16 Days of Activism Against Gender Based Violence
From 25 November, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, to 10 December, Human Rights Day, the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence Campaign is a time to galvanize action to end violence against women and girls around the world.
These women have given us their stories and their experiences of violence against women and girls (VAWG).
Once again my lady from Women's aid spoke on the phone and made a plan of where we would meet, we agreed on a cafe out of town, somewhere that I was familiar with but not too far away. I would have to have an alibi as to where I was going and roughly how long I would be. On meeting her again there was no awkwardness, conversation came easy and she reassured me that it didn't matter that I hadn't made contact since our last meeting some two years previous. I remember her saying that some women would attempt to leave their abusive partners several times before successfully going it alone. We sat and talked over coffee again for a long time and discussed again what my options where. She told me pretty much the same as before but I think I was at a place where I was more open to any help I could get. We discussed the possibility of renting privately. It would give me more control as to where we ended up but it could be more difficult as I would be on benefits and a lot of landlords wouldn't accept that. We discussed the financial side of things as once I left I would no longer have access to the car and depending on where we ended up living possibly not even a job. There was also the possibility of being housed in temporary accommodation while putting my name down onto the council waiting list. It was a huge amount of information to take in again and my son and husband where totally unaware any of this was taking place.
I went away from my second meeting with a lot of information to think about. I confided in my family and a close friend that lived nearby. I started to put a few belongings aside at a friend’s house in preparation for when I had decided what course of action I was going to take. Over the next few weeks I started to make some plans. I knew I had to put some distance between my husband and myself so I planned a trip down south to spend time with my family. It would be two weeks breathing space and time to get whatever I needed to do organised. I met up with the women’s aid councillor again to discuss my trip away and to chat about what I was going to do. I told her that I thought I would have to leave without my son and hope he would want to join me once I was in some accommodation and back on my feet but I knew that was taking a huge risk. My son was always my biggest concern. I never thought for a second that I would even consider the thought of leaving without him but I was desperate and the more I thought about it the more I feared he would hate me for taking him away from his dad. After all, he had no idea we were having any problems in our relationship.
I was going to have to sit him down and talk to him before my trip, I couldn't simply go away on a 'so called holiday' and not return to our home. I was terrified of telling him the truth and how he might react. If he became very upset he might even tell his dad what I was planning, but I had no choice. We were chatting one day and I began by telling him that I was very unhappy and that I felt nervous around his dad because he was often quite angry with me. To my shock he said he understood and that he often heard his dad shouting and thought he was angry most of the time too. He told me that although he loved his dad very much he was quite scared of him when he lost his temper. When he told me there had been an occasion a few weeks before where his dad had lost his temper and laid his hands on him, everything changed in an instant. I was going to leave for good and my son would be coming with me. I found a new strength I didn't know I had and for the first time I knew for sure we were doing the right thing in leaving and no matter how hard things got we would get through it together. Hurting me was one thing but scaring our son was something I would not stand for.
Within a matter of a couple of days the Women’s Aid office had organised a meeting with the council to help get us on the property waiting list and to discuss where we would go on returning from our trip. It was yet another cloak and dagger meeting and although I felt physically sick at the thought of what was happening I managed to stay focussed. I had total faith that when the time came and I needed them that Women's aid would be there for us. We were offered to be taken to any meetings I needed to go to as I didn't always have use of my car and relying on buses in the highlands wasn't always a viable option.
Our meeting went well and we were made aware that there was the possibility of some temporary accommodation becoming available in the next couple of weeks and my son and I were being considered for it. I packed two holdalls of clothes and a few personal items such as birth certificates and passports, all the things I had been advised to pack. She had thought of everything! All the things I would need to help us make a claim for benefits until I was settled and back at work. On my return to Scotland I wouldn't be going back to work. We were literally starting our lives again with 2 bags full of clothes. There was no going back now, plane tickets were booked and my family were waiting to help us in any way they could over the next two weeks. I took one final look around my home and kissed my dogs goodbye not knowing when I would see them again and left.
