Yesterday I read the most horrific story. One I couldn’t even imagine. One more common than I can contemplate. A young Ugandan woman and a mother of six children, Ester, was abducted by warring men who forced her to kill her one-year-old baby girl by smashing her head against a tree before they violently gang-raped her. She was then made part of the Lord’s Resistance Army and had to kill or be killed before she escaped, with scars both in and on her body. Her husband rejected her after she returned, and left her to raise their four surviving children and her child from the war. In gender studies, one constantly comes across stories of violence, abuse, death, discrimination, exploitation—you name it—faced by women, everywhere in the world.
The majority of the time, women’s hell comes at the hands of men, in charge in politics, religion, business and in the home. That’s not an ideological view, that’s the reality. There is no country in the world where women are safe from physical or sexual threat and economic inequality. A year is so long in the life of a child. So many hours, so much milk, so much togetherness and so much emotion. So much labour of love goes into getting a child to one year old. They are so vulnerable, so much outpouring of energy, self and will is needed just to keep them healthy and alive. A friend told me the story of her eldest sibling dying from crib death after one year and the effect on her mother. The possibility of losing one’s baby so quietly and subtly—as simply the stopping of breath—is almost inconceivable. Like many mothers, I often check to make sure my baby is breathing when she sleeps and lie awake listening to her next to me at night. Such a loss is something my mind refuses to process, but this?
Having brought a baby girl to the age of nine months through blood, tears, sweat, milk and many, many, many hours of everything I possibly have to give, this story leaves me disturbed and distraught. Not only because of Ester’s sheer pain, but because her story is similar to too many women’s. Women who have had their bodies, children, work, health and lives taken—here in T&T and there in Uganda. This isn’t an entry whose words aim at good writing. This is just writing to stop my fists from balling together in expression of the knot in my chest. This is writing to ask the world: how can we just go on? Stories like Ester’s need never happen again. The human, woman and now mother in me thinks of myself having her experience, and knows she has a powerful spirit that I must humbly honour in my life and work. Ester, today I am thinking of you, sister human, woman, mother…and I am thinking of your family and children and, especially, your little girl. I’ve never met her, but I will never forget her story.