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Whole. As I Am

It has been three years since I lost my ability to talk audibly following an emergency tracheotomy and repeated surgeries in my upper larynx that left my vocal cords slightly paralyzed.

It seemed, for a while that every surgery did not only remove a piece of imaginary papilloma the doctors saw obstructing my upper airway, but it also chipped away at my self esteem, my confidence and my pride as a woman. Every time I woke up after yet another surgery and opened my mouth to make a sound and nothing was heard, I died some more.

As I waltzed through the stages of grief alone, I found myself stuck at DENIAL. I denied the obvious – that I could not speak audibly and needed to learn sign language to communicate effectively. That some of my friends I had known for years prior to when I became ill truly cared about me when they called or dropped by to see me. Worse yet, I denied the glaring reality that I was in a very abusive relationship and needed to get out of it immediately.

There were days when he would make remarks like “I am the only man who would ever date you. You should be grateful I am even introducing you to my friends,” and “You think those friends of yours (referring to some of my old friends who stuck around) really care about you? They just want to see you and have something good to laugh about.” He would then go ahead and taunt me by saying “Go on and leave me, let’s see how far you will get.”

He was not the only one who shared these sentiments. His family did too. I recall a day when I overheard some of his family members say, “I wonder what he is doing with her when there are a lot of whole women out there, She cannot even talk.” But I could talk, not just audibly. I desperately wanted to tell them that, I wanted to make them understand that I could talk. My attempts to prove this to them proved futile. They hated me regardless, not because they felt I was a bad person or a bad influence on him but simply because they felt I was not a complete woman.

I believed all these things. I believed every one of them and there were times I even thanked him for being with me. I considered myself fortunate to have him. I gave him more power over me and he utilized this power very well by graduating from verbal, psychological and emotional abuse to physical abuse. He even hit me in public.

What I felt, is not alien. It is something many women around the globe – disabled or not experience. From the well paved streets in highly industrialized cities like New York to the sleek Catwalks in Paris to the impoverished villages in developing Africa. The feeling of inadequacy, of low self-esteem is something that many of us can relate to. Often times, people take advantage of this ‘opening’ to hurt us where we are most vulnerable, feeding our feelings of low self-worth and enslaving us into depending on them even more.

This situation is especially bleak in developing countries where women with disabilities have almost no access to equal opportunities especially when compared with their male counterparts who are disabled or to all men and women without disabilities. This is due to gender inequality and discrimination and stigmatization of people with disabilities. And, in all fairness, if the government - whose duty it is to protect and preserve the rights of every citizen and make it possible for everyone to fully enjoy these rights as enshrined in the constitution displays a cavalier attitude about it, there is only so much individuals can do.

Let the figures speak.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported in 2009 that; an estimated 300 million women around the globe have disabilities, ranging from mental illness to physical disabilities.

Women with disabilities make up the 75% of all people living with disabilities in developing countries.

Women and girls with disabilities are twice as much at risk of experiencing human right abuses and violence because they are often isolated and highly dependent. This prevents them from engaging in social interactions, receiving formal education (with the literacy rate for women with disabilities as low as 1 percent, according to a 1998 UNDP study), learning a vocation and earning a living. This leaves them in a state of perpetual poverty, dependency and entrapment in abusive intimate relationships. Little wonder the unemployment rate for this marginalized group is 74 percent according to Dawns Ontario fact-sheet on women with disabilities.

Aside from poverty, illiteracy and unemployment, some of the other equally pressing problems women with disabilities face are: sexual abuse; forced sterilization and female genital mutilation Disability Awareness in Action reports.

According to another small 2004 study in Orissa, India, almost all of the women and girls with disabilities were beaten at home, 25 percent of women with intellectual disabilities had been raped and 6 percent of women with disabilities had been forcibly sterilized.

Human Rights Watch also reported that women with disabilities are subjected to marital restrictions, involuntary abortions and forced relinquishment of their children.

Some of the perpetrators of this violence are family members, neighbours, intimate partners, and peers; even caregivers in cases where these women are institutionalized.

Bringing It Home to Nigeria

Nigeria is rife with cases of abuse and violence against women with disabilities.

