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Hidden in plain sight

By Ben Cohen | 24 Oct 2019

For 15 years Cynthia was violently abused by her husband. The whole village knew about it and so did the church. Warning: contains mentions of gender-based violence

Warning: the story contains instances of gender-based violence.

For 15 years Cynthia* was violently abused by her husband. The whole village knew about it and so did the church. Yet no-one spoke out about it. Then, at last, someone listened to her…

There’s a proverb in Burundi that states that ‘a woman that isn’t beaten is like a house that isn’t cleaned.’ It’s one of many such sayings that point to a serious problem of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) in the country.

If you are a survivor of domestic violence in Burundi, there is often nowhere to turn. This, for a long time, was Cynthia’s experience. 

Cynthia is 49. She’s separated from her husband and lives with her three children in a rural village in Burundi. She got married at 19 and for ten years lived peacefully with her husband.
‘Life was good, he was our protector and provider, we were in love,’ Cynthia recalls. ‘Suddenly he changed and started beating me. I couldn’t understand what I did wrong.’

Vicious cycle of abuse
Cynthia lived with her children on the family farm. She cultivated their land and took care of the children. Her husband lived and worked in a nearby city, and only came home at the weekend. It was something she came to dread.

Cynthia in profile
‘I’m so happy that God found me and saved me.’
Cynthia

‘My husband’s colleagues told me that he had another woman in the city. He started bringing her to our house. We would argue and shout at each other and he would start beating me, until I ran to the neighbours for refuge,’ she explains. ‘I was shocked; I never thought such a thing could happen to me, but what could I do? My children were still young and I had nowhere to go.’ 

Hidden in plain sight
Cynthia was abused for more than 15 years with the full knowledge of the community. She went to church every Sunday, as well as attending numerous Bible studies and prayer meetings. However, she didn’t have anyone to talk to about it, let alone receive support. Like so many women who encounter violence in their home, she felt isolated, angry and hopeless. 

In Burundi, there aren’t many services for survivors of SGBV. As a result, Tearfund is working with faith groups and faith leaders across Burundi. Together, they are challenging the social norms at the root of violence against women with a special programme called Transforming Masculinities. 

They are making sure that survivors have access to the care and support they need. Cynthia was able to join a group in her church with other survivors of SGBV. In ‘Dushire imbere Imana’ (Let’s put God First), the survivors chat and pray together. For Cynthia it was a revelation.

‘When someone takes the time to listen to you, you feel at peace; you know that you are not alone.’
Cynthia

Ending the silence
‘When someone takes the time to listen to you, you feel at peace; you know that you are not alone,’ she says. ‘I’m so happy that God found me and saved me.’

Members of the group formed a savings scheme. They save 500 francs a week (about 17p). This has allowed Cynthia to start a small business at the local market, where she sells staples like rice and maize flour.

Tearfund and the Anglican Church of Burundi have just launched a National Survivors Movement. It means that women (and men) like Cynthia who have survived abuse are empowered to speak out and encourage others in similar situations.

‘I was becoming so bitter,’ says Cynthia, looking back. ‘I don't know what erratic things I would have done if I hadn’t joined the group. Today, I feel at peace; I’m ready to move forward with my life.’


PLEASE PRAY

Violence against women has been described as a ‘scar against humanity’. Cry out to God that he may raise up women and men to speak out about this terrible evil.  

Pray for Cynthia and the millions of women who around the world who are still facing gender-based violence.

And pray that more churches may be transformed from places of shame and silence, into places of refuge and healing.
Amen

Discover Restored, an international Christian Alliance that aims to transform relationships and end violence against women.

*Name has been changed to protect identity.

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Photo of Ben Cohen

Written by Ben Cohen

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