#BreakTheBias: How Physically Challenged Woman Survived Various forms of Abuse, Became Disability Rights Advocate
By Blessing Oladunjoye
Assumpta Khalil, a 42-year-old mother of two, is an amputee and a social worker who contributes her quota to advocate for Women with Disabilities (WWDs). Khalil is a survivor of gender and disability-based violence. She shared her experiences with Blessing Oladunjoye and how she has been #BreakingTheBias over the years.
It was a bright sunny day on November 13, 2002, when Assumpta Khalil decided to leave Lagos to check her OND final result from the satellite campus of The Polytechnic, Ibadan, in Eruwa, Oyo State.
On her way through Abeokuta, her vehicle was involved in an accident where eight people died on the spot while seven, including Khalil, sustained injuries. She went into a coma for seven days.
After contacts were made with her family in Lagos, she was directed to the National Orthopedic Hospital, Igbobi, where her left hand was recommended to be amputated. Doctors explained that the hand had been crushed beyond surgery.
Acquiring a disability as an adult was a shock for Khalil; her friends abandoned her with all her hopes dashed. At this point, Khalil thought she had no reason to live. She couldn’t get a job, and she was practically surviving by engaging in a small business.
While doubting her existence, Khalil met a man who restored her hope and made her believe that life is worth living again.
“He made me believe that I have every reason to live and that I can have another life. Shortly after we met, we got married; I didn’t see any reason why I should delay the proposal of this amazing young man, who was so kind and loving to have decided to marry an amputee like me,” Khalil shared.
While her heart was filled with butterflies and delights that she had met a partner who had decided to stand by her ‘for better for worse’, little did Khalil know that she was entering into a danger zone.
“A few weeks after our traditional wedding ceremony, my ex-husband changed from what I knew him to be and started to deject me, and his family members who didn’t want us to get married started pressurising him, and he was using that to act towards me. He told me to my face that he doesn’t know what he was doing with me and how could he have married an amputee,” Khalil recalled.
She shared that her two-year-old marriage was laced with different flavours of violence, from physical, emotional, verbal, financial, psychological, and sexual.
The mother of two explained that it started with the late return of his ex-husband to the house, and whenever she asked or complained, it would resort to a ‘beating’ session.
“He would insult me that I’m an imbecile, and then the next would be to start beating me. I was so helpless, and it got to a stage that I was already prepared to be beaten by him, and I tried to pacify myself that na beating go end am,” she added.
Khalil was vulnerable and helpless, and she seemed stuck in the marriage, as her mother, whom she confided in, believed that marriage is meant to be endured, despite the pain and suffering.
“He had stopped my friends from coming to visit me. My neighbours were aware of the maltreatment that I go through almost every night, but they couldn’t do anything to stop it. I was always apprehensive whenever the sun was setting because that symbolised another time to be beaten. It was an abusive marriage that almost took my life,” she said.
Khalil recalled that her then-boyfriend denied he ever knew her after the accident. He didn’t show up at the hospital, despite being contacted several times, and neither was he willing to continue with the relationship after the amputation.
“This made everyone consider my ‘ex-husband’ as a saviour. He made me feel he was doing me a favour by getting married to me. I was naïve and vulnerable; I’d just had an accident three years ago where I thought everything was over, and here was a man that was willing to marry me,” she added.
Sharing the deal-breaker for her, “the beating sessions became more frequent, no night would pass without being beaten. I was just a sex object, and most of the time, he raped me. He brings women to the house and would be on romantic calls with other women right in front of me. I became dejected, and there was nowhere to seek help.”
Jobless, broke, and suffering, Khalil was left at the mercy of her neighbours, who had to contribute money to support her relocation.
“I left the house in Ibadan with my daughter, and I went to my mother’s place at Ekpan in Warri. You won’t believe my mother asked me to go back to my husband’s house. How’s that an option? I insisted I wasn’t going back, but she chased me out of her house with nowhere to go. She said she could not afford to be humiliated that her daughter was separated from her husband. I was worried because my mother would rather have me die in an abusive marriage than her ego being tampered with,” she said.
Running away from her husband for survival and chased out of the house by her mother, Khalil had no choice but to go to her grandmother’s place at the Okere axis of Warr.
She almost lost her life that night because of the communal clash between the Ijaw and Ishekiri, all thanks to some local vigilante guarding the Warri border who came to her rescue.
Explaining that her grandmother’s efforts to unite her with her mother proved abortive.
“I’d left my daughter with my mother before going to my grandmother’s place, and you won’t believe that my mother took my daughter to my ex-husband, thinking that would make me return to his house. I made every attempt to see my daughter, but my ex-husband would disagree. At that time, I was already pregnant with my second daughter, and he told me to take the unborn child while he takes my first daughter,” she said.
Sharing how gender-based violence impacted her, Khalil stated she was lonely, unstable, unfit, and felt less human.
She notes that GBV was forced to embark on a self-discovery journey that made her understand her true value and not settle for less.
“I am the best woman, and I can aspire; it has made me sensitive around me. I don’t go into a relationship blindly. It’s an excellent price for me to know my worth. No man is doing me a favour to go to bed with me. I took my time to build my capacity,” Khali added.
Khalil mentioned that her vulnerability was exploited, and her disability was why her husband repeatedly violated her. She noted that numerous women with disabilities are stuck in abusive relationships and marriages and are not bold enough to take a step further because of their fears.
She believes that it is essential to build a strong community for WWDs, build their capacities and make them comfortable with themselves, which would not make them settle for less.
“It is also important to have support systems, awareness creation, counselling, and networking opportunities for these women. It is important to let a WWD know that she’s not alone and her disability is not the end of her life. As such, violating WWDs would reduce,” Khalil added.
Khalil is an example of a woman who has broken numerous biases to become a strong advocate against gender and disability-based violence.
This article was produced by BONews Service in commemoration of the International Women’s Day 2022, with the campaign theme: #BreakTheBias