Starting in the woman’s family which often blames the woman for her disabilities and is looking for someone; anyone to be her partner in order to relieve her of her need to care for herself. In many instances the intimate partner then sees the wife as a lesser being who he can treat anyway he chooses.

Many people hold the belief that a woman with a disability is fortunate when she finds a partner. Some women with disabilities with whom I had the opportunity of speaking as I researched this article, said their parents always admonished them in the strongest of terms to do everything possible and to endure whatever they face in their marriages simply because they feel relieved that the women were finally ‘off their neck.’

Esther, who made me promise not to use her real name, has been forbidden from having her own babies. “My husband doesn’t want me to transmit my disability to his children. So He married another wife who has borne his children. Yet he still uses me for sex, as punching bag and for house chores,” She says.

You may argue that with organizations like Sexual Assault Resource Centre (SARC) strategically located at the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH), women should not experience these abuses in silence.

The rationalization for that argument may lie in the fact that, for a group that has been as marginalized and underrepresented as women with disabilities have for so long, taking advantage of these services may not be an option.

Ms Sarah Akinola, the National Women Leader, Nigeria Association of the Blind and the founder of Willing Hands International, has been working with women with disabilities for the last eight years and had this to say “Most of us don't know of any counselling services except those we get from fellow disabled women.

Of course, if they know any, they are likely to shy away from them because of stigma and low self-esteem.”

Even though SARC has no documented cases of counselling and rehabilitating disabled women, I was both reassured and relieved to learn that they are open to EVERY WOMAN who has been a victim of rape/sexual abuse as a staff and the Center Manager confirmed to me when I visited the center and via email correspondences.

The Way Forward

Despite all of these obstacles and a clear lack of support, I and many other women with disabilities have empowered ourselves. Thus, this may be a key to ending the menace of abuse of women with disabilities either in the family setting or in intimate relationships.

My opinion about myself started to change after I made a conscious effort to educate and empower myself with correct information both – online and offline. I also started to speak out and I began to seek out and connect with other women facing similar abuses. This helped me cope better in the university and it also gave me the needed strength and courage to leave the four- year relationship of abuse.

Women with disabilities must be encouraged. They also must be given the necessary assistance in acquiring awareness and education at all levels. Invariably, this will increase their chances of getting a job and earning a living. The effect awareness and education has on their self-esteem cannot be over-stressed or underestimated. In addition, there should be scholarship opportunities for women with disabilities.

Rehabilitation, counselling and a feeling of connection to other kindred spirits is also very important for helping women with disabilities to heal and move on. Rukiyat, married to an abusive husband and living with a physical disability says “Knowing that other women with disabilities are having similar problems in their marriages made me feel like a woman again. Even though I now know it is not a normal thing to be abused, I also know that I am not in it alone.”

Ms Sarah, mentioned earlier thinks the best way to prevent abuse is the use of socio-economic empowerment of women with disabilities.

The example of Blessing who has a physical disability reiterates this fact.
After receiving a loan of five hundred thousand naira (about five thousand US dollars) from the World Bank, She started a tailoring business that allowed her to leave a 15-year-old marriage where she endured starvation, beatings, marital rape and psychological torture.

This is further backed by research. There is evidence that thousands of persons with disabilities have been successful as small business owners, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. The 1990 national census revealed that persons with disabilities have a higher rate of self-employment and small business experience (12.2 per cent) than persons without disabilities (7.8 per cent) - UN.

The overall goal is not to discourage women with disabilities from being in relationships or getting married. Rather it is to:

1. Re-orientate them and the general populace - starting from the family unit and going to the larger civil society into a greater awareness that women with disabilities are humans first and as such, it is everyone’s moral and ethical duty as individuals to be of assistance to each other;

2. Empower women with disabilities with education so that they better understand and demand their inalienable rights and thus can increase their chances of getting a well-paying job;

3. Provide women with disabilities with information about walk-in centres where they can connect, talk about their abuse and heal alongside other women;

4. Empower women with disabilities economically to discourage dependence on intimate partners and family members who may be perpetrating these abuses and promote their self-reliance and dignity.

