Samra Zafar’s journey from teenage bride to human rights activist

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Having the chance to rewrite your life story
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Samra Zafar faced years of abuse after arriving in Canada as a teenage bride in an arranged marriage, but nothing could stop her from pursuing her dreams of education and freedom.

While speaking on the CKNW Simi Sara Show Wednesday, Zafar detailed how her life dramatically changed at the age of 17, when her family arranged her marriage to a man who was 11 years older than her. Subsequently, Zafar moved to Canada with her new husband, leaving behind her family in Pakistan.

“I had a lot of dreams of getting an education and going to… universities that were abroad. I was very passionate about my career and fulfilling my dreams. But I was often told that my dreams were too big for me because I was a girl,” she said. “The only way that I would be able to go abroad was to get married to this man because, as a girl, I can’t be sent away. Who would guard me? Who would be my chaperone? So I was pressured into it.”

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LISTEN: Samra Zafar speaks with CKNW’s Simi Sara about escaping her abusive marriage: 

In her new book, A Good Wife: Escaping the Life I Never Chose,  Zafar recounts how her new husband and his family promised that the marriage and move to Canada would allow her to fulfill her dream of getting an education, but once she arrived in her new country, she realized it had all been a lie.

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“Once I got here I was told that I should be grateful that I got to the real purpose of being a woman sooner rather than later, and didn’t have to go through all of that ‘education crap’. I was told that I should be a good wife, a good daughter-in-law, and a good mother, and that was the real purpose as a girl…”

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In the years that followed, Zafar gave birth to two daughters and tried to live up to her husband’s definition of a good wife, but said that she often fell short in his eyes. In her book, Zafar details how she endured emotional and physical abuse from her husband, which left her feeling isolated and afraid.

“… I was humiliated and assaulted and insulted everyday. I started believing that… it was all my fault and that I was not good enough.”

Desperate to get out of her marriage, she hatched an escape plan for herself and her two daughters.

“I was very blessed that I was a student [at the University of Toronto]. When I left I did not have anywhere to go. My husband had sold the house from under me and I was on the verge of being homeless… and U of T gave me a place at student housing. That’s where I lived for the next two years. I was working four or five jobs on campus, raising my daughters, and going to school full-time.,” Zafar said.

Through her academic and career achievements, Zafar has gone on to become a human rights activist, mentor and public speaker. She founded Brave Beginnings, a non-profit organization where she works to help abuse survivors in their journey to find freedom and peace. She hopes that her book will help individuals in similar situations find strength within themselves.

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“My message with this book is ‘it’s not going to be easy. It is hard, it was hard for me too, and you can still do it’… It’s never ever too late… you are not victims, you are warriors… find that power inside of yourself, and use that.”

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