On the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, Kristian Foster shares her own story - and describes how World Vision's work is helping change the stories of women and girls around the world.
I first experienced male violence when I was 12 years old. My mother's boyfriend grabbed me by my arms and yelled at me for touching his beard. Little did I know it at the time, but he was schizophrenic. I wasn't really the cause of his anger. Still, my bruises were more than skin deep. I would never touch another man's face.
In university, my gender relations professor asked us to interview someone about their history with violence. I decided to interview my mom. This was the first time I learned that, before I was even born, she had been kidnapped and raped.
Thankfully, my mom had escaped after four days. She made life as normal as possible for me and my brothers in the years ahead. I don't know how, but she somehow buried the experience deep down inside, and hid it from the three of us until we were adults. She worked hard to be a wonderful mom, in spite of what she'd been through.
I feel so fortunate now to serve with World Vision, an organization that helps women and girls all over the world. While my mom went through something too brutal to imagine, there was no question that, after her escape, she'd be able to return to our house. I've learned that in some countries, many rape victims don't even have that option.
A weapon of war
Women and girls all over the world are potential targets of violence, whether by family members, boyfriends or strangers. Rape is often used as a weapon of war. The Democratic Republic of Congo has some of the worst rape statistics in the world. In North Kivu during the first half of 2012, it was recorded that 2,517 people, overwhelmingly women, had survived rape.
Safi* is one of those survivors. She was raped by soldiers two years ago while she, her mother-in-law and other women were coming back from the market where they were selling vegetable oil.
"After I was raped, my husband denied me," she says. "I was rejected. It was so painful to get separated from my children. It was unfair because it was not my fault."
Fortunately, Safi met a fellow survivor, Florence, who leads an organization supported by World Vision to provide help to victims of sexual violence.
The journey home
After their recovery, the women are welcomed into a community of other survivors: women and girls who understand what they're been through. When a woman is ready, the organization reaches out to her family on her behalf, helping them understand that the rape was beyond her control. This begins a reconciliation process with the families, and helps the women start the next chapters of their lives.
In Safi's case, the process is working. She is back in her community with her family, and now runs her own business. The proceeds have helped the family build a sturdier shelter than they had before. It seems that, as with my mom, rape has not got the better of her.
"I am happy today," says Safi. "I have all my children with me. My husband also accepted to take me back. I have built a house where (we) can stay. I feel so grateful. Other women like me are still living in huts and under plastic sheets. Others are still being raped or taken hostage in the bush. I can't forget them, I pray that God's hands reach and help them just like me."
A way to help
Many countries have grassroots programs for women and girls who are victims of violence. They offer things like medical care, counselling, and places to live as the victims heal. Like Safi, many rape victims are blamed by their friends and even families. They need advocates as they ease back into normal life. As part of its ongoing work against poverty and injustice, World Vision provides support to many of these grassroots programs.
Safi is living proof that there is hope, even in the darkest conditions. If you are looking for a way to help women, you can donate to the Women and Girls in Crisis Fund through World Vision Gifts. This fund supports programs all around the world to help survivors of violence against women.
*name changed for protection
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