by Sabin Muzaffar, Ananke Magazine Publisher and Editor, Woman’s Advocate
My husband and I moved to Dubai – UAE a year after getting married in Karachi – Pakistan. Talking about my mom and dad… My father is an educated man who believed in encouraging his only daughter just like his sons. I do believe the strength of character I do possess …were instilled in me by my father. But that said, we lived in a society with many ills where women – especially in the upper middle class community –led a protected life and did not know how to cope with sexual abuse, assuming them to be innocent childish pranks by older cousins etc. (we lived in a joint family). So it made me see, witness as well as experience firsthand issues we now talk about. (Ironically the past is something families – including husbands would rather forget and bury)
It was the love of reading that first introduced me to strong women like Scarlett o Hara… and many more like her – who taught me never to give up and always have hope. As I grew older, my family’s financial situation hit rock bottom and I started working right after high school. I worked at one of the leading newspapers in Pakistan. I carried on my studies during the days and went to office right after that. Working in the media business especially in Pakistan was not easy. Being young you are also impressionable – so through trial and error – and a lot of workplace gender biases I went on. The good thing was – my bosses (not the immediate ones – who ironically was a woman) recognized and acknowledged my potential and gave me opportunity to thrive and that’s how I climbed up the ladder.
When you live in a society with deeply entrenched patriarchal system as well as other grievous ills… and if you are observant – you witness the issues surrounding you. My maid’s male cousin killed his sister because she was allegedly having an affair and she was married. But the story goes deeper. The girl was forced to marry her cousin who had lived with her family all his life and was considered a brother.The only reason the marriage took place was because the girl earned good money and the family didn’t want to let go of the golden egg laying goose.
While I was working in the same newspaper… but had grown wiser three years down the line… I experienced another form of abuse. There was a guy who groped me and then pretended that it was an accident. A little wiser I knew I was right. So I spoke to a senior female colleague of mine… who said that the same thing had happened to her but she had thought it was only her imagination and THEN said that she had seen a female intern aggravated coming back from the toilet (his prime location of attack) – it was then I decided to take action and I reported it to the male Union leader. He took me to the group editor. Though I was not comfortable answering questions – I did.. Because I knew if I didn’t nobody would and the guy would go scott-free. It was because of me this guy got fired. Funnily, I received numerous phone calls asking me to forgive him but I didn’t give in.
There were and still are many stories to tell. And through my personal and eye witness experience – I came to see that awareness is so very critical. Educating mothers… and women about their rights… telling them it IS wrong to hide abuse just to protect your so-called family honour. I knew I could tell stories… and I know I can help others – I strongly believe raising your voice is important and not everyone can do that… so those who can – should – lest it affects someone. If you don’t, then who will? that’s why I do it. I am not afraid and when women around you sense your fearlessness it gives them hope and it gives them courage. I am stubborn and the only change I want is to grow by expanding my horizon through learning and collaborating with others.
I have come across and connected with some of the most intelligent men and women through empower women. It does not only give me a sense of hope but reinforce it … knowing that there are so many of us… with the same ideology and passion. Through this platform I can show my community and all the communities I am connected with that there are women like us out there… and when we connect we become stronger through knowledge exchange, interaction and learning.