MARIE GRACE MUKASHEMA is a 39-year–old mother of four whom lives in Nyamagana Village, Busesamana Sector of Nyanza District in the Southern Province of Rwanda.
In 1988, she got married at the age of 16 and separated from her husband in 1998 as a result of brutal abuse.
Mukashema is one of the 48 members of the ‘Mpore Dukunde Inzuki’ Cooperative, a Beekeeping project, where women survivours of Gender Based Violence (GBV) meet to share and forge ways of living constructive lives.
Located in Busesamana Cell of Nyanza District in Southern Rwanda, the cooperative comprises of women who left wrecked marriages with between three to nine children.
Each member has a story to tell about the violence they brutally suffered and endured for so long at the hands of their husbands. However most have moved on and found the brighter side of life.
“I got married at 16 and did not know that my husband was a drunkard. He came back home drunk, and demanded for food yet he had never left any penny at home. He verbally and physically abused me, saying I’m useless,” Mukashema said.
It took her three years to get pregnant and that augmented her beatings. By the time she gave birth, she had no shawl or clothes for their baby girl and she recalls the time she lay on the hospital bed and got slapped by her husband who blamed her for not preparing the baby’s coming.
“When the baby turned a year old, she suffered a skin rash. My husband refused to pay for her treatment saying she was a girl and that it was my responsibility. I used traditional herbs as treatment but the rash had damage her skin beyond repair,” Mukashema said.
At 20years, her daughter scars are vividly visible.
“When I gave birth to our fourth child, I was so happy because I thought the presence of a son would brighten up my husband and eventually change the situation at home.
“The situation worsened, my husband denounced his involvement in the child‘s life claiming that in his family lineage they never produced boys. I suffered months of beating until one day, I was beaten viciously until I lost consciousness,” she solemnly narrates.
When she recovered, Mukashema left her marital home leaving behind her children; she could not stand the abuse any more. She later heard that their father had thrown her children out and were living with the neighbours.
“Two days later, I went back to pick my children from the neighbours and they have never left my side since, besides going to school. For all the time I was abused, I was scared and could not say anything.
Other village women advised me saying, ‘Nikozubakwa’ meaning ‘that is the way families are built’ and I knew that was very misleading,” Mukashema explained.
She hated everything about men, isolated herself and dedicated her time to work in the hilly fields to make ends meet.
Things changed when she was introduced to Faith Victory Association, in her home area.
“At first people told me about the association, but I could not get myself to talk to people about what happened.
The first time I tried going there, I saw our mediator, she was very young and I asked myself what she knew about marriage and what we went through? I didn’t go back,” Mukashema said.
Weeks passed and a team of GBV victims convinced Mukashema to at least go and listen to what was said.
“When I listened to their stories, I found out that some of their cases were worse than mine. I opened up to them and we comforted each other,” she said.
During the opening sessions she discovered that the women had formed different cooperatives where they generated income.
Every time they met, they collect Rwf100 from each member as a saving mechanism that generates capital for their beekeeping projects.
“It’s from these projects that our financial status improved and our children’s livelihood is back to normal. We are a family of friends. We get eight kilogrammes of honey which cost Rwf12,000 at every collection. The money is saved in the bank under the cooperative’s name,” Mukashema disclosed.
Today these women who were formerly abused have stood out in their societies. They also get small grants from poverty eradication organizations.
For instance; on March 8th, 2011, during the International Women’s Day 100th celebration, their cooperative received 10 cows from ActionAid Rwanda. The cows will boost their economic status.
Immaculate Nyirampore, a member of the cooperative, said that Mukashema has always been supported other women members.
“She is always advocating for women and children rights in our area. If anyone is abused, she immediately informs the authorities,” Nyirampore said.
Mukashema says she does not believe in re-marrying because of what she went through.