hear that he had another woman in the nearby town. He would come home drunk and he would quarrel over trivial issues that sometimes ended into fights, that would leave their mother terribly hurt.
Uncle Kantu has six children and Jean who is the second born is closer to me than any of her siblings. Her elder sister dropped out of school and married a rich Muslim man who took her up as his fourth wife. After this incident their mother vowed to protect the rest of the children at whatever cost. When Jean clocked fifteen years of age, their father thought it necessary for her to get a man and be married off like her elder sister. The pressure placed on her was so unbearable that sometimes her mother would send her to grandma’s place for some days to hide there.
However, those days of her hiding would be seasons of hell in their mother’s life for Uncle Kantu would beat her up until Jean would be forced to come back. Jean had repeated twice in her primary level and at the age of fifteen she was just completing primary seven. Her poor performance was caused by the too much work given to her at home and the long distance she was supposed to walk to school every day because she always reached school late. In addition to that, she lacked scholastic materials since her mother would not afford all she needed and their father would spend a lot of money in the bar that he would never want to hear about any demand from them. Studying up to primary seven was too heavy a burden for Jean.
After her primary seven, though she had performed well, but her father couldn’t let her join secondary school because of his preconceived idea that Jean was old enough to get married. She stayed at home helping her mother with domestic work, striving hard to ensure that her siblings continue with their studies. When her brother completed primary six he opted to go to town and look for casual work because studying was a big hurdle for him without fees.
One evening Uncle Kantu came home with an old man who he called his friend and he told Jean’s mother he wanted that old friend to look after Jean. Jean’s mother knew right from the beginning her husband wanted to marry their daughter off. But she was determined to shield her baby girl Jean at all costs. She boldly told Uncle Kantu that she would never let her daughter move anywhere with a stranger.
The following day, Jean’s mother asked my mother to allow me escort Jean to grandma’s place. She told us to wait there until she comes to pick us. Early in the morning of the following day, we set off. We quickened our steps because Jean was determined to come back on the same day despite her mother’s caution to stay there until she came for us. Jean feared her father not finding her at home and beating her mother again. Indeed, as planned with Jean, we didn’t stay for long at grandma’s place but decided to walk back home.
When we reached the nearby home trading center, the mood was so somber. I felt a strong sting cut through my body. Suddenly I saw Jean’s body turn, covered in goose pimples. I knew, the same sting had cut her sharper than it did me. As we walked, the few people we met, greeted us coldly while others pointed fingers at us and others peeped through their doors to catch a glimpse of us. Deep in my heart I knew something was amiss somewhere.
As we neared home, we saw many people gathered in Jean’s compound but it never crossed our minds that Jean’s mother would be dead. We didn’t even bother to ask anyone what the problem could be because we knew our hero- Jean’s mother would be inside the house to tell us everything and protect us in case of any danger. We made our way through and just at the threshold, women neighbours were mourning terribly. I moved faster than Jean in a bid to enter the house and ask Jean’s mother what was going on. When I made the first step into the house, alas! I got the shock of my life because there lay our hero in cold blood. My heart skipped a bit, I lost consciousness, Jean collapsed. Her mother was no more.
The following day, I learnt that Jean’s father had smothered her mother after a quarrel about Jean’s whereabouts. Uncle Kantu was sentenced to life imprisonment, and the family was no more. Jean was taken over by a charitable organisation called compassion international, her two sister were taken to the city by distant relatives for work as maids and her other little brother was taken to the village by the sister. Since then every time I think about gender based violence, it opens old wounds of that fateful day that have failed to heal. I wish fathers can respect our mothers and give a chance to the girl child to make a future.