Studies have established that there is a correlation between gender-based violence (GBV) and economic security, where poverty is a recognised risk factor for women and girls who are affected by multiple forms of violence. There is a high chance that GBV deprives women of the right to financial and economic independence and nobody knows the economic cost of GBV more than Liberate Mukamazimpaka, who for many years was abused by her own husband. It is an experience Mukamazimpaka, a hairdresser, believes many women go through—they stay in abusive relationships and marriages even when their lives are at stake. “Even at the verge of death, people will encourage you to persist, telling you that men change for the better,” she says, dismissing the ‘niko zubakwa’ notion which urges women to remain in violent and abusive relationships. It is something the 40-year-old learnt the hard way when her own husband, whom she got married to in 2006, did everything to sabotage whatever she did to progress and take care of the household. “I was 25 when we got married. He started mistreating me when I was pregnant and expecting our first child. He then abandoned me when I was about to give birth,” recalls Mukamazimpaka, who went on to give birth at Remera Health Centre the same year. ALSO READ: Justice for GBV victims: The highs and lows With no place to live and no job, a heavy Mukamazimpaka had to look for a job in salons where she would plait people and get paid for it. From the little she made, she rented her own house in Nyagatovu, Kimironko sector and gave birth to a baby boy. At the health centre, she confided in the doctor about her situation as she didn’t even have community health insurance ‘Mutuelle de Santé’. “I stayed at the health centre for a week, telling them that I was waiting for my husband to come and clear the bill. The doctor had given me a chit which I was holding on to. I was told to pay just Rwf2, 000,” Mukamazimpaka says. It turns out, workers at the health centre knew her because she used to go there to pray for pregnant women and mothers. But, she says, it was a miracle that she went through that phase on her own. She got a serious infection which nearly made her bleed to death and doctors quickly intervened and gave her a transfusion. ALSO READ: Gender activist on leading a movement to uproot GBV “Doctors later noticed that it was because I moved about right after giving birth. I needed money urgently, so I would leave the baby in the hospital and go to work and come back in the evening,” she recalls. She got a place of her own to live with the baby. Three months later, her husband noticed that her life was improving and begged to come back. “Allowing him to come back taught me a real lesson,” Mukamazimpaka says, adding that he would go in the morning and return late, drunk and with nothing to feed the family. “He would come with something small once in a while. He realised I didn’t have a steady job and he left again, this time back to his village in Rusizi District. “I was having challenges with rent. The owner of the house wanted to evict me because I had arrears of two months. I started doing other small jobs,” Mukamazimpaka says. Mukamazimpaka would earn about Rwf5, 000 a day at the hair salon and perhaps another 2,000 from other small jobs. Slowly, she started picking up her life again, but then, he came back. When he returned, her husband Hagabimana (second name withheld), requested her to split tasks, one pays the rent, the other buys food for the household. However, within a short time, he started reneging on his duties. Enter violence Whether it was out of shame or hidden character coming to the fore, Hagabimana started making a nuisance of himself and inflicting all sorts of pain on Mukamazimpaka. “He would beat me up to the extent that neighbours would come to my rescue often. At one point they took him to the police. He went to court and trial but was eventually released. We agreed to work out our issues and even moved to a new location in Kibagabaga,” says Mukamazimpaka. At this point, he became less violent but wasn’t doing much to sustain the family. Mukamazimpaka told him that rather than sit at home, she was going to find something to do to feed the family. “My idea was to open a bar. I proposed what we needed to start it but he wasn’t forthcoming. “I did what I could and mobilised resources. I bought a TV, video player and furniture and started the bar within the neighbourhood. That was in 2008. We were selling local brew,” Mukamazimpaka says. When it started picking up, she asked him to take care of the bar so that she could go back to her salon work. “I remember I had a client, an expat, who wanted me to plait her hair one evening before her early morning flight. I stayed out working on her braids until late in the night. I had actually told him about the gig and even taken advance payment for it. He said I would not go but this was my work. When I returned, he beat me the whole night,” Mukamazimpaka says. The lady picked her up and even dropped her off, her husband even took some of the money but he still beat her up. “He claimed that he knows women who hook up fellow women with other men,” she recalls. ALSO READ: Effects of GBV to watch out for Life was not easy for Mukamazimpaka. The husband was not adding any value to the household. Her first child, whom she had conceived out of rape at 14, in 1995, was stuck in the village. “I wanted to bring her to the city to live with me and support her as a parent. When I brought her, my problems doubled. He became more monstrous,” she says. Turning point Having gone through it all, lost weight and endured poor living conditions, Mukamazimpaka was exhausted. One day, a lady at church gave her a dress down and told her to get serious or lose her life in a violent marriage. “She told me I was literally getting nothing out of the marriage and that it was only holding my potential, and at the same time subjecting me to violence. She asked me what I had gained out of it and I had nothing to say,” Mukamazimpaka adds. At the time, which was in 2010, they were living around Masoro, Ndera sector, the violence had increased to the extent of beating her in the presence of clients. “It was so bad, one day he beat me before my own mother. She had come from Nyamagabe to visit us. He accused me of being a prostitute before my own mum. Before that, he had beaten me before two of my brothers. He would beat me at any given moment,” she says. With the bar already becoming a place for violence, she reflected on the lady’s words and made up her mind. It was time to move away from the life-threatening situation. She packed her bags and never looked back. It is the single most liberating decision she ever made. “I built my own house and I am educating my children. That is what satisfies me today. He doesn’t even know where the children go to school,” Mukamazimpaka points out. Mukamazimpaka says that had she not taken the decision to leave the bad marriage, she would still be going through trauma and violence. “I am more than happy today. I have peace of mind, which is more important. I am content with the little I have. Sometimes we don’t need much but rather peace to do what we need to do. I can never surrender this freedom to anyone, not even another man,” Mukamazimpaka observes. The only thing she regrets is the loss of time, but not the decision she made to liberate herself from the bondage disguised as a marriage that she was in.