Testimonial Writing: My Name is Salma

Testimonial Project: This ‘testimonial’ was a course project developed under the guidance a social work professor that ties together multiple stories, experiences, cases, and research regarding women in Pakistan and the commonality of violence against women in the nation. Please note that I do not in any way try to speak for those women who have experienced violence, nor do I speak for Islamic faith. This is simply a culturally-informed sample of ability to tie stories and shared experiences in a representative testimonial. Dastak is an actual organization in Pakistan that provides services to women impacted by gender or family-based violence.

My name is Salma. I am a Pakistani woman and a survivor of violence. As a woman, I am expected to obey the men in my family and obey my husband.  I must raise my children and keep a clean and modest home. But I learned that keeping your husband happy is almost impossible. I could never cover up enough to please him or preserve our izzat (ahzazat), our family honor. He hated that I made money for our family; it emasculated him. So, he took his frustrations out on me. My mother and sisters told me this was normal, and my grandmother told me it was my responsibility to make him happy, and if I worked harder he would have no reason to discipline me. The hospital is far away, but I was admitted after a broken arm. Then, my husband kicked me in the stomach and killed our unborn baby. I was trapped. At the hospital, I met a woman from the Dastak women’s shelter in Lahore, Pakistan. The shelter acts as a private women’s shelter, the only one in Lahore. It aims to protect women from the violence they face in Pakistan. I was given shelter, counseling, and had legal aid in my divorce. Many women like me come to Dastak looking for help.

With support from the amended Domestic Violence Prevention and Protection Act of 2012, domestic violence is illegal and wrongful, and women can be protected from their husbands and can gain custody of their children. I divorced my husband with the help of the shelter’s lawyers, but I lost custody of my two children, and have not spoken to my family in two years. I was lucky. Sometimes I volunteer at the shelter and help women escape similar fates.

Reaching out to Pakistani men could change women’s fates, too. The White Ribbon Campaign Pakistan targets men through informational rallies and pledges to respect women. In families and law, men are the agents of change. If fathers or husband’s join the WRCP group, they can set an example for their sons, nephews, and in-laws to respect us.

I have learned about the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, known as CEDAW. It gives women like me hope that we can have the same rights as men, free of discrimination and violence. I learned that violence against women violates various articles held within CEDAW, but most importantly, violence violates Article 3 concerning women’s fundamental right to equality in political, social, economic and cultural spheres. The women I have worked with cannot gain safe and protected employment and cannot choose what to do in their economic and cultural lives. Harmful anti-women customs such as giving girls to families as compensation violate women’s rights to life, to safety, and to free marriage.

Kubra came to Dastak with an armed guard in tow. She had been accused of zina, adultery, and her family wanted to regain their family honor by killing her. Karo-kari, or what others may call honor killing, threatens many women in Pakistan. Kubra met with her family after her arrival, and they entreated her to return home; three weeks later, we heard news that she was murdered, shot to death in her sleep. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan notes that almost 943 women in 2011 were killed in the name of honor. Women can be accused of zina for any small social offense, from talking to an unwed male or choosing to marry of their own choice. Though the Criminal Law Amendment Act of 2004 has defined ‘honor killing’ in the law as murder, we know that Kubra’s murderer will never be convicted.

Women can be trapped by harmful customary practices that our families and communities believe are necessary. Some rural regions are ruled by jirgas and panchayats which mete out forms of justice, sometimes in forms of violence against women. They are popular in solving local disputes, such as debt, family feuds, or crimes. Some women flee from their punishments, which can be gang rape or forced marriages. Women have no say in the proceedings and have no say in the punishment they are forced to endure.

Rural women like me are even more vulnerable to violence, without urban communication methods like phones or safe law enforcement sources we have less to protect us. I did not know about my rights as a citizen of Pakistan, or of the new laws that protected me from my husband. I did not even know that other women were experiencing the same violence I was. Many women in rural Pakistan are illiterate; they learn to work in the home from their mothers and traditionally follow the customs of their land. In these areas, jirgas can make decisions that harm women, and the local governments know little about new State laws. We have even heard stories of male police harming the women themselves.

Women need to share their stories, in hopes that sharing their stories will let more women know that they are not alone. Many women lack the freedom to give voice to their experiences, and may not be able to leave dangerous situations. Through education initiatives in Pakistan, such as the Adult Literacy program instituted by the National Commission on Human Development and the Tawana Pakistan Program, girls and women are gaining literacy, voices, and awareness.

Perhaps, as awareness grows and women stand up, the men who have ruled Pakistan for generations will step aside and see us as equals. As a rule, sons are favored over daughters. Girls and women mean less than boys, and in men’s eyes that means we deserve less and are less. Men make all the decisions for us and with this in mind, laws, policies, and social structures are built around believing women are inferior. It is intertwined with our religion.

Our greatest fault as a country is that we cannot separate our religion from our politics. We are called the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, our capital is Islamabad. We evoke the name of Allah in public and governmental occasions. But I ask, what in Islam permits the rape, murder, and subordination of women in Pakistani society? Early Islam and the Prophet Muhammad granted women the right to seek divorce, share in property, and work as writers and architects.  Islam is a liberating and spiritual religion for women. It aims to teach men and women submission to the will of Allah, peace, and safety in life. I pray to Allah every day that Pakistan will see women equal in rights and fairly treated by the law and by our people. But they use Islam against us!

The Islamization process began in 1979, before I was born. General Zia ul Haq put in place Hudood Ordinances that for over 30 years have held women accountable for rape. The Protection of Women Act of 2006 protected women from false prosecution for adultery. But, the Council of Islamic Ideology has said that the act is unconstitutional and unIslamic. I ask you, is protecting women unIslamic?

Protecting women is the only way to ensure their fulfillment of their human rights. I will never move on from the sadness of losing my children and my family, but I am free from my abusive husband. As women leave the Dastak shelter they are resettled in safer places and are trained for work. I work in the shelter and in a factory nearby, but women can be given micro-credit loans, or urban slum women can be trained in Karachi for possible work in factories. Only efforts in Pakistan that will focus on dismantling inequality in every facet of Pakistani society will bring an end to violence against women. Please, come together with me in the global effort to help support gender equality in Pakistan, and bring an end to violence against women.

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