Samra Zafar, a Pakistani woman-did not just reach a personal milestone but also made a statement for Pakistani women on Monday, 10 June, 2013. On this great day, Samra received her Bachelor’s degree in Economics from University of Toronto. She was also recognized as one of the top ten students. Although this is a great achievement in itself, the average Pakistani woman was more impressed with an article which came out the same day. In Pakistan, the Express Tribune published an interview with Samra on her struggle against domestic violence. This Pakistani woman is one of the few who found the heart and courage to stand up against a problem which afflicts many Pakistani women.
At the age of 16, young Samra Zafar was married to her husband living in Abu Dhabi. He was 12 years her senior. Her parents sincerely thought it was in their daughter’s interests. That is usually the case in such scenarios. Her parents were working class and were hopeful for their daughter to achieve her dream of higher education. In light of that, the proposal was Canadian-based. The young man was living well in Abu Dhabi. Most specifically, the family had agreed to support Samra in her desire for higher education.
However, things were different after her marriage. The family did not keep their word and so began a decade of torture and mistrust. Her marriage had put her in prison. He was very controlling and he would never let her leave the house. She could only visit her parents when they paid for her and her daughter’s ticket. Even though at eighteen she was accepted by the University of Toronto, Canada for long-distance learning, her husband would not cover the expenses, nor was she eligible for government fees. Five years later, she went to her father’s funeral and remembered his parting words, ‘take the fear out’. These words made her gain courage.
In 2006 she reapplied in the University of Toronto, Canada and used money from her babysitting job. The effect was uplifting. She learnt about her self-value and found a counseling center to guide her. Even though her husband would mentally torture her and told her that everything was her fault, she learnt that she was free of blame. Yet with every step to success, her husband’s abuse would increase.
Despite it all, she stayed true to her father’s words. She still was not strong enough to leave her husband. She even faltered and stopped school but with the support of her eldest daughter she finally made the decision and in 2011, Samra Zafar separated from her husband. She went to the police and her husband was arrested on four counts of assault. She went on to excel in her education as a mature student and attained many awards of excellence.
But her ordeal with domestic violence rang out to any Pakistani woman suffering with the same plight. One such woman from Canada met her and Samra gave her advice. She could relate to her situation. The woman found solace and courage and Samra helped her look at her situation from a new perspective, giving her options. She told her, ‘I’ll hold your hand anywhere you want to go.’
It was then when Brave Beginnings came to being a non profit mentorship program. It aims to empower the average Pakistani woman. Specifically it bridges the gap between resources and the women in their ‘mental prison’. For those women who do reach out, they are matched with a mentor in their area who provides guidance, human support and friendship. Their underlining aim is: ‘How can we help her help herself?’
Through it all, Samra Zafar keeps it real. It is never easy to walk out of a marriage. She accepts that there is no simple formula but she believes that women should have the freedom to define themselves without fear, judgment or ridicule.
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