“I grew up in Sudan, the youngest in a family of five brothers and five sisters. My mother died when I was 5 years old. My father was very educated, he was an executive in an oil company and he used to spend a lot of time with Europeans so he was very open-minded. I was very close to him, we knew everything about each other. We trusted each other a lot and he gave me a lot of freedom. Without him, I wouldn’t have managed to study. Because with my brothers it was always a battle.
They always told my father that he gave the girls too much freedom, that he had to control us. They forbade me to ride my bike with the boys, or to come home late after school. But I was very rebellious and I fought for my freedom. I wanted to be like the boys. I knew I was going to be beaten up but I didn’t care, I did what I wanted! Sometimes they wouldn’t let me go to school for 2-3 days to punish me. I thought it was strange that they were like that when my father was so open. But that’s because they stopped studying early.
I was very good at school and I was the only one who continued. My brothers wanted me to study medicine because there was less contact with men. But I studied engineering to become an architect, and I felt that I was fulfilling my dreams. After my studies and an internship I opened my own architectural firm. I built a lot of houses and buildings, even for the state. My father was very proud of me, he used to take me everywhere saying: “My daughter is an engineer!” For five years I ran my company. I imagined that I was going to be very successful and build a big company with lots of employees.
At university I fell in love with a boy who proposed to me several times. But my brothers refused, and they locked me up for three months so I wouldn’t see him. After that I just concentrated on work. I was very beautiful and many men proposed to me. But I didn’t want to marry anymore. Then in 2016 my father passed away. I was so sad, I spent all my time crying. Everything reminded me of him. I could even smell his perfume in the house. That’s when a family friend who lived in Geneva proposed to me. I wasn’t balanced, I didn’t feel at home anymore, I wanted to change everything. So I said yes.
On the phone he was so nice, but when I got here I was shocked. He was very, very violent. From morning till night. As soon as he woke up he started to shout at me. Even in bed he was very violent. He would threaten me that he was going to kill me and send me back to Sudan. He would say: “I’ve been here for a long time, I know everything. You don’t know anything, you can’t do anything against me.” I even had two miscarriages because of the stress and the violence. And he had scared me of the police. As soon as I saw them, my body started shaking. I used to lie in the bathtub crying because he hurt me so much.
Once he tried to strangle me but I managed to get away. I was shaking so much that I fainted outside. Someone found me in the street and called the police. He said I had hit him, but they did a checkup and found traces of violence on me. In the meantime he had phoned my brothers. They called me and scared me so much that I didn’t file a report against him. I was alone, without anyone to help me. I didn’t know what to do. A neighbour tried several times to help me by taking me to a hotel and finding me a lawyer. But I was so afraid of him that I always ended up going home.
Then one day, eight months after I arrived in Geneva, I was in the hospital again. He had punched me and hit me with a remote control. I was terrified, but I said to myself: I can’t take it any more. And this time I didn’t go home. I left the flat, all my things, and from one day to the next I had nothing. When I came here, I was very happy. I thought I would start a family and do a master’s degree. But now I am lost. I have the feeling that I don’t belong here or there. I don’t know who I am anymore. It’s as if I have no soul. I can’t concentrate on learning French. Sometimes I don’t even have the energy to go out walking.
And I am very angry with myself. Because I thought I was strong. Why did I let him destroy my life? I used to have a lot of confidence, but I lost everything. He told me so many times: “You are ugly, you look like a man. You think you know everything because you are an engineer.” He wanted to put me down, I know that. But the problem is that he succeeded. He filled my head so much with these words that now I believe them. Sometimes I wake up in terror, I hear him screaming and I see him hitting me. Am I going crazy? I’ve been in this situation for four years. Is my life going to get better?
I explained to my social worker that my situation is not ok. But he keeps telling me: “You have no husband, no job, no children, what are you doing here? Go back to Sudan!” I thought they were supporting women here, but in fact the situation is the same. The problem is always the men. If they were educated they wouldn’t behave like this. But I also know that if I don’t help myself, nobody will help me. I would like to be myself again. I’m trying to fight my depression. I’ve spent my whole life fighting, fighting, fighting. So sometimes I feel like it’s enough, that I can’t do it anymore. And yet, I still keep fighting…”
Published as part of the mini-series “Of frontiers and women”, produced in partnership with APDH. | Translated from Arabic