“He told me he was going to get marry to me if I allow him to have sex with me. The thought of finally getting married really got me excited and I succumbed to his pressure not knowing that he was only there for the sex. A few months later, I discovered that I was pregnant and so I happily went to inform him that I was carrying his child. To my greatest disappointment, he denied being responsible or ever knowing me. Worse still, he said he would never have anything to do with an “epileptic girl”. I was devastated. Where was I going to get money to start preparing for the arrival of a baby? I couldn’t even feed myself or buy my anti-epileptic medications and now I have to raise a child. In Cameroon, nobody wants to employ a person living with epilepsy because they think they will “contaminate” them or other workers with Epilepsy.
This story is just one of many untold stories of women and girls living with epilepsy who are victims of rape by deception or by fraud almost every day.
“Rape by deception or by fraud is a situation in which the perpetrator obtains the victim’s agreement to engage in sexual intercourse or other sex acts, but gains it by deception, such as false statements or actions, including leading the target into illusory perceptions in order to get sex.”(Wikipedia)
In addition to the health challenges associated with epilepsy, women and girls living with epilepsy (WGWE) are confronted daily by a myriad of other challenges that severely reduces their quality of life. Epilepsy is heavily stigmatized in Cameroon, and consequently, women and girls living with epilepsy are often rejected by their families and communities, and also face serious marital limitations. WGWE are also more vulnerable to sexual exploitation and rape thereby exposing them to a greater risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies.
These women and girls are usually considered as “cursed” and/or “demon-possessed” and hence, not fit for marriage. This is because, people erroneously think that by getting married to them, they will be “contaminated” with epilepsy. This is particularly true for underdeveloped settings like Cameroon where there are extreme levels of stigma and discrimination against women and girls living with epilepsy, fueled by several myths and misconceptions stemming from a low level of awareness on epilepsy.
This situation of being constantly rejected by men puts these WGWE in a desperate and vulnerable position where they’re sexually exploited and deceived by men who would promise marrying them just to have sex with them. The end result is that, these ill-mannered men will impregnate these women and girls, and abandoned them. It is for this reason that most WGWE of child-bearing age are single parents. What is even more disheartening is the fact that these women and girls are usually from a poverty-stricken home and hence are unable to raise these children. Some of them are mentally retarded from the frequent convulsions they usually experienced and so cannot raise these children. These children end up living with other people or homeless.
In the story at the beginning of this write up, the lady eventually gave birth to a baby boy who as we usually say, was the “photocopy” of the man who had deceitfully raped her. With the help of well-meaning individuals, she raised up the child. When the child was 5 years old, the “Father” returned to claim ownership of the child. You would expect him to be sober and apologetic about his behavior in the past. However, he wasn’t; he wanted to forcefully “seize” the child from the lady, arguing that she was unfit to be a mother to his son. Unfortunately, in most Sub-Saharan African countries, women and girls living with epilepsy do not usually have anyone to help defend them in issues like this. Most of the evil or harm that is done against them usually go unpunished. They’re rarely or never included in interventions for issues affecting women and girls meanwhile they’re actually one of the most vulnerable groups when it comes to issues affecting women and girls like gender-based violence and discrimination.
The big question is, why? These women and girls are like every other woman or girl in the society. They have the capacity to benefit from every intervention aimed at addressing women-related issues. They should be given the same opportunities as every other woman or girl. They should be given equal access to opportunities and resources to empower them socioeconomically. They can marry and be married.
These disturbing findings compelled me to take up leadership in community engagement activities aimed at; empowering women and girls living with epilepsy and fighting against all forms of violence/discrimination against them. Please, Join me!
Mundih Noelar Njohjam, MD
CEO/Founder EAAF Cameroon