Category Archives: Women’s Issues

Rebecca Masika Katsuva

 “There are times,” she says, “when I feel truly devastated. But then, when I find a baby without a mother in the middle of a pile of corpses, I can save that child. Who knows what the future will bring? I am devoted to these babies.” She sighs. “I must help them survive,” she adds. “They stabilise me.” A life of hope lived in defiance of violence: Rebecca Masika Katsuva

FIONA LLOYD-DAVIES 30 September 2016

I came across a truly inspiring woman, one who had undergone incalculable traumas that I don’t think I could have recovered from.  Her name is Mama Masika, and lived in the East Congo.  She married Bosco Katsuva and had two children.  When they were nine and 13, their home was attacked and looted.  They killed Bosco and forcably raped Masika and her daughters, both of whom were impregnated by the attack.  Disowned by her husband’s family, she and her daughters made their way to South Kiva with only a plastic bag holding their possessions.

She was in the hospital for six months recovering but when she came out, she opened her home to other victims of rape and their children.  The Congo has been called the “Rape Capital of the World” with 14 rapes occurring every hour. Women, children, men and babies are fodder to militia groups.  It is a means of control to the point where rape has become systematized and rape camps exist with roll calls. Masika herself had been raped a total of five times, the last four as a means to try to still her activism and the noise she made regarding the consequences of rape in her land.

Masika traveled to villages to rescue women and their children who had been raped.  Babies found whose mothers had been killed were also rescued.  She would carry wounded women on her back to her center or hospital.  She provided constant love and care in an violent, insecure environment. At less than five feat tall, she had an immense personality and spirit.  She was an attractive, vibrant woman who wouldn’t give up against great odds.

Starting with a rented field until she could own one, she and the other women grew crops to eat and sell at market.  She developed 50 homes where women could give birth, raise children and tell their stories.  Additionally she obtained sewing machines for another means to a livelihood for these women.  She would travel for days on foot to reach a village she heard had been attacked to rescue survivors.

She personally adopted 18 children and helped 6,000 women find a new life after trauma, tragedy and loss.  The organization she developed, APDUD, is a haven for many.  She won the Ginetta Sagan Award and $10,000 for her work.  Her center is called “the listening house” for the many stories told there.

Masika died on February 2, 1966 from malaria and high blood pressure.  She fell sick suddenly, was brought to the hospital and died shortly after from a heart attack.  She was 49.

Sindhutai Sapkal

Called the “Mother of Orphans”, Sindhutai is a formidable and loving force who has brought a stable, peaceful home environment to more than 1,442 orphaned and destitute children in the Indian State of Pune.  She continues to achieve these accomplishments through begging and giving talks to facilitate donations for her six home locations.

Born on November 14, 1948, much has been made of the fact that she was unwanted.  Her nickname, Chindhi, literally means “torn piece of cloth”.  Although an illiterate cowherd, her father, Abhimanji Sathe, shooed her out the door to attend school, against her mother’s wishes.  As the family lived in abject poverty, she used the leaves of a Bharadi tree to write on, with thorns as writing implements.   Her education ended after fourth grade when family problems and a marriage at 10, to a 30 year old man, necessitated it’s end.

Over the next decade, she gave birth to three male children.  But when she agitated for pay for the village women who collected cow dung from the fields to burn for fuel, her living situation changed.  Until then, a local strongman, in collusion with the forestry service, withheld all forms of payment.  Her work resulted in the granting of wages to these women.  The strongman, in revenge for her actions, convinced her husband to throw her out when she was overdue for the birth of her fourth child.  That night she gave birth to a girl in the cow shed.

Sindhutai separated the umbilical cord with a stone. Walking several miles to her house, she was again rejected with her mother telling her to beg at the rail station for food and shelter.  So began the next stage of Sindhutai’s life, relyng on the kindness of strangers to support herself and her daughter.  At first she sang as she begged but then she overcame her fears and started giving speeches and was so persuasive that her collections increased.

