By Devina Samaroo
It was the first time he had ever beaten her. They were having one of their usual fights, but this time, he did as he had threatened to do – he hit her. But she let it slide. After all, he had promised never to do it again.
For 18 years, she stayed with him; at first, because she was in love, but later on, she stayed because of her young daughter.
But two years ago, Bibi Ahamad mustered the courage and made one of the hardest decisions of her life – she left her reputed husband – after she realised there was nothing she could do to make him change.
Violence against women, particularly intimate partner violence, is a major public health problem and a violation of women’s human rights, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).
In Guyana, scores of women lose their lives at the hands of their abusive partners. Police statistics show that 19 women were killed by their abusers from January 1, 2018, to August 31, 2018.
During her years of abuse, Bibi dedicated much of her time towards activism and has been encouraging persons, women especially, to leave their abusive relationships to avoid becoming another statistic.
But at that time, she hadn’t the strength to come out hers. She tried once after he nearly killed her.
It was a Sunday morning. He was beating her and as she tried to escape, he braced her to the wall with a cutlass to her throat. The ordeal lasted for hours and eventually, he left the house.
She hurriedly changed the locks on the door and then reported the matter to the police. But when court day came, she couldn’t go through with it.
“I couldn’t let my daughter live with that stigma of her father being incarcerated,” Bibi told News Room.
She didn’t let him back home but Bibi allowed him to visit his daughter, who would often ask for her father.
Gradually, he moved back in as Bibi thought he had changed. At the time, she was doing what she thought was best for her daughter – to grow up with a father figure.
But the abuse continued; physically, verbally, emotionally, and sexually.
In January 2016, Bibi had the last straw. Her daughter was older, and so she had a long conversation with the teenager about why she needs to leave the relationship. The mother then reported her husband to the police and justice took its course.
But leaving the relationship wasn’t the only tough part.
“It’s the rebuilding,” she said. It’s the confusion, the mixed emotions, the uncertainty, the doubts, the fears.
“I had to build that self-courage and that self-determination to move on,” she explained.
It was and remains challenging, emotionally and financially for herself and daughter.
Bibi says she could not have done it without a strong support system, which she had in her family, some close friends and religious leader.
She acknowledged that others who are living with abusers have their own complex circumstances and may have compelling reasons to stay in the toxic relationship; financial reasons, cultural reasons or for the children.
But Bibi charged them to carefully compare the risks involved in staying as opposed to leaving.
“If you are going to stay, ask yourselves what risks you’re putting yourself in, what risks your children will face,” she explained.
Even though she left her husband two years ago, Bibi is only now at peace and has finally decided to tell her story to coincidence with Domestic Violence Awareness Month – which is observed every October.
Last year, the Guyana Police Force (GPF) received 2, 140 reports of domestic violence from its eight police divisions, an increase of 14.2 percent in the number of reports made.
The ancient county of Berbice recorded the highest number of domestic violence reports with 482.
The epidemic is so common that First Lady Mrs. Sandra Granger had remarked in March 2018 that “It seems not a single day passes without there being a report of someone raped, brutalized or murdered, usually by an intimate or previously intimate partner.”
Global estimates published by WHO indicate that about 1 in 3 or 35% of women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime.
As many of 38% of murders of women worldwide are committed by a male intimate partner, WHO states.
Bibi is thankful she left her abusive relationship before it became deadly and she is pleading with other abused women to seriously consider taking that bold step to walk away and move on.