Steer your horse with a bridle and your woman with a whip.
“Ten years after the first blow I was elected to the European Parliament.”
We hadn’t argued or anything like that. I’d been down in the basement to collect the washing. Then it just exploded. After that it quickly got worse. He called me a “bloody whore” and started watching my every move. I don’t really understand why he changed. I’d made my mind up to find out but I didn’t get the chance. He died a couple of years back, so I still don’t know.
My story is like all the others I’ve heard. Before it happened I’d have said “You have to leave the first time he hits you”, but I didn’t. I didn’t tell anyone and I covered up my injuries with make-up. Most of the time, he hit me in the stomach and on my body, places where it wouldn’t show. When we went into town together he’d put his arm round me. Everyone thought we were happy. I used to take my own lunch to work so he couldn’t say I’d been “out whoring”. Sometimes he spent all day standing outside the door to the place where I worked. He forced me to have my salary paid into his bank account.
Everyone thought we were happy.
When he locked the car keys away and closed the blinds I knew what was coming. On one of those evenings I’d managed to hide my mobile phone and the keys outside the front door. I was on my way out when he caught up with me in the hall. He beat me till I lay quite still, but when he’d gone I managed to crawl outside. He came after me. He let me crawl down the stone steps and out on to the gravel path. Then he pressed my face down into the gravel with his wooden clog. It was indescribably humiliating. Then he dragged me inside and carried on beating me.
It took 1½ years, but then I made my mind up. One morning when he drove me to work as usual I said “I’m not coming home again”, slammed the car door shut and ran. I didn’t know where to go and I hadn’t taken anything with me. I got help from a women’s shelter and after a while I got my own flat. He knew where it was, and he carried on harassing me. I was really scared. I used to sleep with fishing lines hanging at the window so I’d hear if he tried to get in. He was a hunter, and he kept guns at home. The last time he took me by surprise and forced his way in when I was on my way out with the rubbish, I actually thought of giving up. I was going to let him kill me. He didn’t, and after that incident the direct violence stopped. But he carried on pursuing me in other ways.
I was going to let him kill me.
I was elected to the European Parliament for the Left Party in 2004, ten years after the first time he hit me and eight years after I escaped. In 2008 I became Chair of the Parliament’s Women’s Committee. My ex-husband died in 2009.
After he died I decided to go to the media and tell my story. I have been working politically with women’s questions all my life and I know how important it is that women who have escaped from the violence show their faces. I wanted to stand on the market square and tell all the other abused women: “You can do it! Look at me!” It turned out that I could be prosecuted for slandering the dead. He still had power over me even though he was dead. But now I have a written affidavit from his only relative, a brother, and my daughters support me.
I’m still so happy to be alive. Gender-based violence restricts the lives of all women, not just the ones who are direct victims. It is arguably the single most important political question. I am going to carry on working with it.
Maternal deaths: 5 deaths per 100,000 births
Number of children/woman: 1.67 (2011)
Abortion legislation: Right to abortion up to the end of the 18th week of pregnancy
Law against rape within marriage: Yes
Violence against women in close relationships: On average 17 women are killed each year by their husband, boyfriend, ex-husband or ex-boyfriend.