Born in 1965, Rukia had dreams and desires, one of which was to get married to a good man with whom she would raise children, grow old and grey.
Rukia got married early into her twenties and had three daughters shortly after. Due to the nature of her work, she often came home beyond 10:00 p.m.
“Sometimes the University girls were many and some wanted me to plait those really small braids that would take hours.” She says.
Her husband soon got suspicious and demanded she stop working. He accused her of sleeping around with other men because, which job is that that kept her away from her husband and children past 10:00 p.m.? Soon, the beatings began.
We arrived at her house close to midday and found her bent over a saucepan of Matooke and beans cooking on a charcoal stove, commonly known as a sigiri. Her three young-adult daughters were seated on the veranda, deep in conversation. She invited us to have a seat after she had washed her hands and wiped a bench for us to sit. She regarded us suspiciously; strangers in her compound but eventually relaxed after we had introduced ourselves.
By her 2oth birthday, Rukia had advanced her skills in hair braiding that she often had overwhelming appointments, mainly by university students.
“I made enough money to take care of my personal needs,” she says, her look distant and nostalgic.
“I came home one day and found him waiting for me with a knife. It was very sharp. He hit me and threw me down. We scuffled for some time and I knew I was fighting for my life. He kept swinging the knife but I kept dodging it. He swung and it landed on my breast. He cut the lower part of my left breast and I remember seeing blood gushing out and the insides falling out.” She says.
As she nursed her wounds in Mulago referral hospital for several months, he served time in prison. However, he was released shortly before she was discharged. It was during this period of recuperation that she resolved never to see him again.
“I never wanted to see him again,” she says with disgust. “I was determined to raise my children however I could. I knew how to plait hair and that would support me. Now, two of my girls have finished university although one went crazy on me and got pregnant. Now she has a baby. I don’t plait hair anymore because my chest hurts from too much standing. But now that my children have studied and I am in good health, I am grateful that my skill supported us”
The Global database on violence against women by UN women places the prevalence of violence against women by a sexual partner at 51%. As the Daily Monitor reported in 2016, in to a police report released ahead of the March 8th women’s day celebrations in Kampala, 163 women lost their lives due to gender-based violence, an increase from the 109 in 2010. This is an issue that has for decades plagued our societies and put women, like Rukia, at risk. A number of organizations and government agencies have championed the fight against gender based violence with some recorded successes but it is time for our societies to take the mantle and keep watch for our neighbors.