In the two weeks that followed I was able to organise a lot. With help I made a claim for Universal Credit. Women’s Aid helped me with everything over the phone and even though there was several hundreds of miles between us she was always there to give me advise and point me in the right direction. Two days before we were due to return to Scotland I received a call to tell me the two bedroomed temporary property had become available for us. It was a massive relief, my tummy had been churning non-stop for almost two weeks wondering where we would be going. I was finally able to tell my son where we were going and what he could expect, it had been tough living in limbo for both of us.
On our return we were greeted at the property by a lady from the council. We signed a temporary tenancy agreement and were given the keys to the house that was going to be our home for the next 5 months.
It wasn't easy to start with, we had no money coming in and literally the clothes we came away with. My family had given us towels and duvets and some toiletries but it was really tough not having our familiar things around us. The house came with the essentials to live but not with any home comforts like a TV. It was a shock for my son, he was scared and felt vulnerable. He missed his dad, his dogs and his bedroom. He didn't have his toys and looked like a fish out of water. We didn't have a land line or any internet connection and it made us feel a very isolated to begin with. We missed all the things you take for granted. By this point I had told my husband we would not be returning. We were staying close by but he didn't know where exactly. I was very scared as to how he would react to what was happening and Women's aid took every precaution to ensure we were safe.
The first few nights in our new temporary home where the hardest. We were still waiting for our Universal credit to start and had no money. Women's aid supplied us with food parcels to keep us going for the few weeks that followed until we began to receive an income.
It was hard at that time to imagine how our lives were going to pan out, it felt a little hopeless at times and although it was what I wanted/needed to do there was still so much I missed about our old life. I missed my husband at times as he was all I had known for many years and suddenly being responsible for my son and myself felt really alien and scary. Both my son and I missed our home and he really began to struggle with the situation. Women’s Aid kept up their visits every week and they continued to support us through any struggles we had. My support worker attended any meetings I had with my solicitor and citizens advice, often just for the moral support. She helped me to fill in any forms I had and there seemed to be mountains of paperwork to get through. Women's aid arranged for a lady to see my son once a week so he could talk about anything he had on his mind. Over the weeks and months that followed he got that he would really look forward to his sessions with her. She was a lot of fun and didn't put any pressure on him to talk. He became confident and relaxed around her and began to open up about how he felt and I started to so a massive change in him. He could tell her things that he didn't feel he could open up to me about. It was someone that was there purely for him and it was nothing more than a blessing. I can't emphasis enough how much that helped him and how it helped our relationship with each other
Some 11 months on from making the decision to go it alone and things are quite different. After being offered two properties and turning them down due to the location we were finally offered a new 2 bedroomed housing association flat close to my sons school. Women's aid helped us access an organisation called New Start. They supplied us with new carpets, curtains, white goods and everything we needed to make our flat a home. I have a new job in care, only two days a week for the time being until my son is a bit older but it is step in the right direction. We both continue to have the support of Women's aid. My support worker is still in touch with me every week and continues to support me with anything she can. She still attends meetings with me and is always there with practical advise. She often introduces me to websites that would help with things like cooking on a budget or anything she can think of that will make our lives a bit easier.
I often wonder how different our lives would be if I hadn't made that call. I'm not sure we would be as happy and content as we both are now. Maybe we would still have left but I don't think we would have been as confident and in such a good place emotionally as we are now. I have more confidence than I have ever had in life and it is down to the fact that were given more than just practical help. We were given a lifeline and the continued support has ensured that when things get tough we don't feel alone, there IS someone there to help.
It became apparent quite quickly that the dream of moving to the Highlands of Scotland and living in a picturesque rural location was not going to be the answer to our marital problems and that a change of lifestyle and location wasn't going to make them all go away. In fact, if anything, it only exasperated the problems. I was living several hundreds of miles away from family and friends and I would rarely see them. I'd had friends previously to the move but it was always made very difficult to maintain them as my husband would often disapprove for one reason or another. We were now living right in the sticks and with barely any internet and very little mobile coverage it meant that communicating with the outside world was often quite challenging. At that time the easiest way of keeping in contact with family and friends was through Facebook as I was able to have private conversations with my family, even if that did mean wandering around trying to find a spot where my mobile would pick up some network. I was quite lucky that I was able to drive and had use of our car whenever I needed it, so at least I could travel into the nearest small town which was 10 miles away. We could go days without seeing a soul. My husband worked from home about 80% of the time and with me not in employment we were constantly in each other’s company.
