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I am who I am because I was abused

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(Content warning: this post contains content which some may find triggering)

My labels: troublemaker, Paki-basher, coconut, besharam and the list goes on – all for speaking up against injustice and cultural issues but I am who I am today because I was sexually abused and I now simply refuse to comply with a culture that is complicit.

The first time, you always think, it’s an accident. Then it all changes when you realise what is happening. I remember the first time like it was yesterday. Our house newly decorated, the cricket on and the men of the family all congregated. I was coming down the stairs and there it happened. I brushed it off but that was the start of it all.

Now if you were like me back then, quiet, scared and lacking confidence you were stuck. Who can you speak to? If I speak to my mum, I will be at fault but I’m too ashamed to speak to anyone else about it. So it becomes your secret. The problem with secrets, that it causes long-term pain.

The abuse carried on for years, and although school life wasn’t kind to me it was an escape and I seeked refuge from people I came to trust. As Asian mothers do in their gangs, this gave my abuser the perfect oppportunity to pop round and do what he did. Things went as far coming through the (unfortunately) unlocked garage, coming in through the back garden through the conservatory to upstairs. These are the lengths abusers go to, they don’t care who you are, they have one sick goal in mind.

I will fight like hell to challenge patriarchy, to continue speaking up to help others and to fight for a much needed change.

Fast forward a few years, I begin to rebel. I begin to challenge and I finally refuse to come home from Margaret Thatcher’s funeral in London until my mum tells my brother and my dad. Few days, few weeks pass and my uncles rock up. They cry, they apologise, I’m asked to forget and then they leave. Few more days pass and it’s suggested I travel to Pakistan to get married. Have these people lost their minds? Marriage does not solve the mental torture a survivor goes through. Marriage is not the answer.

Today in 2018, I am married – two and half years at the time of writing this but I’m a staunch feminist. I refuse to be dictated to, I refuse to be told what I can and can’t do and I refuse to participate in culture. I am this person because my culture made me one. I refuse to be a woman who should agree with everything a man says, I refuse to see Mosques as community providers as they’re just as complicit, I refuse to be told I can’t take part in sport because I am a woman, I refuse to be a ‘housewife’ because it’s what is expected, I refuse to sit in silence in shame because I’m not ashamed. Not anymore. I am who I am because I was abused and because my culture failed to protect me. So if speaking out against culture makes me a besharam, a coconut, a Paki-basher then ladies and gentlemen, carry on calling me those names but I did nothing wrong. And I will fight like hell to challenge patriarchy, to continue speaking up to help others and to fight for a much needed change.

By Tameena Hussain
Tameena is an IT engineer by profession but her passion lies in advocating for gender equality and  human rights all whilst being actively involved in her community, having sat on the TVP Independent Advisory Group and the One Borough Council Panel to campaigning on local issues that affect residents. A Pakistani Muslim who is breaking cultural barriers by playing amateur cricket and going against cultural norms to speak out on a number of issues that affect British Pakistanis. She has encountered her fair share of challenges along the way, and as a survivor of child sexual abuse, her experiences have made her determined to challenge the patriarchy and injustice faced by females, particularly within the Pakistani community.
Disclaimer: the opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the website.

 


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Qandeel Baloch: an outspoken feminist in a man’s world

“As a woman we must stand up for ourselves.. As a woman we must stand up for each other… As a women we must stand…“

— Qandeel Baloch

feminism cross-stitch

The tragic murder of the social media celebrity, Qandeel Baloch, is an eye-opener to societal attitudes towards women in Pakistan. This is a case which has divided the nation and exposed the contradictory and hypocritical attitudes towards women.

It is Baloch’s social media profile which divides people and emboldens the haters. While some commenters go far as saying her murder was justified, others act as nothing less than apologists. Many argue that “Oh yes, she should not have been murdered, of course…”, but then go on to shame her by commenting on her lifestyle and public profile.

There is no but. Qandeel Baloch was brutally murdered and yet still, all the focus is on what the victim did. The focus should be on the patriarchal structure of Pakistan’s society, where women are seen as the property of fathers, brothers and husbands.

The truth is, Qandeel Baloch wasn’t murdered for being provocative. She was murdered because she challenged Pakistan’s religious establishment, making a mockery of the mullahs and exposing their double standards.

Sections of the media have called Baloch “Pakistan’s Kim Kardashian” but she was so much more than that. It is disingenuous to compare her to Kardashian, who grew up in relatively affluent circumstances. Unlike social media celebrities in the West, Fouzia Azeem was born into poverty with few options in life.

“I want to give those girls a positive message who have been forcefully married, who continue to sacrifice.”

Raised in one of the poorest areas of Pakistan, she was forced to marry a much older man, who then beat her. It’s the same old story across Pakistan where girls are forced into marriage and then expected to live a life of hell where they are abused daily.

But Qandeel Baloch chose to take a stand and escaped. With little education and no support from her family, she took matters into her own hands and took to social media to make a name for herself. Her father called her “my son” because she alone supported the family.

In short, she learnt that in life, you have to depend on yourself.

“No matter how many times I will be pushed down under but I am a fighter I will bounce back. Qandeel Baloch is ‘One Women Army’.”

The videos are grainy and she wears the same outfits over and over again. There’s no sign of the privilege given to wealthy middle-class women like Kardashian. To compare her to similar social media darlings in the West totally ignores her back story and trivialises Baloch’s personal circumstances. It is not difficult to see why she went down the path she did.

People are free to ignore the content if they are offended. But both men and women comment on social media, calling Baloch a shameless slut, immoral, cheap, while at the same time, watching her videos and checking out her pictures for titillation.

