When she was ten years old her teacher raped her. At 14 her closest confidante, her church pastor, raped her. Now she is a mother, and she lives with HIV acquired during her marriage. The South African AIDS activist Nhkensani Mavasa rocked the G8 Alternative Summit with her moving story.
When I heard her outspoken account of her life, a shiver ran down my spine. These traumatic incidents are daily realities in Africa. In some villages in Uganda, father-in-laws consider it a right to force themselves on their daughter-in-laws.
Many women I know try to avoid acquiring HIV during their marriages by planning to leave the relationship as soon as they have a child – and while they’re still alive - rather than trust their husband to be faithful. So I wonder whether we have simply learned to live with these violations.
“No!” Nhkensani tells me. “I am here to ensure that I raise my voice on such issues as rape and HIV.”
In some African cultures women are not allowed to speak out whether one is raped or not. It is supposed to remain a secret because it’s taboo to shame a man.
Nhkensani agrees: “When I was defiled the first time, I ran in tears to my mother,” she says. “But she jumped at me and yelled that I was not supposed to say that at all. Never! Shhhhhhh keep quiet. It’s abominable.”
But now Nhkensani is making it her mission to tell other women that such silence could kill them.
“Now that I have seen some light, I want to take this light to all the women down there who are suffering and the children who are being defiled day and night and have to keep quiet," she says.
"I want the G8 to release the money they promised in 2005, so that the likes of me, we can get enough drugs and better lives and for all the women to shun keeping quiet about their rights to life.”