Even as I share my story, I do not consider it as bravery because in truth I feel naked, I still hurt; I still remember every word, every look, every slap. There are times when I blame myself for all that happened and it hurts all over again. But this is therapy for me and it is about taking the power he has over me back. It is about taking all the pain and making it into this beautiful thing; giving it life and breath – like a bird eager to soar. I refuse to let him or anyone else hurt me anymore. I am WHOLE as I am and I will not apologies for that.

This article is part of a writing assignment for Voices of Our Future a program of World Pulse that provides rigorous digital media and citizen journalism training for grassroots women leaders. World Pulse lifts and unites the voices of women from some of the most unheard regions of the world.

Comments

delphine criscenzo's picture

Whole as you are!

Dear Vweta,
What an amazing piece. I think that you fully mastered the Frontline journal idea. Your personal story, backed by statistics and the testimonies of other women in your community, transformed your assignment into a powerful article.
I felt so deeply connected to you and to your story, but at the same time I understood what stood in your way and what we all, as a society can do to improve the way we treat fellow human beings.
Though I am sorry you had to experience so much pain, I see you as a powerful, empowered young woman who is standing up for herself and the rights of other women.
Congratulations on leaving him!
I send you all my love!

Delphine Criscenzo

Vweta's picture

Thank you very much Delphine.

Thank you very much Delphine. Your words are very reassuring and strengthening.

Our Voices make the WORLD PULSate...
Vweta.

Y's picture

Thought provoking,

Thought provoking, Vweta!

"Women with disabilities make up the 75% of all people living with disabilities in developing countries." I do not believe that this statistic is socially unbiased. I believe that societies and women are more prone to seeing women as unable than they are to admit this about men.

I applaud you for seeing yourself as "differently-abled" and maximally using your talents. Bravo!

Blessings.
Yvette

Y

Vweta's picture

Thank you for taking the time

Thank you for taking the time to read my post Y.

" I believe that societies and women are more prone to seeing women as unable than they are to admit this about men," I agree on this to some degree. Barriers created by. society and individuals are the only disabilities many differently-abled people face and the brunt of these barriers are felt more by women because of societal expectations and gender assigned roles.

Our Voices make the WORLD PULSate...
Vweta.

Y's picture

I think that the reason for

I think that the reason for this tendency is that we are brought up on this fantasy that men, without the assistance of women, are stronger than women and are the protectors and supporters of their families. While it is true that, while pregnant or caring for those unable to make their own informed decisions (children, the mentally handicapped, and the very old) or those unable to do for themselves, caretakers are limited in their previous abilities, they become differently-abled.

Our young sons hide behind our new powers and are allowed to roar like lions while bringing the responsibility of their actions home to us. In order to continue this collective fantasy, we go along with the pretense. Men seem to be empowered by their testosterone to spring into short bursts of incredible strength, as women are by estrogen, in protecting their young. These are short-term animal adrenaline responses, not human ways of coping with the normalcy of peace.

Very few are actually DIS-abled, though we become throughout our lives, differently-abled. We must encourage and assist all to pursue the dignity and empowerment of constantly stretching their abilities. There are few humans who are DIS-abled; each of us is abled differently.

Y

Wendyiscalm's picture

Your writing is magical

Vweta,

At first I started reading your article because it looked like interesting information. But I quickly saw that the WAY you write, the way you put words together is really a gift. Perhaps your writing will be the gift that you get from not being able to speak and the abusive relationship you were in that now makes you understand better. I really like the way you write and the way you combine facts, statistics and feelings and examples is going to mean much to the world.

Like the paragraph that starts "What I felt is not alien . . . " is profoundly written and thus felt by me the reader. You have a way of putting your passion and compassion on paper.

The paragraph that starts "Many people feel a woman with a disability is lucky to find a partner . . . " Well, here's how I feel about it after reading your piece. A man would be LUCKY to find and appreciate YOU. And if he doesn't feel lucky and appreciate you, move on from him. It is a piece of how you will know if a man deserves you. You are terrific.

Ubuntu (I am who I am because of who we are together),

Wendy

Wendy Stebbins
Founder/CEO
I AM ONE IN A MILLION Non-Profit Organization focused on helping street orphans and vulnerable children in Livingstone, Zambia Africa.

Wendy, as always, I love your reply!