You could question how a girl like Baloch could make a name for herself in an Islamic country. Pakistan calls itself an Islamic country, but I for one sometimes find it difficult to see Islam in Pakistan. This is a country where a qawwali singer is brutally murdered for simply singing about his passion for family of the Holy Prophet (PBUH). A country where minorities are slaughtered on a daily basis. A country where one of the world’s greatest humanitarians, Abdul Sattar Edhi, is condemned as an infidel by Pakistan’s mullahs. Where Malala is dismissed as a Western stooge, and where a Nobel prize winner cannot even rest in peace long after his death.

“At least international media can see how I am trying to change the typical orthodox mindset of people who don’t want to come out of their shells of false beliefs and old practices.”

But people tolerated Qandeel Baloch up to the point when all she did was post racy pictures of herself. It was when she started to speak out about women’s rights in Pakistan and when she sought to expose the double standards of Pakistan’s religious clergy that society decided enough was enough.

Qandeel Baloch’s murder is more than a so-called honour killing by an enraged brother. It is a direct reflection of Pakistani society, where women are still expected to silently submit. Qandeel Baloch, fearless, outspoken and brave, took life into her own hands and challenged the patriarchy. For that, she paid the ultimate price.

Image credit: Cross-stitch ninja via Flickr
Disclaimer: the opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the website.


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A British Muslim’s Message to Extremists

by Nazia

@25nazia

Image credit: My Eyes Are Set On Freedom #Iranelection from harrystaab

Image credit: My Eyes Are Set On Freedom #Iranelection from harrystaab

Freedom is all important to me. I say that freedom is all important to me as I know what it feels like to live in a restricted life. I was born a Londoner and as the years go by I feel that is the label closest to defining me. Being a Londoner was a gift. I was able to explore my identity as an individual more freely than if my parents had never left Pakistan. I was obsessed with identity as a child – I felt my difference to other children acutely but it never stopped me from playing with any of my school friends. I struggled with my curly hair, brown skin and felt deep pain when the same friends would turn on me with the easiest insult during a game

“You’re just a Paki, go home!”

I couldn’t fight back as the initial shock of learning I did not belong just hurt too much. The routine began of going home stinging from the rejection (we always forgave each other the next day!) and crying to my parents

“Why did you come to this country?!”

My parents would joke back at me that we could leave for Pakistan and my answer was always a resounding

“Nooooo!”

The struggles of being a good Muslim/Pakistani girl and fitting in with being a Londoner caused mayhem in my teen years. I drifted towards alternatives – Buddhism, Grunge/Punk Rock, Atheism, anything that took hold of my curious mind. I came across Political Islam by accident (my mum thought I was too Western so sent me for a weekend to see cousins – she did not know they were coming under the influence of a newer politically charged Islam). At school I decided to challenge my teachers and the sensibilities of everyone by donning a scarf. This act was a rebellion. My teachers were excellent and whilst questioning this change actually challenged me to explore and explain my new found identity. I am grateful they realized by allowing me to educate myself with all the ideas that I could possibly be exposed to – I would find a path right for me and society.

As an adult I have thrown off the shackles of cultural/religious expectations whether they come from my Pakistani/Muslim heritage or British media/wider society. The sad reality of life post 9/11 is that I shudder whenever an act of terrorism occurs as I fear a backlash on the Muslim community. When I read extreme comments made by “experts” such as Ayan al-Hirsi or Douglas Murray who at one gathering proclaimed life should be made extremely difficult for Muslims in Europe as a strategy – I become afraid, afraid for my entire community. I try to reassure myself that such words will never gather momentum – they are not targeted at Muslims like me but I always remember the history lessons at school. Hateful, angry rhetoric from politicians, career academics…or rather, bogus experts competing for the hearts, minds, votes,  of the weary masses could be heard in another place called Nazi Germany. My parents often talked of their fear of being thrown out one day and I would argue against them but I am scared for my children. What difference does it make if I am not a practicing Muslim? Hate blocks out the capacity to reason.

On a brighter note I believe the majority of Britain is not blinded and easily led down the path of division – that applies to the Muslim community too.  But it is difficult in a climate in which discussion about Islam can seem polarized. Sadly, I do not always feel comfortable expressing myself among my fellow Muslims in fear of backlash from a lone hyper individual.

Image of London from cuellar, Flickr.

Image of London from cuellar, Flickr.

The political fire storm over accusations of radicalization is counter- productive and seeks only to gain votes for politicians cynically exploiting the fear of terrorism. On the other hand rogue Muslim “leaders” also exploit the fears of Muslims who have bought into the narrative of victimhood. Communities who are in the processes of settlement or generations born in Britain but undergoing the trials of balancing multiple identities as well as the worries of education, employment, life are vulnerable. These communities are exposed by political/media hysteria about extremism, sex scandals, honour killings, Sharia to those who advocate rejection of Britain as a country that accepts them.

I try to walk on an alternative path carved through reason and knowledge. I have my children and I have devoted my life to giving them the understanding of how crucial free will is – even the Pakistani poet Iqbal reminds Pakistanis that God has given humans free will.

My message to extremists on both sides is that they are not reflecting my vision of what London is. My life has shown me I must embrace my freedom and I try to celebrate being a Londoner in my consciousness everyday (because getting to this point in my life was a fight!).

Nazia is  a mother of three children. She has a degree in History (focus on modern Europe, Russia, Ottoman Empire, Origins of Islam, Mughal Empire, Middle East) from School of Oriental and African Studies London.

Images credit: My Eyes Are Set On Freedom #Iranelection from harrystaab and  London from cuellar.

Disclaimer: the opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the website.