In Nigeria, a woman’s place is thought to be in the home. But I had other plans. I was determined to pursue a higher education and obtain economic independence, so I attended college, obtained multiple degrees, and worked hard to have a very successful career in banking and finance in the top banks in the capitol, Lagos.
Unfortunately, my husband Ndulu’s* family did not care about my career. They were from a different tribe than I was, and told Ndulu that women from my tribe were too hard to control. Though my job supported my husband, many of his siblings, and his extended family, living with them was misery. I was constantly insulted, with Ndulu’s family calling me names like “useless woman” and mocking my tribe. Whenever I tried to assert my independence, they turned their insults to Ndulu for not controlling me better.
Soon, Ndulu too began to insult me, beat me physically, and then rape me, in order to “teach me” to be “his woman.” For over two years I suffered his abuse. Ndulu dragged me from my bed and beat me with an electrical cord, slammed me into the headboard, slapped me, hit me, and kicked me. Once Ndulu’s beatings left me unconsciousness in a pool of blood and nearly caused me to miscarry our daughter. He kept me from seeking medical attention in all but the most dire of circumstances, so to this day my body bears the marks of his abuse.
I tried to get help. I went to our church’s marriage committee for counseling but Ndulu continued to threaten and abuse me in front of the committee, yelling “Leave me alone. If I had a gun I would kill her and nothing would happen to me!” Next I tried the police, but they told me, “Woman, that is a family affair. Go and submit to your husband.”
Finally, I decided to do the unthinkable and file for divorce. Nigerian women simply don’t divorce their husbands. I had a very hard time finding a lawyer to represent me, and even when I found an attorney he eventually withdrew his representation because of Ndulu’s death threats against him.
After a period spent in hiding and with no other options, I fled with my children to the United States where I found the Tahirih Justice Center to represent me and my daughters in an asylum claim. I am incredibly grateful for their help. When Ndulu contacted the US Embassy in Nigeria to falsely accuse me of kidnapping our children in an attempt to hold up my asylum case, Tahirih was able to help me obtain documents from Nigeria proving that I had legal custody of my children, ensuring my case went through.
When my attorney at Tahirih called to tell me that my daughters and I had successfully obtained legal status in the United States, I was so overwhelmed with joy that I had to hang up the phone and call back when I had collected myself. I am now studying to become a nurse so that I may realize the goals of economic independence and self-sufficiency that have always been so important to me. I continue to work with the attorneys at Tahirih to finalize the divorce and custody cases against Ndulu in the Nigerian and United States courts.
I specifically requested that Tahirih share my story on their website. I want others to know what happened to me, and having my story shared and knowing that I am supported is an incredible victory.
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*Names have been changed to protect privacy. The photograph included here is not of Uwa. Photo by Sergio Pessolano.