When I went to Pakistan to volunteer in a Women Empowerment Project, I was so excited to discover this new country, to have a unique experience and start my adventure. Especially because it is so far from my home country of Tunisia and that Karachi was nominated as one of the most dangerous cities in the world.
When I got there, I was shocked by the fact that the country was not as dangerous as the media claims it is. I love being there and discovering new things.
However, it would be better if the media gave more importance to the human rights conditions there, rather than to the “fake” dangers that they are promoting for some specific political agenda.
Let me tell you about one of the most shocking stories that I have ever faced:
I met her in the “Sarem Burney” shelter in Karachi, Pakistan. She is an old woman, around 70 years old. She has been living in this shelter for 23 years – since the day she escaped from her home and her family.
Ms. Aliya Sarem, the shelter’s director, told us her story with a lot of sadness and pain: “She has been here for 23 years. We did our best to find a settlement with her family members, but they refused all our suggestions.
When she was a young lady, her family, especially her brother, forced her to get “married with the holy book”. This kind of wedding is known in the rural areas of Pakistan. Men usually use it to get rid of their sisters. This way, the sister will be obliged to live as “Santa Maria”, meaning that she has to live in a room, pray to God, and protect the holy book. And the most important thing: she will never ask about her inheritance or ever have a husband who could ask for inheritance.
Sarem escaped her family to get her freedom and live as a human. However, her family looked for her and threatened to kill her. She found herself alone, in a society where she was considered an infidel and a disobedient woman who should be killed. This is why she decided to live the rest of her life between the walls of the shelter.
We could undermine the facts and say that the shelter became her home – that she had a pleasant life, made friends and has been safe ever since. But the reality is different. She couldn’t go outside the shelter because she was afraid, and her family was still threatening her. She couldn’t find a job, and she was hopeless. The shelter has become her new prison.
When I first heard this story, I was shocked. How could a woman get married with a book? And how can these “Muslims” think like that? How could the Quran be a husband?
Yet the problem is not about religion or awareness or education. The real problem is that these men are so clever and malicious, that they are ready to do anything for money. The best way for them to do this was to invent such weddings to avoid all situations that could threaten their fortune or inheritance.
However, I believe that the most important problem in this case, is the fact that the society doesn’t care and doesn’t defend these women. They are creating a world that only belongs to men, and a religion that only serves them.
And the question is: “How long are women going to accept that?”
The tradition, known as the “Haq Bakshish”, means “renouncing the right to marry”. This tradition that is not recognized by most Islamic law is still practiced in Pakistan. The international newspaper Asharq Al Awsat estimated that around 10 thousand women were concerned by this tradition in 2007.