Beware the front of a woman and the back of a horse.
“I was a victim, but I’m not a victim now.”
When my second daughter was born and I was 23, I decided to be sterilised. I knew that I didn’t want to have any more children with him. But we carried on living together until my oldest daughter was 17. Then he started staying out late and refused to tell me what he’d been doing. I didn’t know what he was getting up to. Was it drugs? I was scared it would affect the girls, and I asked him to move out.
He did, I don’t know where to. He disappeared for almost six months. He didn’t send any money for the girls’ schooling, but I was happy to have got rid of him.
Then he suddenly came back. He was waiting for me outside the place where I work, and he started pestering me. His life would be finished without me, and that kind of stuff. I knew I didn’t want to be married to him, and I asked him for his address so I could send in an application for divorce. “My address will always be with you,” he said. Eventually he understood that I wasn’t going to change my mind.
That must have been when he took his decision.
Do you want to die today or tomorrow?
The 4th of April 2009 was a Saturday, and there were a lot of people at my house. There was me, my daughters, my sister and her children, and my mother, who has had a leg amputated and is in a wheelchair. My husband demanded to talk to me, again, but I didn’t want to. “You’ll have to wait until we go to court”, I said. My nephew intervened in our argument, taking my side. I began to feel a bit anxious. Then my husband went inside to my mother and said lots of weird things: “Do you want to die today or tomorrow?” and “You’re going to bounce in your wheelchair, old lady!” Then he left. He said he was going to São Paulo to work.
He came back around 9 pm. I wouldn’t let him in, but he got in through the back door, when it was dark. He said he just wanted to use the toilet, and we thought he would leave afterwards. When he came out of the bathroom he had one arm behind his back and he came towards me. “Why is everyone in this house hassling me?” he said, three times, all the while coming closer and closer. When he was right in front of me he pulled out a plastic bottle, squeezed it and sprayed petrol right into my face. Then he pulled out his lighter and lit it.
When he was right in front of me he pulled out a plastic bottle, squeezed it and sprayed petrol right into my face.
I don’t remember anything about the explosion. All I could think of was that I didn’t want to die. I’d seen on TV how you can put a fire out by rolling on the ground, so I ran out of the house and threw myself onto the gravel on the road. My daughter came after me and tried to put out the fire in my hair. My dress melted onto my body. When I got up – I never actually lost consciousness – I remembered all the bizarre things he’d said to my mother. I had to go back into the house to see if he’d hurt her. He hadn’t, but he had set fire to my nephew, after attacking me. It was only then that I started to feel my body. And I screamed.
You could actually say that I survived twice. First, the attack itself, then the negligence at the hospital. A burns specialist examined me, and declared that I was suffering from up to 70 percent burn injuries and wouldn’t survive. So no-one made any effort to help me. My scars are much worse than they need have been, because I didn’t get the care, like changing the bandages, that I should have had.
I only knew one thing: I wanted to live. That meant something else: it was vital that I didn’t catch pneumonia. I lay there in terrible pain, while the nurses waited for me to die. All the time I kept repeating to myself: I want to live! I will not catch pneumonia!
At the same time, I knew that only God could decide if I would live or die. And God wanted me to live, and sent Marisa.
I only knew one thing: I wanted to live.
Marisa runs the women’s group here in the town and had read about me in the paper. It was Marisa who came to the hospital, argued with the staff and made them give me proper care. It was also Marisa who eventually arranged for me to see a plastic surgeon. A year after the attack I had my first plastic surgery operation. That gave me a neck. Before that I couldn’t move my head. Now the surgeon has taken skin from my stomach and my legs to repair my face. I have 200 stitches on my stomach, but I’m happy. I’ve been given a purpose in life.
I know that my appearance upsets people, but people listen to me, for that very reason. I was a victim but I’m not a victim now. I refuse to be a number in the statistics of violence. I want to change the world.
Maternal deaths: 58 deaths per l00,000 births
Number of children/woman: 2.18
Abortion legislation: Abortion is not legal. It is only allowed if the woman’s life is at risk or if she has been the victim of rape or incest.
Law against rape within marriage: Yes
Violence against women in close relationships: 41,532 women were murdered in the years 1997-2007. That implies 10 women every day. The majority were murdered by men they knew. In the first six months of 2010 over 40,000 incidents of violence against women were reported.