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How Red Nose Day Is Changing the Lives of Women and Girls Across Africa

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As a performer, I totally understand how powerful music and drama is to express yourself and get difficult emotions out into the open.

Singer and dancer Mary is one such person. She puts heartfelt emotion into every single performance in an attempt to turn her painful past into a positive force. Her powerful lyrics and support from an incredible project have turned this once shy woman into a local celebrity in the rural part of eastern Uganda where she lives with her husband and children.

I recently met Mary, 48, and heard her remarkable story on a visit to see how money raised through Red Nose Day, some of which was matched by the UK government, is being used to end domestic violence by protecting the rights of girls and women.

These days Mary leads a happy and fulfilling life, which seems almost unbelievable compared to the terrifying one she was stuck in before. Years ago, Mary was trapped in a violent marriage that left her fearful for herself and her young children.

Her husband rarely gave her money to feed or clothe their family, leaving her to beg for money and sleep on the floor.

The brutality became so bad that her drunken husband even knocked out her front teeth, leaving her with a permanent reminder of his mistreatment.

Sadly, this type of violent behaviour is still evident here in Uganda and around the rest of the world, as one in three women and girls across the globe have been beaten, or sexually abused in their lifetimes.

As if things couldn't get worse for Mary, the home they shared collapsed and she was forced to return to her parent's home. Disowned by her husband, she found the support and help she so desperately needed from the then newly formed organisation MIFUMI. It uses a mix of intervention and awareness raising, including giving women advice, access to a savings and small business loan scheme and educating the communities about equal rights.

Mary received one-to-one counselling and joined the local savings scheme. The charity also helped reconcile the couple by making her husband understand that violence is wrong and can never be tolerated. He is now a reformed man, has stopped drinking heavily, works at the village health centre and lives peacefully with his family.

Mary became one of MIFUMI's first domestic violence advisors, and formed the district's only music and drama therapy group for survivors. She composes empowering songs about combating domestic violence and how women should leave damaging relationships and earn their own money, so they can support and educate their children, which will give them a better chance of securing a good job in the future.

"Writing my own music helps me to deal with the pain," explains Mary who performs her songs with motivating messages about equality to communities within her district.
Under a mango tree, she sings one for me with some of the members from her music and drama group. The lyrics describe how she used to wear rags and went hungry but now she works and can afford to dress and eat well.

Mary's story shows that by tackling domestic violence, women stand a better chance of breaking the cycle of poverty before it starts. They are more likely to get an education, generate an income, which helps their families and wider communities, all of which gives will lead to a brighter future.

"My life has totally changed since joining MIFUMI. I have been able to feed and educate my children. I used to walk barefoot and now I have shoes," says Mary. When I ask her what she sleeps on now, she laughs and takes me inside her home and points at her pride and joy, a simple bed. "No more sleeping on banana leafs on the ground," she smiles.
Thanks to the money you raised for Red Nose day, and match funding from the UK Government, Mary's life and thousands of other women like her across Africa, have seen their lives change for the better.

Your generosity has really made a big difference so thank you.

Visit www.facebook.com/ukdfid or comicrelief.com for more information.

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