I told Mum it was okay if she wanted a divorce and we’ll go through this together.
We were a happy family back when we were in our country, my mum, my sister and I. My dad works for a multinational company, so he used to live overseas but visited us every few months. He once suggested that we all move to New Zealand since he thought that we’ll have better opportunities and better education there. When I was 15, we moved to New Zealand. My sister who was 7 at the time and I started at a new school and we were settling in. But slowly, we began to realise that things were not as promised as what we had been expecting from this migration. The agency who helped us with our visas and immigration process had tricked us. Life was getting difficult at this stage. We also noticed that my dad’s behaviour towards us started to change. He was getting very aggressive towards us; he’d embarrass us in front of outsiders. It would be the worst for our mum, she was taking the worst sides of his anger. When we cried, she’d tell us that dad might be really stressed about the sudden migration and he’ll be alright later when we settle down. When Dad went back to his workplace, all the duties came upon my mum (and I must not forget to mention she never worked back in our home country). She couldn’t communicate in English and was repeatedly put down by my father for this. She tried her best to get things sorted in this new place alone since we didn’t know anybody in New Zealand.
My little sister and my mum had to walk very long distances to get to school every day, for Mum it was four times a day. She soon became sick doing this. We told this to our dad and noticed he was not ready to listen to us. This was not normal in our family since we always helped each other or at least provide mental support. We began to see this change in our dad and the changes began to grow more and more as time passed. He would tell us how we are not cooperative and how we couldn’t do anything. We would question our self-worth at that point. Although he lived far away from us, we were scared to displease him.
Our life changed completely in short time. We were clueless in a new country and lived in fear of our “new dad’’. I had to miss school to help Mum with communications and to get to places as she was not a confident driver or to take her to a doctor. I could feel something was not right since I could hear her cry all night. I tried to understand from a distance what was going on. When Dad called her, I could hear him yell at her from the other side. I saw her health drain and sometimes she’d take her frustrations out by trying to harm herself.
Upon further investigation, I found out that my mum was being cheated on. When I revealed this to my mum she was devastated. When Dad came home he became really violent. Things got worse every day. Screaming and shouting all the time. I tried to distract my sister from all this but all the screaming and yelling was so vivid (there were more stages to this violence which will be too hard to describe here). I told Mum it was okay if she wanted a divorce and we’ll go through this together. She was too scared to do so as she thought we needed our parents to be together for a good future. She’d only cry (she was also pregnant at the time). I couldn’t see this anymore. Depression hit me and I decided to kill myself. It was then when I was thinking all this, I observed my sister was drawing a picture of our family and captioned it “when we were happy”. I realised I cannot give up. I have to fix this for her. She deserves a normal life. But things were not normal at home. Mum wanted to go back to our country and Dad did everything to keep her here.
I approached him one day and told him to let Mum go and live there until the baby is due. Until then, I’ll stay here in New Zealand and attend school. I’ll convinced mum later to come back here. He seemed convinced and let mum go back. Meanwhile, I took help from my school counsellor and she taught me how to talk through family issues. My family is stable and happy now. I got involved with Shakti later and how I wished I knew Shakti before. I thank God every day for giving me the strength that time to hold on and work to make my sister’s drawing come to life.
He would control what we ate, he would control how we dressed, he would control who cooked, what we cooked, when we slept, how long we slept for and what type of friends we had.
Once upon a time there was a little girl, and all that little wanted was to be happy. She wanted to be with her parents, she wanted to be with her sisters and her brother. She wanted to go to school, and she wanted to play, and she wanted to study. She had hopes and she had dreams. As she grew older she realised that that dream was going to be a dream.
That little girl is me.
How many of us have had that dream as young girls or as young kids, to have a happy family, to grow old with our family, to always have the support of our family? Just to give you a little bit of background information. My sisters and I came to New Zealand when I was 13. We came with our dad because he wanted to give us a better life in NZ. He said that New Zealand was a land of opportunities and that we can grow here and we can educate ourselves here. It was devastating to leave our mother, our sister and brother behind. But we came here for the sake of studying. We have never lived with our dad before then. He used to come to Pakistan once every one or two years and spend a couple of weeks with us. We didn’t really know this man. When we got here, we were sad but we were excited because we were going study here and be someone. And then we started to realise that there was something wrong with this man that we called Dad because he was very controlling. He would control what we ate, he would control how we dressed, he would control who cooked, what we cooked, when we slept, how long we slept for and what type of friends we had. The only thing he didn’t control was what we studied and that was fine with us.
