‘I was standing frozen holding my father’s hand when a rebel ordered me to follow him’

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Aminata Conteh-Biger, a former refugee from Sierra Leone, speaks out about domestic violence and sexual abuse at UIA’s White Ribbon fundraiser

On Sunday, 4 December I met a brave inspirational woman, a survivor, who against all odds had decided to live life on her own terms as she was not ashamed and did not want anger or guilt to consume her.

She is Aminata Conteh-Biger, a former refugee from Sierra Leone who came to Australia in 2000 with UNHCR assistance. Aminata was the key speaker at the annual White Ribbon fundraising event organised by the Women’s Steering Committee of the United India Associations led by Sue Advani. Addressing the small yet significant audience at the Coronation Club in Burwood, Aminata said, “I can still see their faces as if it were yesterday. I was standing frozen holding my father’s hand when one of the rebels ordered me to follow.” Being snatched from the hand of her father, who always protected his family, was the hardest part. She spoke about the pain and trauma her father would have gone through because of the act.

Before meeting her and listening to her speak, the audience watched a documentary on the making of “The Baulkham Hills African Ladies Troupe”, which celebrates the incredible grit of four African women who survived sexual abuse and ultimately could tell their story in the form of a play. The film documents their journey to the final show where the women were able to recant without ‘shutting down’.

The message was powerful and compelling. Women who are victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse often tend to blame themselves for what is happening to them. “When you are raped you feel like it’s your fault, no matter where you are, you have this big shame you carry around,” Aminata said.

“I did not want to give my captors the satisfaction to control my body, I would not let them break me or take things that cannot be taken back,” she continued. When asked if the trauma ever goes away, she said that she works on it every day. Today she is happily married to a wonderful man with two beautiful children. Aminata is just one on the long list of women who have undergone abuse in the hands of a man, but not all have been as fortunate as her. Though ‘fortunate’ may ring strange chords due to her traumatic experience, Aminata had ‘an out’ when she came to Australia.

aminata-with-family

Photo caption: Aminata with her family

Aminata was raised by a wonderful father who instilled great values in her and all her siblings. This helped her through her trying moments. But there are those amongst us who are abused and traumatised by people they love and hold dear. The healing for such people becomes very difficult as they are not able to break away or detach themselves from their abuser. As Miya Yamanouchi says, “An abuser isn’t abusive 24/7. They usually demonstrate positive character traits most of the time. That’s what makes the abuse so confusing when it happens, and what makes leaving so much more difficult.”

Domestic violence is a scourge that exists in every community and it does not discriminate. Men must stand up against other men who perpetuate these heinous acts as being “told off” by a mate can have far-reaching effects. The White Ribbon oath of “I will stand up, speak out and act to prevent men’s violence against women” is one every man and woman must take to change the culture in a society that can at times be seen to harbour these abusers as it does not want to get involved in someone’s ‘personal business’.

White Ribbon has a number of programs that can run from schools to the corporate levels. Education is prevention and prevention is always better than cure. Respect for all in all walks of life is an absolute must. Aminata said she fails to understand a man’s disrespect for women. If a person can love and respect his mother, love and respect his sister, why can’t he extend that to other women in his life? Jodi McKay, member for Strathfield, John Kennedy, UIA President and

Dr Moninder Singh, Councillor to Blacktown Council, was among the dignitaries who participated and addressed the audience at this White Ribbon fundraising and awareness building afternoon. Akshay Kumar, one of the White Ribbon Australia ambassadors also spoke about the work the youth are doing to support the cause. Sunila Kotwal, Diversity and Inclusion manager for White Ribbon, gave a short presentation highlighting the appalling statistics with short videos showing instances where domestic violence and sexual abuse can occur and how speaking up makes all the difference. So, let us all raise a voice against ‘violence against women’, be it physical, emotional, or sexual. This is a cause worth fighting for!!!

“Respect and honour the women in your life. Make them smile, appreciate, and acknowledge their contributions. Today and everyday.” — Mufti Ismail Menk, Islamic Scholar

 

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