Samra Zafar is a force like no other. She has become a voice for millions of women around the world because she said no … no to domestic violence.
Her story begins at the age of 16 when Samra came to Canada from Pakistan as a teenage bride. Her parents had arranged her wedding with a man in Canada in hopes it would give her a good, solid future. But her life in Canada was anything but solid. Samra underwent years of abuse at the hands of her husband and his family. Through all the pain and fear, one of the most important things for Samra was her education, something she was denied for a number of years, but determined to get back.
At 26 years old, a mother of 2 daughters, walking away from her marriage was a very bold move, especially in a country where she had no support. But it was the words of her dying father that gave her the strength to push forward, escape the abuse, and start a new life for her daughters and herself … and she did.
Earlier this year Samra shared her story with the world via a youtube video where she described her life in Canada – her marriage, her fears, the abuse, and finally her escape. The video went viral around the world and it set the stage for a harder look at domestic violence in Canada and around the world.
“It’s the story of millions of women and girls out there who are suffering in silence, because they feel they have no voice, no options, no hope and no support. I hope my voice can empower them to get their voices back. No one deserves to live with disrespect and abuse for any reason, regardless of gender, race, culture, religion or anything else …I have served on the boards of enough shelters to see women from all backgrounds and walks of life being affected by violence. Yet it is hidden under the veils of family and cultural honour, shame and stigma. The only way to move forward for positive change is to bring these issues out from under the rugs and behind closed doors, remove the taboo from them, and initiate productive, solutions-oriented conversations.”
Samra’s story has sparked a number of conversations, especially within households where a woman’s education is now becoming top of mind over her marital status. In fact one father in Pakistan wrote to her saying her story inspired him to help his daughters move forward in their higher education rather than accept any immediate offers of marriage. “I just have one rule – NEVER compromise on your education”, Samra says.
Domestic abuse comes in many forms … it is not just physical. There is emotional, financial, sexual, and neglect. According to Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer, 1 in 3 persons experienced abuse before the age of 15. As a survivor Samra says the cycle has to stop. She says the most important step is breaking the silence and starting the conversation.
“We should also break the silence by encouraging open conversations about these topics and taking the “taboo” out of them, so we can talk and propose solutions. Men also need to be a part of these solutions…It’s not MEN vs WOMEN. Its Men AND Women vs The Problem. Thirdly, we need to educate our children. Abuse also follows a generational cycle, as children who witness abuse often grow up to be abused or abusers themselves. It’s important to have these conversations with our children. My 15 year old daughter was able to recognize that her friend was being emotionally abused in a relationship and help her, all because I always continue to have these conversations with my children”, Samra tells Fusia Magazine.
Samra says her horrific ordeal has made her stronger and wiser. She has vowed to give women the support they need regardless of their situation. She founded Brave Beginnings, a non-profit organization dedicated to mentoring survivors of abuse by providing them with support to achieve their goals and building a life of respect dignity and freedom.
“I never want ANYONE to go through what I went through. It pains my heart to see or hear of someone suffering through abuse – because I know what it feels like … Today, I am truly free and happy. It feels like the abuse happened to someone else that I used to be. It doesn’t define me anymore, it doesn’t affect me anymore. Women need to know that. We all have the strength to overcome our fears and build the life we want and deserve. I have dedicated my life to this mission.”