Things started to change when one day he said to us, “I’m going to send all four of you back to Pakistan so you can get married.” That was okay with us, we were happy that we were going to see our mum. But then he also said, that “You would go to Pakistan, get married, but never see your mum and never study again.” That was the hard part - deciding whether we wanted to stay with our dad, go back to Pakistan or leave him. But we really didn’t have a choice, because we knew we couldn’t stay with him or go back to Pakistan where we couldn’t see our mum, couldn’t study, and get married at a young age.
The hard part was the planning. The hard part was the organising of trying to leave him. The hard part was getting in touch with our guidance counsellor in the high school, and then getting in touch with Shakti. The hard part was saying yes, we don’t want to go back to him. The hard part lasted two weeks to a month. Then came the harder part, and the harder part was trying to make a life once we left him. We were really young at that time, I think I was barely 16. The harder part was realising that we had no family that would support us including our mother. The harder part lasted a year because in that year we were still studying.
I think the hardest part of our life was when we were studying and everything was okay; when we had time to think, we had thought about everything we had gone through in such a short span of time, that was the hardest ten years of our life. In that ten years, we were depressed. In that ten years, we tried to commit suicide. In that ten years, I was kicked out of the university because I was failing papers. In that ten years, I lost all my friends from high school and in the university. Because imagine if you’re speaking with your friends and they say, “My mum isn’t paying me $200 dollars to get a haircut” and I was struggling here to pay rent or even eat food. Those were the hardest ten years of our lives because we sisters stopped speaking with each other, because we didn’t know how to deal with this.
In short, we had lost everything. In those ten years, every time I took a step forward, I had to take two steps back. The thing is the pain will always be there, but from pain we draw inspiration. For example, my sister and I we made two videos. And they are both talking about suicide and depression. One of them was made in 2012, and one of them was made in 2015.
We draw inspiration. My Masters is based on increasing social connections for young ethnic women who have been through domestic violence. My sister is doing sociology, because she is passionate about depression and suicide. All four of us sisters are working full-time now and studying, and we are supporting our brother, sister and mother in Pakistan because we want to give them the life we never had. We also run a philosophy club which called the Socrates club, and that deals with issues in life. We just sit around with a lot of people and discuss stuff. I think what we realise from all of this is that my sisters and I will never have a normal life, but we know one thing for sure and that is, you know, we will have the best life that we can.
I’ve have become a warrior in this fight. I have survived. Believe me, you can too!
My name is Farhat. I came to New Zealand 3 years ago. I was in University completing my education in Fiji. I was married when I was 19 years old. I’m the youngest in my family. I have a sister who is in Australia and my elder brother is in New Zealand. One of my family friends had arranged my marriage. At this time, I had only met my ex-husband once. That was when he came to Fiji. After that, we only spoke on the phone. We used to Viber each other within these six months. My marriage was fixed by both families. We came over to New Zealand for my marriage. My parents had used all their savings on my wedding.
I was given a lot of promises and my parents were lied to. The “family friend” had deceived them in many ways: that if I get married I will get a chance for better opportunities. I was 19, which means girls are matured according to the Muslim religion. The belief is your husband's house is everything.
After 2 months of marriage, my in-laws started complaining that I don’t know how to cook and clean properly. The housework I do is not as flawless as they do. The food I cook has no taste. The clothes I wear look like debris. The way I sit is not acceptable. I was forced to wear a veil inside their house, which was meant to be my own house too after getting married.
My mother-in-law had gone back to Fiji to complain to my parents about all this. They had completely misunderstood everything about me. I was not allowed to go back to studies or work outside.
After four months of my marriage, I got pregnant. During this time, I felt like I was at a place of torment because my in-laws were not happy with my pregnancy, including his 5 sisters and 4 of them who already had children. They were blaming me that the morning sickness I have got is bogus. When I was in pain, one of the daughters of the house used to say, “My sisters have been pregnant but not like you. They used to work outside and at home. You look so fake.”
My husband had stopped communicating with me. All he spoke about was aborting the child. My mother-in-law told me that none of the services in this country will be free for me. The delivery of the baby would cost them money and because I'm non-PR [permanent resident] and I don't drive, it will be hard for them to take me to the hospital. Most of all, I had been fooled. I was forced into the abortion of the baby on the ninth week. I was crumbling everyday when I was staying at his place.
After that, conditions didn’t get any better. Mentally, I was completely vanished. I was not given money for my basic needs. If bills came, I was to be blamed for using everything beyond their limit. I used to crave to eat sometimes but I had no say. I had lost weight. I had nobody to talk to. Day by day, I became scared of them. His family taunted me at every step.
The story I’m sharing is endless. Just to make this short, I haven’t shared everything. My husband started being violent to me, which was a one-off but the incident scared me more than anything. I didn’t speak to my parents in Fiji. My brother was treated like a servant when he came to see me. He was not welcomed at all.
