Eileen Smith is a gender activist and a motivational speaker working in South Africa. Eileen is a survivor of gender-based violence and advocates against it and helps survivors transition from victim to victor. Here’s her story. This article discusses domestic violence.
I had no idea how serious gender-based violence (GBV) was until I fell under the statistics. Daily, I work with survivors of GBV and the severity differs, but the residual effects don’t. Trauma is trauma.
Words spoken become words lived. “You are nothing, you are useless, you are weak.” These “you ares” are bound to become “I ams” at some point, right?
It’s important that we do not just look at GBV as a crime against the victim, but also as a crime to society and our economy.
Every economy depends on the productivity of the people. But when there is a disease in the system — and yes gender-based violence is a disease — the system will become infected and suffer.
For a woman who lives in an abusive home, what happens at home will affect her attention span, self-esteem and her productivity. As a victim in her home, she will be the victim in the world. Correction becomes criticism because all self-esteem is lost, concentration is scattered because there’s a problem awaiting her at home. She will create the illusion of feeling stuck due to words spoken to her. If you are “stuck” how do you progress? Produce? Plan? Create? Grow?
Every economy depends on the productivity of the people — men and women. Everyone plays a role in the growth of the economy. But when there is a disease in the system — and yes gender-based violence is a disease — the system will become infected and suffer.
I wish that when I was her, I knew that there was a way out and that what he said wasn’t who I was. Fear is not a desirable state to remain in. It’s a constant fight or flight mode because you have accepted that as the norm. The feeling of never being good enough affected my work ethic and caused me to feel like the victim all the time.
GBV is not just a personal issue
GBV is not only a personal issue — it’s an issue for us all because we all form part of the chain.
It took years to rebuild my self-esteem. I recall a time when a simple typo in a document gave me anxiety and my boss’s thoughtful expression caused me panic, even when it had nothing to do with me.
Starting over again was not easy. I carried the words with me. When people made fast hand gestures, my heart would race. When I was rejected from a job, I would remember the words that put me down. I had to unpack my trauma and keep going.
But many women don’t know how to unpack their trauma. I try to use my experience to help survivors transition from victim to victor. I run workshops and host a women’s networking event called The Emotional Baggage Depot to assist women, to rebuild, recreate and deal with the emotional baggage and residual effects of life’s events.
I recently joined the Kuhluka Movement as the community moderator. I counsel and coach women and then we equip them to be pillars of support for other women in surrounding communities with counselling and life coaching tools to help address the residual effects of trauma.
We must insist on concrete action to end GBV. ONE’s petition to stop sexual violence in Senegal is one such effort.
As I counsel these women, I realize even more that GBV is really on the rise, and causes such as ONE’s petition in Senegal is truly amazing.
We must insist on concrete action to end GBV. ONE’s petition to stop sexual violence in Senegal is one such effort to put an end to gender-based violence. The petition is telling the government it’s time to step up.
If something doesn’t change, our societies and economies will continue to be impacted. Creating a war, rage, fear, violence cannot bring about a positive outcome and cannot grow the country.