Dear Pakistani sisters, your suffering is in your hands

Published: March 18, 2015
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Tabassum Adnan became a victim of child marriage at the age of 13.

Tabassum Adnan became a victim of child marriage at the age of 13. It took 20 years for this woman from Pakistan’s Swat Valley to gather the courage to divorce her husband and end a nightmare of physical and mental abuse.

According to a US Department of State press release, this move caused her to lose her home, money and children. But she had no choice but to look forward, and this year she has been awarded the Secretary of State International Women of Courage Award in recognition of her NGO Khwendo jirga (Sister’s Council).

It is the first ever women-only jirga. At the weekly meetings, issues addressed include honour killings, acid attacks and swara, the act of handing over women as compensation for crimes or as a resolution for disputes.

Thank you, Tabassum, for being an inspiration to so many women who are suffering today. You have told them that no matter how hard circumstances get, giving up should not be an option. Pakistani society is so in need of such examples.

On the other hand is a 42-year-old mother of two children, Sania (name changed). She has been a victim of domestic abuse ever since she got married in 2004. Her husband was settled in the Middle East while she stayed in Karachi, where she was not allowed to have any contact with her parents. There are times when her husband did not call her for months. He sent her money only sporadically but did not allow her to work, leaving her in a financially precarious position.

For a very long time, Sania tutored her children at home as she could not enrol them in a school, as she was scared that the father would not send money. When he did come home for a vacation, Sania would be beaten and verbally abused, though he would shower money and gifts on his family when he was in a good mood. In 2013, he told Sania and their children to settle down with him in the Middle East, which they did. She had longed for this day despite his conduct.

Not much has changed. She is still a victim of abuse and can talk to her family only in secret. He has threatened to divorce her many times, but she tries to make the peace. Despite living in a country where it is possible for her to stand up for herself, she chooses to suffer for the sake of her children. She says it is her fate but she cannot see her children lose their father.

If only Tabassum’s story could inspire her too.

If you are physically or verbally abused by your husband, stop him. Do not submit yourself to mistreatment. He may be your husband with many rights, but you are also his wife with many rights. The two of you are equal.

Most of the women who suffer are those who think that it is the best way to save a marriage. But how can these women care so much about saving the so-called ‘marriage’ when the concept ends the moment abuse comes in between? Just to show society that you are living with your husband?

The biggest problem in this world is that people care a lot about what ‘others’ think. And unfortunately, a majority of people support the person who is wrong. So if the woman decides to leave her husband’s house, she is presumed to be the one at fault. She is somehow blamed for every misfortune.

In Pakistan, the majority of families teach their girls that they have to move to another house and raise a family with the husband someday. Mothers tell their daughters that they have to “tolerate” and “face” everything no matter what happens. They embed the thought in these girls’ mind that tolerating abuse is synonymous with “patience”. And it is what girls are supposed to do.

Let’s remember that coming back to the parents’ home is not an option.

But what are the boys taught? They are taught to keep the “upper hand” and to maintain their “dominance”.

Why? Because they are men and men are born to do so.

I would like to say there is an alternative for women.

The rule is simple – just don’t sit at home and tolerate violence. It will make you insane, depressed, and fearful all the time. It is no way to live.

You are not as weak as society tries to tell you.

You have not been born to tolerate torture. If you do not stand up for yourself today, you will be overtaken. Just as a man has a right to spend his life his way, so do you.

This post originally appeared here.

Sheema Khan

Sheema Khan

Pakistan-based freelancer, Journalism grad, she writes what she wants to. She loves chocolates and is a current affairs addict. She tweets as @sheema_kh (twitter.com/sheema_kh)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Sane

    Very correct and insightful. Whole society specially women must stand up against physical, verbal, psychological; and moral torture. Bring such cases in court and get justice.Recommend

  • Sana Zehra

    Great effort Ms. Sheema, really hats off to you that you raised the voice against this topic. In Pakistan, or you can say in Sub-continent women can’t raise her voice against domestic abuse because from childhood parents tought them than that not to argue with your husband or with any of your inlawd even if they treat you as your slave. Why only women have to tie her house? Its not only her responsibility. Recommend

  • Ahmad Rafiq

    The moment you start stereotyping men they start stereotyping women.Recommend

  • Maximus Decimus Meridius

    Quite a good blog. Although I would like to point out(without being rude) that until and unless MEN start to respect women and give them their rights the future will stay bleak for women. Men should wake up and start respecting their wives, mothers, daughters and sisters, along with every woman that they meet or greet.Recommend