Over time  began noticing the many children who had nowhere to go.  Deducing they were orphans, Sindhutai took them under the mantle of her care, begging all the more to support her new charges.  At first she did it to make money, but then she realized her mission was to provide a home to all who needed it.  That mission has led to the establishment of six homes, with destitute, abandoned women coming for shelter and acting as housemothers.  In an effort at fairness, she turned her daughter over to the care of a Trust to not show favoritism to the orphans and destitute children.

As of the latest article found, she has adopted 1,442 children and has collected a large assortment of sons and daughters-in-law and grandchildren.  Many of her children went on to take profession positions – doctors, lawyers and administrators.  She still speaks to obtain funds, all of which she pours back into the shelter and care of children. In an act of irony, her husband returned to her, but she only accepted him as a child, she was done being anything other than a mother.  Sindhutai introduces him as her oldest child.

 

 

Women – what a wonderful mix

There are no limits on the number of fabulous women in the world.  In doing the research on my book, I am coming across so many women I wish I could focus more completely on but who don’t fit the parameters in my subject area . . . women who have gone through, traumatic, tragic experiences have become great and are doing great things as a result.

It has three parts. A tragic event occurs.  The person overcomes it or moves through it.  And because of the event (s), achieves greatness and helps others in the process. The thing I am experiencing is there are so many fabulous women in this world, doing remarkable things to help others.  Many are enabled by their status in the world to help whether they be celebrities who can attach their name to bring focus on a situation, or are from privileged or “normal” families and have not experienced the trauma of the magnitude I am looking for. To those, I have much admiration and gratitude for their services.

But I am finding these women who have been subjected to tragedies that would flatten most of us and went ahead to achieve brilliance.  Normal people faced with extraordinary experiences.  Women who have started out with hard lives faced more trauma, and gave their lives to making a better world for women or humankind.  I am humbled.

I look at these women and think of my own life, wishing I could have that extra something to do the things I always wanted to accomplish and never had the where with all or courage to reach out and work toward attainment.  But I am one of the millions who strive to do their best through their days, having ups and downs but walking onward.  Having little accomplishments that build upon each other.

Reading and writing about these women energizes me, fuels me.  Each time I find a new one I am like a parched and weary traveler who has found an oasis.  I drink of their accomplishments, of the terrors they have faced, of their energy and ability to sustain where others can only marvel.

Not to take away from men, but women desperately need leaders of their own sex to spur them onward, give them hope.  There are still too few true female leaders out there for us to latch on. They have to be world-renowned.  They can be becoming.  They can be carving out that nitch that needs exposing.  We can have History books devoted to what Women have achieved – about how History has been changed or impacted by the actions of Women.  Or, dare I say it, History books that equally represent the actions of women and men.

Take, for instance, Shirley Johnson in Tallahassee, Florida.  She began being raped when she was eight years old. At ten she became pregnant. At seventeen, she was the mother of six, married in name only.  By the time she was 27, she had 9 children with two husbands.  The first husband was the church deacon who was one of those raping her, whom she was forced to marry at age eleven.  She had to drop out of school when baby number six came along.  She was shamed and ridiculed within her church, the pastor of which was one of her rapists.  Her mother publicly accused her of lying about her attackers.

At age 56, she has found her voice.  She is fighting hard to make Florida become the first state in the Union to pass a law outlawing marriage, for any reason, before the age of eighteen. She is a caregiver, something she knows well how to do.  Nothing of privilege, she is only now receiving support in her endeavors from organizations for bringing the bill forward through the legislature.  To me, she is great.

It doesn’t take much to make a stand in this world.  You need only have a voice and be willing to use it.  You can be a ripple in the pond, sending other ripples outward.  Or be the butterfly’s wings in the Sahara that creates a hurricane in the Americas.  You can be like Mairead Maguire, who stepped out of her house to join a protest passing by and became a Nobel Peace Prize recipient for her work bringing peace first to Ireland and then to other countries.

It only takes a step . . . .