Let us Hope together-
Michelle
aka: Cali gal

Listener
Sister-Mentor
@CaliGalMichelle
facebook.com/caligalmichelle

Wendyiscalm's picture

Thanks Michelle

Thanks Michelle

Wendy Stebbins
Founder/CEO
I AM ONE IN A MILLION Non-Profit Organization focused on helping street orphans and vulnerable children in Livingstone, Zambia Africa.

Vweta's picture

Dear Wendy, I thank you for

Dear Wendy,

I thank you for your reassuring words. I appreciate the time you took to read my post and i am truly honored to learn that you could identify with it.

Thank you Wendy.

Our Voices make the WORLD PULSate...
Vweta.

Greengirl's picture

Impressive Post, Vweta!

Thank you for sharing from the depth of your heart. I had barely finished reading the 2nd paragraph when I felt moved to click on RECOMMEND.

As I read your post, it brought to my mind the story of a politician whose fiancé was involved in a ghastly motor accident that left her two legs paralyzed. Can you imagine that he decided to call off his wedding to her? However, his parents insisted that he must marry her? Unfortunately I never heard or saw the end of it because I left the town while the lady was still recuperating.

I think it is that very selfish or do I call it a self centered side of people that beclouds their sense of judgment such that they think of themselves as being better or better deserving than others. I have no doubt that such people never spare a thought or second to answer the question of - How they would want others to treat them if they were the ones with a direct or indirect form of disability. I bet too that they would now think that other people should be considerate and accepting.

Women are usually at the receiving end of all forms of discrimination and abuse. I am, therefore, not surprised that the statistics of female victims remains high.

Your blossoming self esteem is contagious and I am inspired by the fact that you remain courageous in speaking out for urgent change. I relished reading your well written and impressive post!

God bless you Vweta,
Greengirl

Cali gal Michelle's picture

Dearest Vweta- Once again,

Dearest Vweta-
Once again, your prose amazes and inspires. You weave your words around your story, creating a clear picture of who, what, and how you are. I could point out many components of this article that are extraordinary, but may leave that for another time if you wish to hear them.

You have not only taken unbelievably difficult situations and used them, you have overcome them. I don't know where you found the courage.

I know we have discussed this before, but I will say it again. Having facilitated many children to find their 'voice' over the years in my work, I am especially drawn to your story. There is always a way to communicate- we just have to look for it and utilize our resources. You have done, and are doing so now. You have found a way to make your voice heard; to raise it from the mountain tops so that it can not be ignored.

Know that I am watching in joyful anticipation as you use your life and share it with all of us. On days when you don't want to take another step, or are tempted to turn inward, please remember that I- that we- stand with you. We hear you. We love you.

You are one in a million, and you will change your world!

Let us Hope together-
Michelle
aka: Cali gal

Listener
Sister-Mentor
@CaliGalMichelle
facebook.com/caligalmichelle

Wendyiscalm's picture

Michelle, Wow! Your message

Michelle,

Wow! Your message is very inspiring also.

Wendy

Wendy Stebbins
Founder/CEO
I AM ONE IN A MILLION Non-Profit Organization focused on helping street orphans and vulnerable children in Livingstone, Zambia Africa.

olutosin's picture

And so what???

Who cares what they feel, think or do????

I stopped giving a damn long time ago, may be you should join me!!!!!!!

I have 3 different colors of teeth. chocolate colored, yellow and a bit of white at the edge, when I was younger, I suffered so much because of that, now I am so happy because when I smile, nobody forgets my smile and I am the only human being with my kind of teeth, it makes me unique.

The men who left me those days are my secret friends today LOL, they wish they married me.

If the whole world is alike, it will be boring.

I love your words, the beginning to the end.

I have a question... WHO IS IN THIS WORLD WITHOUT ANY DISABILITY?????

The person should fly and let us see him, to fly like a bird because being able to fly is an ability that is denied some people too.

Stupid people with parochial minds. My only advise is that continue to put in your best where you excel, The irony of life is that, every human being concentrates on his or her inability and negativity. That is just my main problem with people, if we can take some moments out to really appreciate our strengths and build on it, We would have been the most wonderful set of creature on earth.

Violence against women has nothing to do with disability, a man who will violates a woman will always violate; they are animals.

