By Mariana (She/her)

Recently, as part of my volunteering with LAWRS, I took part in a Peer Support group for women victim/survivors of gender-based abuse. This is a space designed to offer safety, confidentiality, and, above all, freedom to share our experiences without any judgment. For our participants, the only requirement to join the group was to have lived experience of abuse.

Initially, I admit I didn’t know what to expect. The idea of meeting strangers to discuss topics we often avoid even with those closest to us seemed unusual, intimidating, and uncomfortable. How would we address such complex and painful issues? What if no one wanted to share their experiences?

Our meetings were structured around specific themes, from understanding what gender roles are to exploring healthy relationships and the myths surrounding domestic abuse, among others. We prepared materials for each session such as videos, songs, and other types of content, which then became starting points for our group discussions.

Each session was unique, bringing us closer as a group but also closer to ourselves. I learned that understanding our pain became easier and more evident when seeing it reflected in my peers, and the compassion we apply when hearing their stories is the same we ought to apply to ourselves. I discovered new perspectives and found an unexpected sense of solidarity and mutual understanding.

As the sessions progressed, sharing became easier and participation more comfortable; each week felt like gathering with old friends. But undoubtedly, the most unexpected part of my experience was realising that this place, intended to address difficult issues, was filled with laughter and joy. Despite addressing serious matters, we found moments of lightness and camaraderie. Each woman who participated in these sessions gifted me a piece of her story, a piece of wisdom I carry with me.

This group showed me that our experiences as women, although diverse, connect us in the same context. The injustices and violence we face do not discriminate by age, country, education, or socioeconomic status. We are sisters in this common struggle, sharing an understanding that transcends our differences.

It’s curious how we find some comfort in realising that we’re not alone in our experiences and emotions—feeling validated knowing that other women have faced similar situations. However, this comfort is weighed down by the inevitable question of ‘why’.

We ask ourselves: why are our stories so similar? Why do we repeatedly find ourselves in vulnerable situations? Why do we feel unfairly and disproportionately judged? It’s unsettling to see how we’re constantly in the position of being victims of the same crimes and injustices. It leads us to question why, despite progress and efforts, we still face these barriers, these limitations imposed on us simply because we’re women.

We find ourselves needing to take a defensive stance, holding a persistent state of alertness. But there are times when we also become part of this cycle, judging those who attempt to challenge these limitations imposed on us and are so deeply ingrained in us that we often impose them on ourselves.

In this group, I was reminded of the importance of a continuous fight for equality, the need to break free from limiting structures, and the desire to build a more equitable and just world for all women.

It was a pleasure and an honour to share this space with these resilient women, and above all, I discovered that mutual support and open, respectful discussion are a refuge and a space for growth and healing.