My ex-husband started to get intoxicated. He always told me to leave. I never wanted to leave because I knew my family would be shattered. I would lose most of my family and I wouldn't get any support from them. I couldn't tell anybody what I was going through. My ex-husband’s words were clear, “I don't love you, I never did. Marrying you was a mistake.” I had become emotionally stressed.
I would sit in my room for hours and cry. Nobody was there to hear me. I was helpless. I was tired of people taunting me, saying I'm not worth anything. I would only hear doors being slammed in my face. I couldn't see myself getting anywhere but seeing my marriage go down the drain. I was house arrested for weeks. He forced me to leave his house one day after 11 months of torture at 2am. That was the last day I saw him and his family. I was privileged enough to find Shakti with the help of New Zealand Police. The experience at Shakti for 6 months was filled with hard work and a lot of sacrifice.
Today 20 months have gone by and I smile brighter. Indeed, Shakti was where I found myself. I met people who gave me respect. I became a successful woman. I gained confidence. I’m still a part of Shakti. I’m proud of myself. I do regret for not taking a stand for myself earlier, although it's never too late.
I’ve have become a warrior in this fight. I have survived. Believe me, you can too!
We are building our own life, every step that we take forward may pull us two steps back but there is progress. I am proud of my life now.
My name is Mehwish and I am a survivor.
My journey in New Zealand begins 13 years ago when my father brought four of us here. I am the oldest in the family and also have three younger sisters here in New Zealand. My mother and two other younger siblings still reside in Pakistan. I use the word “brought” because we did not have any say in the process of migration. As a matter of fact we did not want to come here at all. But nonetheless we came.
My father turned out to be very violent and controlling. We were not allowed to have friends at school; we would we reprimanded if there was a speck of dust in the house during his “cleaning inspection”. We did not have a self. We listened to him and tried our best to stay away from his anger. Eventually, it reached to a point where he told us that we would be going back to Pakistan and get married. I was 16 and my younger sisters were 15 and 14. We sat together and decided on a plan of exit. We were in high school and talked to the teachers and the guidance counsellor. Overall, everyone was supportive and I think, through their courage and belief in us, we managed to escape. Although, there were some adults who scared us that we would be separated and that we would go to different families. We did not want to listen to these negative voices because I knew that what we were doing was the right thing to do and if I stood my ground, no one will be able to separate us.
It was time to put our plan in action. We reached the school. The school had already contacted Shakti. Someone from Shakti was waiting for us. We went in a van to our house while my father was at work, and we picked up our clothes and books and went to a safe house. That morning I saw my father for the very last time.
So, getting out of an abusive household is 90% of work. I say 90% because the world out there is very scary and if you are in a position where you do not even know what an ATM is or you have never set foot in an employment industry, as the case was with us, then the whole process is very daunting. But just the thought of leaving an abusive house gives you the strength to get through anything. The possibilities in the future are endless. You gain autonomy. We decided on getting out by brainstorming our options. We set it in the following way:
If we stay, what happens? We would be taken off high school; we would be forced to get married to some random person in Pakistan, have children, have no career, have no dreams and spend the rest of our lives with our in-laws and serving the husbands.
If we contact my father’s family or my mother’s family for help, what happens? We know our father’s family was already involved in the whole arranged marriage, so there was no point of asking them. Our mother’s family – actually we did contact them and they told us that our father is our father and we should not take any step to dishonour or bring shame to the family. So, we crossed this option out.
If we leave, what happens? We would live together, find a job, be able to speak to our mother and fulfill our dreams.
So, the decision became easier for us. And we left.
Life in safehouse was not romantic as I had anticipated earlier. We were determined though and within a couple of weeks with the help of our school teachers and Shakti staff, we had our own rental house and we starting going back to the school. We had paid employment in the fast food industry.
Life since then has been a rollercoaster ride but there has never been a time when I or my sisters had thought that we had made the wrong decision. We are involved in activism, still remain a part of Shakti, support our mother and young siblings in Pakistan, have steady employment and University degrees. The most important thing is that we kept our dreams alive. Our father’s family has completely blocked us from their lives. We are slowly reconciling with our mother’s family. We are in a better place.
I can guarantee you that the 10% of work is not an easy one as well because that will be an ongoing task. It will carry on for the rest of your life but you make your own mistakes, you make your own decisions, and you have the freedom to dream and create a life that you want. We have been out here on our own for a long time. We still fall down. We still feel scared. We still make huge blunders. We cry, we hate, we feel lonely, we worry about employment, we have gone without food but we are satisfied. We are building our own life, every step that we take forward may pull us two steps back but there is progress. I am proud of my life now. I wish you all the best and remember that you are not alone. I will end this with a beautiful quote that resonates with me on more than one level and helps me in my dark hours:
“[S]he who has a why to live for can bear almost any how” – Friedrich Nietzsche.