Married off in her teens, Pakistani-born, UAE-raised Samra Zafar escaped her abusive marriage after a decade, motivated by the desire to be a better role model for her two daughters.
“I didn’t want my daughters to normalise abuse – because that’s how the generational cycle of abuse continues. So, my choice was driven by the determination to break that cycle,” says the Canada-based motivational speaker and author in a podcast with eShe’s editor Aekta Kapoor.
Samra pursued her education as a single mother working five part-time jobs and graduated as a top student from University of Toronto with several awards and scholarships. She wrote her memoir A Good Wife: Escaping the Life I Never Chose (Penguin India, Rs 399, 2019) to raise awareness about gender-based violence, and has since become a globally recognised expert on equity and inclusion, violence against women, and mental health.
She has given three TEDx Talks and several speeches at Immigration Refugees and Citizenship Canada, UNICEF, Yale University, Amnesty International, Art of Leadership, and many leading nonprofits, corporations and universities around the world.
She was honoured as one of Canada’s Top 100 Most Powerful Women in 2019, and as one of Canada’s Top 25 Immigrants in the same year. Since then, Samra has founded Brave Beginnings, a non-profit in the Greater Toronto Area in Canada that matches women who have escaped oppression with mentors who are empathetic and caring.
“Patriarchy and domestic abuse are justified in the South Asian community. Change needs to happen at so many levels,” she says. “What kinds of standards are we teaching our girls? How are we treating women who dare to walk away from patriarchal systems that belittle them – are we shunning and shaming them, or do we offer them support? As women we need to do a better job of supporting each other,” avers Samra.
She also wants to break the silence around domestic abuse in the garb of ‘family honour’: “Silence only helps the oppressor, there is no honour in silence. A woman is everyone’s honour but she is never honoured for who she is.”
Samra shares her personal experience of making difficult personal choices and being judged for them, even though she was highly successful academically and in her career. “When a woman leaves the patriarchal setup – becomes divorced or a single mother – she is called a failure,” she says.
She gives the example of a remark made by her brother-in-law to her despite the fact that she was a brave young single mother studying at university, who had won 17 scholarships including full Master’s funding, and had graduated as the top economics student from the University of Toronto, the top university in Canada: “He said, what’s the point of you winning all these awards if you have failed at the real purpose of being a woman.”
Samra is vehement that this mindset is what needs to change. “A woman’s purpose is not to serve men and community and be selfless – as if our selves don’t matter. A woman’s purpose is what a woman defines it to be. Unless we acknowledge that as a society, we’re not going to be able to move forward.”
She makes a distinction between being fearless versus being brave in the face of fear. “As women, we must move towards being brave and courageous because, yes, we will feel afraid but we don’t have to let that fear hold us back,” she asserts.
Hear the full conversation here:
Visit SamraZafar.com to get in touch with Samra.
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