Will you do me a favour??

Be the best you want to be. Be the best to the extent that the one who walks away will come back as a beggar.

Please enjoy your life and leave a footprint wherever you go, I am in a school for the blind, founded by the happiest blind woman I have ever met, Sabriyeh, a German, the institute is bigger than any other NGO institute in Nigeria, those institute built by people with 4 eyes. the world will remember you for the change you make not for the noise you made.

Love you baby.....

Olutosin Oladosu Adebowale
Founder/Project Coordinator
Star of Hope Transformation Centre
512 Road
F Close
Festac Town
Lagos-Nigeria

https:

Mukut's picture

Incredible Vweta

You are incredible and amazing Vweta ! As Olutosin points out, "who is without disability?". Such a beautiful written piece by a beautiful person.

Never, ever feel "less" because of someone else. You are an inspiration to all. Thank you for writing your story. It touched my heart.

Lots of love to one helluva brave girl !
Cheers,

Mukut Ray

Take a look at this part of your piece darling...
"...What I felt, is not alien. It is something many women around the globe – disabled or not experience. From the well paved streets in highly industrialized cities like New York to the sleek Catwalks in Paris to the impoverished villages in developing Africa. The feeling of inadequacy, of low self-esteem is something that many of us can relate to. Often times, people take advantage of this ‘opening’ to hurt us where we are most vulnerable, feeding our feelings of low self-worth and enslaving us into depending on them even more..."
[Tears flowing like crazy]
Dear Vweta, you are a very strong woman. I am a sister to an elder brother with disability (disabled at both lower limbs by Poliomyelitis at age 5) , I know exactly where you are coming from and how you feel. Going through the University wasn't easy for my big bro. He sailed through however. Now he is an M.Sc. Student, and working as a Laboratory technician. Determiniation and courage is the watch word my sister. I know you are stronger than the words you utter.
Go girl...I know you will go places. I will keep watching you as you embark on your journey of fame and higher heights...God give me long life too.
Sending you love, love, love, and love from Bamenda Cameroon.
Nakinti.

Nakinti B. Nofuru
2013 VOF Correspondent
Reporter for Global Press Institute
Bamenda - Cameroon
Email: nakinti@globalpressinstitute.org
nakintin@yahoo.com

Wendyiscalm's picture

Hi

Nakinti,

I am so impressed with your response, the courage and perseverance and success of your family that I just had to write and tell you how much you moved me.

Ubuntu,

Wendy

Wendy Stebbins
Founder/CEO
I AM ONE IN A MILLION Non-Profit Organization focused on helping street orphans and vulnerable children in Livingstone, Zambia Africa.

Precious M's picture

Yes You are Whole!

Vweta,

Your story inspires me.
It is sad how people often want to take advantage of women with disabilities.
People will often want to make you feel less of a woman.
But like you say, you are whole just the way you are.
You are very special and very unique.
And I believe in you.
This is a great frontline journal!

Precious

My pen speaks

Vweta's picture

Dear Precious

Your feedback brought tears to my eyes. I am honored to read that my post inspire you.

We are all special and unique; if only we would let our true awesomeness shine through.

Our Voices make the WORLD PULSate...
Vweta.

Sutanuka Banerjee's picture

powerfully vocal

It appears as purely cathartic..... thanks for your beautiful voice....

I live in my convoluted mind....

Vweta's picture

Thank you more Sutanuka...

Thank you more Sutanuka... Thank you more for hearing my voice.

Our Voices make the WORLD PULSate...
Vweta.

Maura Bogue's picture

Gripping and educational

Great article. You balance your intimate and personal experiences with facts and statistics in a way that makes the piece both gripping and educational. In the future, try including a quote from the women you talked to as part of your research to increase the information's credibility.

Vweta's picture

Thank You Maura

Thank you for reading my post and for your suggestion. Well noted!

Our Voices make the WORLD PULSate...
Vweta.

Cali gal Michelle's picture

Happy to see your story

Happy to see your story highlighted!yay you!

Let us Hope together-
Michelle
aka: Cali gal

Listener
Sister-Mentor
@CaliGalMichelle
facebook.com/caligalmichelle

Vweta's picture

Thank you dear Cali gal! Your

Thank you dear Cali gal! Your support is invaluable to me!

