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.