My depression, which I had struggled with for years, seemed to spiral out of control and I was so desperately unhappy. My anxiety had become so severe I would just want to sleep as it was the only time my mind would shut off for a while, but on waking in the morning the anxiety would be back in full force. I knew something had to change so I summoned up the courage and went to see a doctor. I broke down and told them I had nowhere else to turn and that I didn't feel I had the strength to go on feeling like I did. This was a massive turning point for me. I was allocated a counsellor quite quickly and from there on my life slowly but surely started to change in a more positive way.
As the weeks and visits passed, seeing my counsellor was really starting to help me see things clearer. It became apparent that my destructive relationship with my husband was the main cause of my depression - and that it wasn't the depression that was the source of all our marital problems as I had always thought. It was purely a result of treading on eggshells and trying not to do anything that might upset or cause any confrontation that was taking its toll on my mental and physical wellbeing. My counsellor helped me to recognise that not everything bad that happened in life was my fault and that I was not useless, stupid and a burden. My counsellor also made me aware of Women's Aid. I had heard of them before, not sure where, maybe a poster in the citizen's advice office or a doctor's surgery at some point. To start with I just dismissed the idea of making contact with them. I wasn't being beaten on a regular basis so didn't think I was deserving of the service they offered, also by contacting them it meant I had to admit to myself how bad home life had become and I wasn't sure I was ready to do that. What about our "new life"?
I continued to have counselling over a period of about 18 months. It was a long, slow and painful process but I felt I was making changes and starting to think about how I wanted my future to be. I took a part time job in a care home, it was the first time I had worked in years as my husband had always been the breadwinner in our household and controlled the money. I also didn't think I was capable of holding down a job. My self-esteem had been so low for so long. Turns out I was capable and actually pretty good at my job and I became a little more confident. I started to spend all my time working. It was easier to be out at work than at home in the bad atmosphere and earning a wage for the first time in years was great.
One day my husband and I had an argument over something really trivial. He got close to my face and screamed at me to get out of his sight and that he didn't even want to look at me. I got into the car and drove up a mountain road and sat and looked at the view crying and realised however much I thought I loved him it would never get any better and that I wasn't prepared to spend my life afraid of my own shadow anymore. That one sentence was what made me decide to contact Women's Aid, even though he had often said much worse, it was just a light bulb moment and the very next day I made the call.
Picking up the phone was probably one of the scariest things I have ever had to do. I felt sneaky and devious doing something behind my husband’s back and I still felt unsure if my situation was "bad enough" to warrant their time and help. After all there were women who were much more deserving. I stored their number in my mobile phone under a fake contact. That following day I made the call, I was asked a few questions from a very warm and friendly lady on the phone, she took my number and asked if it was safe to call me once she had set up an appointment. I said no but that if she sent me a text that simply said "hello" I would call her back as soon as I could. Even something as simple as that was quite awkward as the lack of mobile signal could prevent me receiving her text, luckily it did come through so I took the dog for a walk to somewhere I could get a signal and called her back. An appointment had been set up for me to meet someone from Women's Aid the following week.
Living in the location I was in made everything more complicated. Although I didn't know many people it was a very tight knit community. One of those places where you couldn't do anything without someone wanting to know what you were up to or gossiping about you. I had arranged to meet the lady from Women's aid in a car park in the nearest town to where I lived. It all felt very cloak and dagger, I was so paranoid someone would see me meeting a stranger in a car park and say something to my husband. Looking back I'm sure no one would have batted an eyelid about what I was doing, it was just the state of mind I was in. We met in the carpark as arranged, left my car there and got into hers. We drove several miles to a location where it was more private and less likely that I would bump into anyone that knew me. She was a lovely, warm, confident lady. I felt instantly at ease with her and she seemed to understand everything I was telling her. It was comforting to hear her say I was deserving of their help and that I wasn't imagining the treatment I was getting from my husband.
