Now I know that women can stand on their own without a husband

Fanta at sewing machine“My name is Fanta. I’m 28 and originally from a village called Kolaintonkia, in the Kenema district of Sierra Leone. I have two children: a boy and a girl, aged eight and two."

I am the third of five children but my parents died four years ago. Our family was very poor and I only went to school until I was 12 years old because my parents didn’t have the money to continue paying my school fees.

My parents paid more attention to my brothers because they were boys. They wanted the boys to go to school because they could bring more income in than I could. But we still didn’t have enough money so I was handed over to my aunt to be brought up.

My aunt didn’t have enough money to send me to school either so I stayed at home. I had to do all the chores like cooking, cleaning, washing my aunt’s clothes, fetching water and collecting firewood. I really didn’t want to leave my parents but there was nothing I could do. I lived with my aunt for some time until a man paid for me to become his wife.

He was 50 and I was just 18 years old. I didn’t want to marry him but my aunt told me I had to. So I got married and soon after I gave birth to my first child. At the beginning my husband treated me well, but later that all changed. He was having an affair with another woman unbeknown to me. He didn’t care for me or provide me with clothing or food.

Sometimes he would beat me. He would leave me at home and come back late. I stayed with my husband because I had nowhere else to go. When I told my aunt about his treatment she told me I had to stay there, that I had nowhere to go and that I would only have myself to blame if I left. Things didn’t get any better. My husband continued to threaten me and wanted another child. I started using contraception but then my husband’s mistress would come and threaten me. In the end I had to remove the contraception and have a second child with him.

After my second child was born the problems got worse. He would beat me with whatever he could find. One time he threw me out and I sought refuge with a friend, who told me about Women’s Partnership for Justice and Peace (WPJP).

I went with my friend to WPJP’s centre in Bo, where I spoke to a counsellor. They treated me nicely and talked and listened to me. I used to come crying and upset but the counselling made me feel better and calmer after a few visits. WPJP helped me build a case against my husband. They gathered all the evidence and called the officer in charge at the local Family Support Unit (FSU) of the Police. I went with my counsellor and received medical support. I believe if I had gone on my own they would not have taken me seriously.

WPJP called my husband to come in so they could mediate the situation and collate information from both sides. He finally came but refused to take it seriously. Initially he was quite hostile and aggressive, but WPJP used the law and explained the Domestic Violence Act to him. The FSU decided to press charges and when my husband found out he run away. That was last September.

When I first came to the centre I was very downcast and had no self-confidence. I wore clothes that hid my body and was very shy. Now I look and act very differently. WPJP helped me to do a tailoring course and I am now an apprentice in a tailor shop, arranged by WPJP. I support my family by buying old clothes in the market and using my tailoring skills to alter them and sell them on. If there was no WPJP at all, I don’t think I could have survived it. Because I relied on the maintenance of me and my children, where could I go?

That was the problem. I have no one. Now I know that women can stand on their own without a husband. If I had continued to stay there, I would never have known what the world can be like. Because normally the man provides everything. My husband provided it when he wanted to, but not when I needed it. Now, thanks to WPJP’s support, I have my own money, I control my own money and I know how to use my own money.

Having peace in my life, with no violence, is an important thing."

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