Our Voices make the WORLD PULSate...
Vweta.

Anthea C's picture

Vweta

I believe, " you strike a woman, you strike a rock", all power to you my sister!!

Vweta's picture

Thank You Anthea

Thank you for reading my post! I believe too!

Our Voices make the WORLD PULSate...
Vweta.

Nechesa's picture

Simply beautiful, Vweta

A beautiful and powerful story. I'm so proud of you.

Nechesa

Vweta's picture

Dear Nechesa

Thank you for reading my post. Like Wendy says: "Ubuntu (I am who i am because of who we are together."

Our Voices make the WORLD PULSate...
Vweta.

Priyanka Borpujari's picture

Bravo!

Vweta, kudos to you for coming out and speaking about domestic violence -- something that ails every society, much more than we think so. I was always worried about little girls who are differently-abled, but you report helped me see how the violence perpetrated on them is so much more deeper than mockery and ostracisation.

I am sure you are already putting your chin up high and walking yourself tall :)

Priyanka
(Editorial mentor)

Priyanka Borpujari

IWMF Elizabeth Neuffer Fellow 2012-2013
Blog: www.priyanka-borpujari.blogspot.com

Vweta's picture

Thank you Priyanka

I am really honored to read that you found my journal enlightening.

About putting my chin up... My chin is so high that it can almost touch the sun!

Our Voices make the WORLD PULSate...
Vweta.

Osai's picture

Thanks for Sharing

This is a nice piece. I enjoyed reading it. Your voice is your power - whether audible or in writing. Keep it up.

Best wishes,
Osai

Twitter: @livingtruely

Vweta's picture

Thank you Osai for taking out

Thank you Osai for taking out time to read my post. My World Pulse sisters give me the needed support to keep writing.

Our Voices make the WORLD PULSate...
Vweta.

Vweta,

You wrote:

"My opinion about myself started to change after I made a conscious effort to educate and empower myself with correct information both – online and offline. I also started to speak out and I began to seek out and connect with other women facing similar abuses. This helped me cope better in the university and it also gave me the needed strength and courage to leave the four- year relationship of abuse."

I can feel what you went through as if it was me. I'm in a psychological and physically abusive relationship. We are separated. I think compassionate support is all we need to find the bravery inside our soul. I'm proud of you for moving on. I am certain much beauty awaits you on the other side of the door.

I also want to share that consistent exercise has helped me immensely. I run/walk every morning and do yoga and meditation right before bedtime. It's so calming that sometimes I don't want to stop.

If you would like to email me. I am here for you.

With love, Amanda
http://defineyourspirit.com

Vweta's picture

Dear Amanda

Thank you very much for reading my post and for your suggestions. I am eager to try them out!

Indeed! "I think compassionate support is all we need to find the bravery inside our soul." I couldn't agree more!

Our Voices make the WORLD PULSate...
Vweta.

Rachael Maddock-Hughes's picture

Powerful

Dear Vweta,

Your writing is so powerful, and so detailed. You marry your personal experience with the statistics to back it up and make it a more global issue. I felt myself pulled in deep as I read your article. You are incredibly courageous--please keep writing!

Rachael

"In every human heart there are a few passions that last a lifetime. They're with us from the moment we're born, and nothing can dilute their intensity." Rob Brezny

Vweta's picture

Dear Rachael. Thank you for

Dear Rachael.

Thank you for reading my post. I am honored to read that you resonated with my journal .

Our Voices make the WORLD PULSate...
Vweta.

Stacey Rozen's picture

Whole. As you are!

Potent. Powerful. I'm so proud of you, Vweta. You have my heart, dear friend. Will chat more on whatsapp now.

Creatively,
Stacey

Monica09's picture

Abusive relationships and low self-esteem

Dear Vweta,

Your article really resonated with me. I feel the society works in a strange way - people, irrespective of gender, all around the world are made to feel low about themselves and to suffer abuse silently.

I really like the solutions that you outlined at the end of your article. I really call on each one of us here to initiate these solutions in whatever capacity.

You ARE whole and you ARE a beautiful soul!

In friendship,
Monica

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