It took a near-death experience for a Pelican Park woman to realise that the 18-year relationship she was in with her partner was toxic and that she needed to get out before it was too late.
Yushra Adams, 42, says she was beaten almost daily by the father of her two children at their home in Parkwood informal settlement Zille-Reign Heights.
Ms Adams, who is originally from Uitenhage in the Eastern Cape, told her story to the women of Vrygrond at the Where Rainbows Meet organisation on Friday November 25, to kick off their 16 Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children campaign programme.
“This man would come home and beat me in front of my children and friends for no reason. He beat me severely, every opportunity he got, and even set me alight once when he threw a paraffin lamp at me,” said Ms Adams.
Her arm caught alight but she was able to douse the flames before sustaining any serious injuries.
The now single mother spoke about a rainy Friday night in August 2008 when her life changed completely.
“The man who I was involved with came home, opened my door and started beating and kicking me as usual.
“I couldn’t walk or stand on my legs because he had kicked me so badly. My eyes were swollen,” she said.
Not being able to walk or see properly, Ms Adams crawled to nearby neighbours looking for help but was shown away, some saying they did not have airtime to call the police and others saying they didn’t know the emergency numbers.
After crawling to several homes in the pouring rain, Ms Adams eventually got some help from an elderly man in the community.
“I wanted him to speak to my children’s father to stop his ways. The man invited me in and offered me clean clothes and a warm, dry place to sleep. I was so relieved when he offered me some help,”said Ms Adams. During the night, however, her relief turned to horror when in her deep sleep, she felt the man who had offered her help on top of her, raping her.
“I couldn’t fight back because my body was in too much pain. The next morning I woke up and left to get help. I didn’t tell anyone about my rape because I was afraid of what people were going to say. People gossip and laugh at you. Even when women go to the police station some of the police officers act as if the woman asked to be raped. I felt that I was going to die with that secret at the time,” said Ms Adams.
She got a protection order against her abuser and joined a women’s empowerment organisation where she learnt life skills, work skills and went for counselling.
“The rape didn’t get me down. The abuse by my childrens’ father didn’t get me down. I raised up. I broke the silence of abuse and I carried my protection order with me like a bible. I decided to speak out because I could no longer let what happened to me control me,” said Ms Adams.
Ms Adams believes Muslim women have it difficult because when she sought help from imams and other religious leaders they would tell her to “Sabr”, which means to persevere and be tolerant.
“I hate that word so much because everywhere that I went in the Islamic community, even my abuser’s family told me to Sabr. I was not going to be tolerant to abuse any longer,”said Ms Adams.
“There’s a gender based lie in Islam. Muslim women are oppressed because we grew up without a voice. Now I dedicate my life to try and help all women have a voice,” she said.
Asked why she stayed in the abusive relationship for 18 years, she said it was for the sake of her children.
“I wanted to make it work because I was not financially stable, I had no support because my family live in Uitenhage so I was dependent on him,” she said.
Today Ms Adams lives in Pelican Park, is a motivational speaker, an entrepreneur and women empowerment coach.
She also found healing by writing poems and has started a digital storytelling project called Sparkling Women, to share other women’s pain.
She wants women who are in abusive relationships to speak out.
“I encourage these women to enrich themselves. Stand up and make the change. Don’t be complacent and think that it’s going to get better. Once a person who is supposed to love you abuses you, whether physically, emotionally or mentally, you need to speak out, get help. Believe me, it will be the best thing you can do for yourself and your children.”
Mymoena Scholtz, founder of Where Rainbows Meet, said more needs to be done to protect the rights of women and children. Every year the organisation has either placard protests or marches. This year they took a different approach by bringing women from Vrygrond to the organisation to discuss abuse.
The women also had an opportunity to get advice from Mosaic, an organisation which provides training services and healing for women across Cape Town.
“We women have so much to offer if we’re given the right tools. It just starts with individual choices to break the cycle, to speak up and stand up. From there we mould future generations because if we women can be portrayed as strong people, we shift the cycle and alleviate abuse in homes because our children will become even stronger women and the boys will become non-abusive men,” she said.
“Women need to realise that they are not punching bags. Not to tolerate being abused in any form. It’s time it stops.
“They are beautiful, need to love themselves and seek help. There are various organisations out there to help abused women. Make use of our services and become an empowered woman,”said Ms Scholtz.