We spoke for a long time over coffee and she explained what my options were at that time. I could carry on living the life I was living and they would continue to support me in any way they could or, if I decided to leave my husband and the marital home, they would support me, find somewhere for my son and I to stay and help us get back on our feet. She kept it real, telling me that there was no magic wand that could be waved where a lovely home and new life would appear for my son and me. She was honest and told me it wasn't going to be easy to begin with. There was the possibility we would be put into a B&B run by Women's Aid and would more than likely be several miles from where we lived and my son’s school. I went away and thought about what my options were, knowing that we could meet up anytime I decided I need their help. I made the decision to stay in the situation as it was. I didn't feel I was strong enough to make life changing decisions and it all just seemed too hard. I was scared what it would do to my relationship with my son, he loved his dad and had no idea we were having such problems, I had always protected him from knowing anything. If I took him to a place he didn't know with strangers and none of his belongings he would be so confused and would probably hate me. How could he possibly understand why I was taking him away from everything he knew and loved?
I resigned myself to carrying on as I was, working long hours and just getting my head down and that's what I did until two years later when I made contact with Women's Aid again and met up with the same lady as before.
The second part of this brave women's story will be released tomorrow.
Being a young woman in today’s society is not easy. There are pressures from the media, society, friends and family… we don’t get a break!! The biggest driver is the media, making society think it’s acceptable to look at young women in a certain way. From the age of 16 till now being in my early 20’s I have been put in situations that could have been prevented if the media put forward a different view of women.
In my first hospitality job in a hotel when I was 18 years old my boss asked me to take a tray of shots around a function. This function was mainly middle aged men and women who I thought did not seem too intoxicated. I went to two tables, the first were not interested in the slightest. The second table seemed to take a liking to me with a man – who was old enough to be my dad, possibly even my grandad – deciding he wanted to take the full tray. His reason, I was a gorgeous girl who deserved to look good to her manager. While saying this he thought it was acceptable to put his hand round my waist and pull me in close to him. As soon as I got his money I quickly ran back behind the bar feeling ashamed and violated. My female manager was pleased that I had sold all the shots and asked me to go out and do it again. I told her what happened to me and said I didn’t want to go back out because I didn’t feel comfortable. Much to my dismay her response was that I had to go back out because I would make the hotel money. At this point I didn’t know what to do, I did not want to go back out into the function and be touched and spoken to inappropriately by hotel guests to please my manager. Thankfully, the male bar manager who I was friendly with told me not to go back out and I would be behind the bar for the rest of the night and he would be there with me as much as he could.
While still working in the same hotel, another year older and during another function, a similar incident happened. Towards the end of the night, a middle-aged man and his friend came up to the bar to get drinks for their table. They came with instructions to get a drink for each person then spend the rest of the kitty money on the cheapest shots we had to offer. Upon figuring out the how many shots they could get, I grabbed a tray and set up shot glasses and began to pour the shots. Whilst pouring the shots the man paying starting asking my age, where I stayed, if I had a boyfriend, what I do outside of work. Needless to say I lied while answering most, except my age to which I replied “19, young enough to be your daughter.” But this didn’t seem to faze him or his drunken mind. He asked if I would go to his hotel room with him after my shift finished and that he would wait in the hotel lobby for me. I politely declined the offer, to which he replied that he would still be waiting in the lobby for me finishing. I once again spoke to my female manager about my concerns. Her reply, “play along with it, it will get you more tips at the end of the day.” Once again I was extremely shocked at her response especially since the man said he was going to wait for me finishing my shift. I yet again went to my male bar manager who told me to stay with him until I finished and that he would make sure I got to my car safely. Still to this day I am extremely shocked that a manager and fellow woman would think it’s acceptable for men to treat women in such a way and not have the safety and interests of her employees first and foremost.
After this happening I decided that I would not let anyone else treat me this way regardless of who they were. I was no longer being a doormat to chauvinistic, cave men who did not respect women. We are in the 21st century after all!! Women are now managers, world leaders, getting into male dominated jobs and breaking the glass ceiling. Why should men still view us as feeble women who need men to get us through our lives?