  • Parvez

    Great write up…and I agree with you all the way. Have always said women in Pakistan have to fight their own fight….few men may support them but the vast majority will oppose them tooth-and-nail.Recommend

  • logicwins

    According to Islamic scriptures, a woman is supposed to obey her husband. If this is true, isn’t what this author writes against Islam and thus blasphemy?Recommend

  • Sheema Khan

    Yes Islam speaks about respecting the husband, but it also speaks about respecting the wife. And torturing the wife is not mentioned anywhere. So I don’t see where I am speaking against Islam. Recommend

  • logicwins

    Islam is clear that the wife obey her husband. That is different from the idea of respect. Also, doesn’t Islam sanctions the husband to hit the wife to discipline her and deprive her of sex? If so, what you write could still be considered blasphemous?Recommend

  • Sheema Khan

    I think you didn’t read this blog properly. Nowhere do I talk about women disobeying their husbands. The women i’ve given examples of on a large are those who have been victims of violence. Looks like you’re wanting to turn this blog into a blasphemous one for no random reason. I haven’t spoken of Islam in it in the first place. These are women in general, regardless of which religion they belong to.
    Good day!Recommend

  • honey

    I agree. Instead of encouraging women to LEAVE HOUSES (and destroy their children’s future), the true solution is the literacy of men. Men in our society (majority of them at least) only tend to know and demonstrate the men’s rights over women and ignore their own duties towards women.Recommend

  • honey

    Sheema, you’re right when you say that women are the victims of violence. BUT, i think instead of encouraging women to stand up, leave house and/or get divorce, we should be encouraging literacy of men who have no or very little idea of men’s duties towards women. Every man and woman is encouraged to stand up for HIS/HER RIGHT, but what about their DUTIES. Your ideas are more about supporting one to stand up for one’s rights, instead of making one realise one’s duties (and this includes men and women equally)…Recommend

  • observer

    In principle, I fully agree with your views about abuse of women. But, I am just pointing out that in an state whose constitution makes it mandatory to follow Islamic laws, what you say is contradictory to these Islamic laws.Recommend

  • Jo

    I never respond to any of these comments but you just pushed the wrong button. As an attorney who has deeply studied islamic law, both as a law student and student who needed to know what Islam is in the aftermath of 9/11 etc; I’m giving this response as someone who knows Islam again, repeating that before you accuse me of some pathetic blasphemy drama from an islam hating feminist.
    According to the Quran: if i woman is in simple words being a slut, dressing promiscuously, flirting with other men etc the husband has to first stop her VERBALLY! That means, tadaaaa no hitting.
    If she continues the slutiness he has to “leave her bed” which as supported by Sunnah and Hadith means not kicking her out of the house it means not having sex with his wife which is a punishment of form.
    If the wife over time has still not learnt he can hit her but in a way that does not LEAVE a mark, on her Face or in a way to “humiliate her” that is the Quran for you. That is a golden fact every Pakistani man ignores. To stress further on this, when the Prophets companions asked him what this ayat meant, and how they could potentially hit their wives, because men have this weird fantasy of beating women, the Holy Prophet of Islam held out his wrist, and it it with the two fingers (forfinger and middle finger) of the other hand. And the Holy Prophet said that is how you should hit your wife if you need to.

    So my sweet sweet dear friend. Please, do the world a favor and stop assuming what islam says and doesn’t say. Women in Islam are given far more rights than men, if she is being abused she has more than a right to leave him. The Pakistani nikkah requires the divorce clause where it must be signed during thr nikkah whether a woman can ask for khula. However, this isn’t “islamic” its pakistani, it also doesn’t happen to be present in any nikkah anywhere else. (yes I researched it before typing it).
    So its cute that you think you know what Islamic Law is, but you don’t. Nice try.Recommend

  • Sarah Uzair

    Just how many actually do it with their significant others? None.

    Read about that Zahida bibi – first female taxi driver of Pakistan? Huge honor. Her daughters got married and didn’t work with her to grow the taxi association she’ s been workin on.
    Point being – is there really any hope for the women here, if they themselves don’t want to even take a stand? The ones who can, dont. This results in the ones who want to, cannot!Recommend

  • Sarah Uzair

    Men have a weird fantasy to hit women?
    Really? I am curious about it, do elaborate.
    Nicely put btw.Recommend