Saturday, 21 March 2015


Sunday, 8th March, was International Women’s Day. Despite the word “International”, I have to confess, that until coming to Chad I had never heard of the day, never mind spent the 8th of March, along with hundreds of other women, celebrating by marching, eating, dancing and singing together. All the time bedecked in hurriedly made clothes in the official material, decorated with slogans broadcasting the rights and importance of women!

Celebrating this years International Women's day with hospital staff
Here, in a country where a women’s status is largely found in her social circumstances, where her voice is rarely heard, and in a country listed as having the top five worse maternal mortality rates, acknowledging and promoting women is not only an excuse for celebrating, but is essential to offer women protection, value and a sense of dignity.

Esther dancing with friends
Since being in Chad, I have meet some truly inspiring women, ladies who have persevered through some incredibly difficult circumstances. Women such as Esther, a colleague of mine at the hospital, who, having married at a young age and had several children, watched as her alcoholic husband spent all of her earnings leaving her and her children without food. Eventually her husband left Esther for his mistress, leaving her with no provision, but 4 children to bring up and get through school on her own. With hard work and determination she has done so, and yet the challenges continue for her as she is now takes care of her daughter- in- laws child who she has abandoned. And yet Esther is frequently found to be working away singing at the top of her voice, or on her day off, teaching local women how to knit.

Or there is Yvette. A young very bright lady who was able to get a good education and has worked incredibly hard resisting much criticism at her desire to further herself. But now finds herself unemployed, despite a degree in management and having had many job interviews, because she will not sleep with the potential employer.

A friend, Naomi, works here in the capital with vulnerable women. She tells me a story of two sisters, Natalie and Angela, who come from the south of Chad:

Following the death of her father, Natalie was taken out of school at the age of 14 and married to an older man she did not know, to provide for her family. Before long, it was evident that the marriage was a disaster. Her husband drank, leaving frequently to visit his mistress and violence on both sides, was common. Two children were born and died. Eventually Natalie could take no more and ran away to the city to seek out a new life. Having no education or training, earning money for her rent was difficult and she quickly turned to the crowded bars. Here, in the midst of laughter, activity and music, Natalie was introduced to a completely new world; one where she was not ordered to cook, clean and await for a long absent husband who beat her on his return. Here she was called beautiful, promised protection and security. Her rent was covered, clothes were bought for her and she had food to eat. For a few months it was by one man and when he disappeared, it didn’t take long for another to step in.

Despite her lack of education, Natalie was not stupid and was aware of the risks her new lifestyle brought. Every three months she would get herself tested for HIV and every time got a negative result. So far her risky lifestyle was paying off and although the pain of losing her children never left her, she found her place in this new world.

Some years on, her younger sister Angela came to stay during her school holidays. Her eyes were wide at the initial sights of the bustling city, a world away for a 15 year old from a small village, where her mother’s home and the church were her everything. Angela’s visit offered Natalie and her friends a new diversion. One night they dressed Angela up and took her out to the bars.

The next day, Naomi went to visit Natalie and greet her sister, but Angela was lying motionless on the bed. Her black eye, the only outward sign of her innocent body having been wrenched apart.

In the small dark room, Naomi listened in horror as Natalie and her friends urged Angela to find the man and apologise to him. To say nothing, make no fuss, “c’est normale”. But Angela could barely move. Some days later, having recovered, Angela returned to her village, a “shell”.

Following Angela’s visit, Natalie’s interest in the bars and the men began to dwindle and yet, without them, how could she survive? Without them, who was she?

Natalie tried to set up a business selling tomatoes. Having saved enough money to buy an initial stock, she sat on the roadside, waiting. She sold a few, but of course, within a matter of days, her stock had literally rotted away and the little money she had earned was taken by her latest man.

In the quiet, dark times, Natalie prayed, but she felt, deep down, she was not good enough for God.

One day Natalie found herself feeling so sick and weak, she could hardly get out of bed. Her latest HIV test was positive. Although she had started taking treatment, her main focus now was to get strong enough for the return journey to her Mother’s home in the village, confess her sins and then die.

Looking back at that time in her life, Natalie says with confidence “God has spared my life”. It was like a new beginning for her. In society’s eyes, Natalie has lost everything; she no longer has a man and she has no children. Yet, Natalie now no longer looks to men for her worth, identity, or her financial means. She now knows her true worth is in God. With help from Naomi, Natalie is receiving training and works full time and last December she was baptised. Life is still a daily challenge for Natalie as she still lives in the same neighbourhood surrounded by the same bars and men, but she is determined to keep moving forward into her new life with a sense of dignity that she had long sought, but now experiences.

Such stories as these are not unique to Chad but are repeated globally. I could go on, but I will finish off by encouraging you to think of ways in which you can get involved in taking a stand for women like these in Chad, in the UK, world wide. BMS World Mission are committed to taking action and campaigning, specifically against Gender Based Violence, in their Dignity campaign. For ideas of how you can get involved, go to

(All names have been changed to protect the ladies concerned and permission sought to share these stories with you.) 

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