Paving the way for change

Paving the way for change

Sonali Naik, 23, accesses support services through Oxfam's Creating Spaces project. Sonali married at 17 and unknowingly entered into a relationship filled with violence and abuse. Sonali’s husband and her in-laws physically, emotionally, and mentally abused her for 5 years before she could escape the relationship. Through Creating Spaces, Sonali was connected to a social worker/counsellor. By accessing the support services, Sonali was able to leave her abusive husband, and gain custody of her two young boys. Sonali is currently fighting for child support payments from her husband. Sonali’s advice to other young women: “Do not get married at an early age the way I have done it. If you have to do it, don’t lower yourself. Be strong and believe in yourself.”

This is her story:
My name is Sonali Naik. I am 23 years old. When I was 17, I married for love. After we got married, and I went to live with him, my husband started to beat me and torture me.  

I came to the support center in 2015 to get counselling and support because my husband was beating me. I tried to sort out our problems but had to leave for my own personal safety. I have returned to the support center to get help to apply for maintenance (child support) from my husband. 

When I fled my husband’s house, he kept my baby with him. The support center helped me get custody of my baby. Both of my small children now live with me. The support center is now helping me fight for to get child support from my husband.

I tried to reconcile with my husband, but it broke and he continued to torture me.

He tortured me in many different ways. He tried to force me to bear four children for his family members. My husband’s elder brother and sister do not have any children of their own. My husband wanted me to bear children and give them to his family members. I refused to do this and then was tortured even more.

Through counselling I learned that physical torture is a form of violence, beating me is a form of violence, and forcing me to bear a child for anybody else that is also a form of violence. I also learned that if I am dark skinned and someone is saying speaking ill of me because of the colour of my skin, that is also a form of violence. 

When I grew up, I saw some physical violence between my mother and father. But not as much as I have experienced. I know other girls who experience violence like I do, and now I always refer them to the support center for help. 

If the support center didn’t exist, I would have gone to the police. But the police would not have helped.  They would have given me many appointments and asked me to come back over and over again without taking any action against my husband. Some people in my community have mocked me for visiting a counsellor. 

I would like to tell young girls, to not get married at an early age the way I have done. If they have to do it, they shouldn't lower themselves and be strong.

What is Creating Spaces?
Creating Spaces is an Oxfam Canada flagship project that takes action to reduce violence against women and girls (VAWG), including child, early and forced marriage in 6 countries - Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Pakistan, Philippines, and Nepal.

By helping change the attitudes, behaviours, and systems that perpetuate violence against women and girls through-

  1. Creating spaces for support: Women who experience violence often lack access to support services. Creating Spaces improves access to social services, medical assistance, counselling, job training, and legal aid. Support provides women with tools to take control of their lives and to build a better future.
  2. Creating spaces for justice: Laws often exist, but go unenforced or unchallenged. Creating Spaces works with legal professionals and community leaders to uphold the rights of women and girls. We educate women to better understand  - and fight for - their right to a life free of violence.
  3. Creating spaces for change: Creating Spaces facilitates knowledge-sharing between local partners and countries to generate widespread change. We help individuals and institutions connect, share, learn and adapt approaches to ending violence against women and girls.

Over 5 years, Creating Spaces will: 

  • Change how communities think about violence and the acceptance of violence.
  • Provide support to women and girls who have experienced violence.
  • Strengthen women & girls' rights, leadership, and engagement.
  • Help institutions and networks get the tools they need to influence change.

You can help Oxfam empower more girls like Sonali by donating today!

(Sonali's identity has been protected. In the photo: Sonali visits the support center with her child)
Photo by Atul Loke. Text compiled by Caroline Leal, Oxfam Canada for Creating Spaces project.

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