Her lips quiver. Her hands tremble. Jane (Not her real name) struggles to suppress stubborn tears, but the outburst comes, spontaneously, and the tears stream down her cheeks as she sobs profusely.
The story of this 35-year-old is mind-boggling. Jane was born out of rape and only knew her rapist father at the age of five.
Her father, however, took responsibility, sponsoring her through primary school. But he wouldn’t see her through secondary education.
Between her sobs, she tells Timescape Magazine that like her mother, she would become a victim of rape. Her rapist was her stepfather.
“After completing Primary School, my dad said he couldn’t send girl children to school because girls are of no value. So, my stepfather said he wanted to sponsor me, but I had to go and live with him under the same roof. So, I packed my things and went and lived with him. He started sending me to school. One unfortunate day, I was at home not feeling too well. By then I was 11 years old and in Form One. He asked me if I had ever had sex with somebody. He told me that sex is something I will be doing throughout my life and to do that, there should be somebody who has to teach me, and that person had to be him. That same day, he brought out a knife and a rope with a machete. He placed these things on the bed. …my stepfather violated me through rape. And he told me to never tell anybody because if I dare, he was going to kill me.”
Jane ran to an elderly family member for help. Her older relative would only believe her after seeing her private part. Still, the family name had to be protected.
“She told me never to tell any family member because if I dare speak up, it’s going to spoil the family name, so I had to keep quiet. And when my uncle eventually came, he told my grandmother that I ran away from the house because he caught me with a boy and had to beat me up,” she narrates.
Jane kept the story to herself for a long time. It was only after an NGO –the National Association of Aunties, RENATA launched a campaign in her home village of Wum that she found the courage to open up.
“The very first day I shared my story, I realized that I was not the only victim of the same perpetrator. My two siblings and one relative who were all children were equally victims. My two siblings told me that the same thing I went through is the same thing that happened to them. One of my sisters was already having a baby and she made us to understand that it was a neighbour who impregnated her but on that day; she got me to understand that it was actually my uncle who got her pregnant through rape. From then, I decided to start talking because I knew that that was the only solution.”
That solution didn’t come so easily. Jane faced resistance from the village chief who thought that her campaign was “spoiling the image of the village.”
And hers isn’t an isolated story. During a May 13 event to sensitize Internally Displaced Persons in Yaounde on how to deal with GBV, several women came up with heart-breaking stories of the hurt they have suffered.
With a 9-months old babe strapped to her back and clutching another by hand, Doris Azong narrated the story of her escape from the war in the restive former UN Trust Territory of Southern Cameroons.
“We were running and hiding in the bushes,” she recalled.
She said her husband left her and she had to struggle with the kids, all by herself. In frustration, she relocated to meet her sister in Yaounde.
“When I came here, I met one man. The man promised me he would take care of me and my two kids. I had two more children with him, but he fled.”
Azong now has to struggle with four children, fathered by two men, both of whom have abandoned her.
Jane has now placed herself as a campaigner for the rights of all women who suffer from such GBV, swelling the ranks of the army of campaigners against the scourge in the Central African country.
The issue came up once again in Yaounde on May 13, initiated by Barrister Nsen Abeng, an Alumina of the US International Visitors’ Leadership Program.
She was selected to do training in the United States on ending Gender-based violence, and Friday’s event was a result of that training.
“Gender-Based Violence (GBV) is a huge problem in Cameroon,” Nsen told Timescape Magazine.
Nsen said the situation has been made worse not only by the ongoing war in the former UN Trust Territory of Southern Cameroons where thousands of people have been forced to flee from their homes.
“Many of these women –the internally displaced women and girls are very vulnerable. That is why we decided to organize this workshop to sensitize them on how best to deal with gender-based violence,” Nsen told Timescape Magazine.
“The testimonies (of the survivors) show that a lot still has to be done as to advocacy, a lot has to be done as to reviving the laws and a lot has to be done for implementation of international framework laws that Cameroon has ratified and even our national laws,” she said.
According to 2019 statistics provided by Care and Plan International, 56.4% of women suffer from Gender-Based Violence in Cameroon.