To My Pakistani Sisters: Stop Suffering!

17/03/2015 8:11 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
A MAJEED via Getty Images
This photograph taken on December 16, 2014 shows a female Pakistani police commando demonstrating her skills at a police training centre in Nowshera, a district in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province. The army has been waging a major offensive against longstanding Taliban and other militant strongholds in the restive tribal areas on the Afghan border for the last six months. But a series of fresh strikes after the December 16 Peshawar attack, which left 149 people dead -- most of them children, suggest the military is stepping up its campaign. As the Peshawar tragedy unfolded, army chief General Raheel Sharif said the attack had renewed the forces' determination to push for the militants' 'final elimination'. AFP PHOTO/ A MAJEED (Photo credit should read A Majeed/AFP/Getty Images)

Tabassum Adnan became a victim of child marriage at the age of 13. It took her 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 (council). 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've 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.

" They embed the thought in these girls' mind that tolerating abuse is synonymous with 'patience'."

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 didn't call her for months. He sent her money only sporadically but didn't allow her to work, leaving her in a financially precarious position. For a very long time, Sania tutored her children at home as she couldn't enroll 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're 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're 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.

"If you're physically or verbally abused by your husband, stop him."

In Pakistan, the majority of families teach their girls that they have to move to another house and raise a family with the husband some day. 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, 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'll be overtaken. Just as a man has a right to spend his life his way, so do you.

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