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Is domestic violence better than being divorced?

Samra Zafar, a Pakistani-Canadian woman who had the audacity of sharing her life story where she recalls the complexities of her abusive marriage, the struggle she found within surviving amid catastrophes and her cathartic leap towards making things better for herself and her children, there are numerous other women in our society who continue to face the terrors of domestic violence and the repercussions of an abusive marriage.

One day, when I was in Grade 10, I was in my bedroom doing math homework, my mother walked in, she told me I’d received a marriage proposal. I laughed.

“Mom, what are you talking about?” I asked.

She didn’t crack a smile, and I realized she was serious.

“I’m only 16, I’m not ready for marriage,” I protested.

She told me that I was lucky as the proposal came from a nice man who lived in Canada, he was 28 years old and was an IT professional.

His sister was a friend of hers. The woman thought I’d make a perfect match for her brother—I was very tall, and he was six foot two.

“They’re going to look so great together in pictures,” she had said to my mother.

The next thing I knew, his parents were measuring my wrist for wedding bangles. The date was set for five months later, in July 1999.

In May 2001, I gave birth to our daughter.

When we returned from the hospital, my husband slept on the couch while I stayed with the baby in the second bedroom.

I’d never felt so alone.

I fantasized about stealing money from my husband’s wallet and taking a cab to the airport, calling my parents and asking them to buy me a plane ticket home…. yes, but I didn’t want to leave my daughter alone.

When she was a few months old, we bought a four-bedroom house in Streetsville with his parents.

I was rarely allowed to leave and never had a penny to my name.

My mother-in-law gave me her cast-off clothes to wear. I didn’t have a cellphone and wasn’t allowed to go to the grocery store on my own.

If I didn’t iron my husband’s shirts or make his lunch or finish my chores, he and my in-laws told me that I was a bad wife who couldn’t keep my family happy.

If I asked my husband something, he would reply, “Bit**, get out of here.”

Two years in, the abuse got physical. He would grab my wrist and shove me around.

I’d be sitting on the couch and he’d slap me upside the head, or grab me so hard on my upper arms that my skin would bruise.

Once he tossed a glass of water in my face; I slipped on the floor and threw out my back.

Another time he punched a hole in the wall next to my head and told me,

“Next time, it’s going to be you.” On several occasions, he picked up a knife and said he was going to kill me and then himself.

For centuries, parents of young women have forced their daughters into arranged marriages, often with their cousins, to protect land holdings or conform to their tribal customs.

According to the Pakistan Demographic and Health Survey (PDHS) in 2012-13, over 13,500 ever-married women between the ages of 15 and 49 were interviewed and the USAID-sponsored survey provides a treasure-trove of data on the well-being and health of women.

The survey revealed that one in three ever-married women experienced physical violence since age 15, whereas one in five women experienced abuse in the year leading to the survey.

A significantly larger proportion of women married to second cousins suffered physical abuse than those who married unrelated men.

Dr.Tanzila Ali, a woman currently working for the child mental health at her home based clinic in Karachi says

“Children who are raised in such an abusive environment end up with psychological issues and often end up with substance abuse. They too, like their mothers feel powerless to overcome the situation, many fall into depression and get hooked on to anti-depressants while some find an easy way out through drugs and alcohol.”

“Even if women escape from their marriage and take a divorce, the custody battle shatters the kids who are tossed around like a ping pong ball, from one parent to the other. Many of the children, end up hating their dads and refuse to acknowledge his presence,” she added.

In Samra Zafar’s case, one of her daughters  refused to speak with her father for four years until Samra called up her ex-husband to repair the relationship with his daughter.

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