28/11/2017 16:03 SAST | Updated 29/11/2017 09:23 SAST

WATCH: A Renowned HIV Activist's Horrid Account Of Gender-Based Violence

...and how it almost ended her life.


Globally recognised HIV activist Irene Nkosi has shared her story of first experiencing gender-based violence, at the tender age of 16.

The 34-year-old from Dark City, near Pretoria, is the only African who made it to US People magazine's list of 25 Women Changing The World in 2017.

She appears alongside transgender-rights activist Janet Mock, musicians such as Pink and Janelle Monae and Hollywood actresses including Tracee Ellis Ross and Gal Gadot-Varsano.

READ: Meet Irene Nkosi: The Only African On People's '25 Women Changing The World List'

In an interview, Nkosi told HuffPost SA that when she looks back at her life, she finds it hard to believe she has survived.

As a child, she was badly neglected and emotionally abused.

She was raped at the young age of 16, and became a mother for the first time in her teens, with no support.

She was also subsequently diagnosed with HIV.

Speaking during the annual 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, Nkosi shared her experience of abuse at the hands of a previous partner, with whom she's since separated.

Her first difficulty following the incident, she recalls, was whom to tell.

She believes the country's justice system is at risk of failing the victims of gender-based violence, many of whom are women. It's been almost 20 years since she first had to deal with the justice system following her rape as a 16-year-old, and she believes there has not been as much change as there should and can be where gender-based violence is concerned.

The emotional strain abuse causes -- not only on herself but also on her children -- cannot be compared to anything, she says. The proud mother of two daughters, who also witnessed some of the abuse she suffered, she says she once feared she would be burnt alive.

Nkosi has since opened an assault case and filed a restraining order against her ex-partner, so "he does not come close to me or my daughters," she says.

READ: If You're In An Abusive Relationship And Want To Get Out, Here's Where To Start

Nkosi says government needs to make a more concerted effort to increase awareness about gender-based violence, especially in remote communities such as Dark City, where this kind of violence is a daily reality for some women and children.

She highlights existing initiatives that raise awareness and support victims of gender-based violence. "Through the mothers2mothers programme, we help many women in the community who have been abused by their husbands or partners. We help them know their rights and also know that they have a support system, they are not alone," the activist explains.

Nkosi also believes government should do more to ensure that women and children who report incidents of abuse are protected.

  • Through an employee wellness programme at her workplace, Nkosi received professional counselling for what she's been through.
  • If you or someone you know are in an abusive situation, it is recommended that you contact your nearest police station. However, as this is not always possible, here are a few places that are a phone call away that can offer some help: LifeLine South Africa 0861 322 322; the organisation offers free counselling; Stop Gender Violence helpline 0800 150 150; ree telephonic counselling, information and referrals; People Opposed to Woman Abuse (Powa) 011 642 4345/6. Free counselling and short-term sheltering.