Features

‘I am a treasure and not trash’

DOREEN NAWA, Lusaka
SPEAKING with passion and composure, Mutinta Chilikwela, 37 describes her experiences as a survivor of gender-based violence with tears in her eyes.
This passion has driven her to write a book based on her 13 years of abuse in her marriage. She has titled the soon to be published book as “I am a treasure and not trash.”
Ms Chilikwela, a mother of three (two boys aged nine and five, and a girl aged three) got married at 24 in 2002 and lived happily with her husband for only six months.
“My husband beat me badly only after staying in the marriage for six months, all because I had asked when I will start my school. For 13 years, I endured violent assaults and emotional abuse from my husband,” Ms Chilikwela said.
Coming from a poor family and without income, and at a time when she had lost her mother, Ms Chilikwela agreed to get married to a man who was not as educated as she is.
Ms Chilikwela had studied journalism at Evelyn Hone College before getting married, and had intentions to further her studies by studying for a degree in mass communications at the University of Zambia.
After getting married, her vision of upgrading her tertiary education was suppressed because of her jealous husband.
“My husband didn’t want me to go back to school and this is what sparked the beating for the first time, just six months after our wedding. He would tell me that journalism is a bad profession because it encourages promiscuity,” Ms Chilikwela said.
Ms Chilikwela didn’t disclose the first beating to anyone and the abuse continued. Because of the traditional teachings, she found it hard to tell anyone.
Three years later, she was beaten severally and this time, she chose not to keep quiet.
“I sustained deep cuts and bruises and I told my relatives. They talked to him and I was told to go back to our home,” she said.
She says even though she went back home after the family meeting, she was scared for her life because signs of violence continued.
“The physical abused stopped but verbal, economical and emotional abuse continued. He never gave me money and his fear was that I could use it for school. Whenever I requested for money, he would say I was too demanding. He would not even pay for the children’s school fees. I could not even look for a job because of his jealous,” Ms Chilikwela said.
In 2006 after saving some money she went back to school and instead studied social work.
When she started her school, the abuse was even more. Ms Chilikwela remembers being hit by her husband during her second pregnancy with twins.
“I started school against his wish and this time, I was pregnant with twins, but still he used to beat me and this affected the unborn babies. After giving birth, five days later, the girl died and the doctor couldn’t find the cause of death. I suspect it was because of the beatings I was subjected to,” she said.
Ms Chilikwela noticed that living together became difficult and dangerous because she had nowhere to run to that she was an only child who did not even know her father.
“When my relatives were against the divorce, I thought of committing suicide to escape the violence. The end finally came when my husband agreed to the divorce, provided that I release him from the pending assault cases that were yet to be tabled by the police,” she explains.
Her mission to leave the marriage began in February 10, 2015. On this day, her husband beat her severally and her children screamed and one of them helped to untie their mother.
“It was around 02:00 hours, he went out and came to wake me up and told me about his sexual escapades and when I told him that I wanted to sleep, he started beating me. My second born child heard the noise and started screaming and everyone woke up. It was then that my niece, untied me and I escaped,” she says.
Severally, Ms Chilikwela took her husband to the police but nothing tangible came out of it until she made her decision to leave the home amid opposition from family and friends.
“I was the one who was burdened and for a victim of GBV, very few people will support the decision to leave a matrimonial home. I was tired and just wanted to be out. In the 13 years of marriage, I withdrew from friends and blamed myself for a failed marriage. I had plans and goals which I did not achieve these traditions women are expected to follow. Traditionally, women are taught not to discuss whatever happens in their homes,” she said.
She says she lived a miserable life and was angry all the time even with her own children.
For Ms Chilikwela, the worst form of violence is verbal because it doesn’t go away and it is difficult to justify when you decide to take it to the police.
“I remember an incident that broke my heart. I went to a police post near where we lived and there, the police officers I found started making sexual advances at me. I was shocked because these are the people who are supposed to protect me but instead they told me they would book a room for me. But after threats of reporting them to various media houses, they gave me the police report,” she said.
Ms Chilikwela could not narrate everything and that is why she has decided to write an eight-chapter book which will be published and launched by the end of January 2016.
She says now she feels empowered and is rebuilding her life after experiencing violence at home.
“I work actively to win my life back and start over. I want to use my survival to help someone,” she says cheerfully.
Whenever she has time, she offers counselling to victims of gender and domestic violence and their families because she believes that once a victim talks to some, the burden seems lighter.
Ms Chilikwela’s new-found self-reliance and optimism shines through as she talks about her work. She has become a passionate advocate for the rights of GBV survivors, insisting that “the whole world must eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls, embody equality and respect, and empower women to stand for their own rights. What happened to me should never happen to anyone.”

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