As the Coronavirus (COVID 19) pandemic continues to plague almost every single country in the world, the issue of domestic violence is becoming a cause for concern among nations’ leaders including Canada’s. According to reports, domestic abuse cases are on the rise as women’s shelters and hotlines grapple with the influx of calls being received by individuals in precarious situations. Many believe that this increase is the result of pandemic associated factors such as financial insecurity, stress and uncertainty leading to increased aggression in the home. Domestic violence also increases whenever families spend large amount of time together often because abuses are able to control large amounts of their victim’s daily life and families are socially isolated in their homes.
Among immigrant and refugee communities in Canada, such as like Regent Park, the problem of
domestic violence is compounded by additional vulnerabilities, including a women’s lack of
proficiency in English or French, challenges understanding and navigating available resources
and supports, problems of poverty, unemployment and underemployment, and issues of
sponsorship preventing women from leaving an abuser.
We reached out to domestic abuse survivor turned advocate Samra Zafar, who is an author of,
Good Wife: Escaping the Life I never chose
According to Samra Zafar, each year there are over 12 million girls under the age of 18 who are
forced into child marriages. Many regions and countries practice child marriages but it is most
common in Pakistan, Bangladesh, India and many parts of Africa. Even in United States and
Canada, child marriages are legal. In Canada the federal Civic Marriage Act was amended in
2015 to permit marriage as young as 16, if they have their parent consent. Samra believes that
cultural practices and traditions should not trump human rights, and child marriages under the
age of 18 years should stop. Samra shared her ordeal as a child bride and an abuse survivor.
Born in Pakistan, Samra Zafar was a teen bride who was, at her parent’s insistence, married off at
the tender age of 17 years of age, to a man much older than her, that she knew nothing about.
Shortly after getting married, Zafar migrated to Canada with her new husband. Samra was terrified. She had no friends or family in Canada and it was a very different environment from
the country she grew up in and had no idea how things are done in Canada. Her only dream was
being able to go to school but she was forced to stay home. Within a matter of months Samra
went from being a confident and ambitious teenage girl to living in a strange country as a wife, a
daughter in law and soon to be mother. Samra lost all independence and agency of her life.
The emotional abuse, Samra says, began almost at day one. The physical abuse began with one
slap. Then it began increasing incrementally and escalating over the years. Samra didn’t even
know this was abuse. It was just something she accepted as part of their marriage.
Initially, Samra had contact with her family back in Pakistan and began reaching out to for
support. Soon after she was restricted from doing so and told that she shouldn’t be talking to her
family anymore because her husband’s family is her family!
Although Samra considered leaving her husband in those early years. Samra had no work experience or education, had a young daughter and was completely dependant on her husband
financially. Samra also did not have any friends or any where to go to. Other barriers like social
stigma and the and feelings of dishonouring her family in Pakistan was also present. According
to Samra, there was a lot of pressure to stay and conform and “be a good wife.” – someone that
tolerates abuse, is quiet, is submissive and protects the family’s honour.
With little or no contact with the outside world, Samra Zafar suffered in silence. However, after
enduring twelve years of an abusive marriage, Samra began taking a weekly university course
and assessing the campus personal counseling services. There she learned, that what was
happening to her was abuse and that there were resources and support available to her. She also
learned that the underlying threat of losing her children was not real. With that knowledge came
power. Soon after going to counselling, Samra left her marriage. At the time her daughters were
nine and four years old. Samra regrets not leaving sooner. By the time her older daughter, was a
teenager she started showing a lot of signs of distress and trauma. Samra tells us that sometimes
women stay in abusive relationships for the “sake” of the children. Instead women should leave
abusive marriage for the sake of their children, says Samra. Children, Samra argues, “don’t need
a two parent family; they need a family where there is love, support and respect. And if that is
not happening, it is very damaging to them.”
Samra Zafar today, is now the author of her memoir,
A Good Wife: Escaping the Life I never chose, which will be turned into a movie in the near future. Samra is also a speaker and founder of Brave Beginnings a non-profit organisation that lends support, mentorship and empowerment to women who have been victims of abuse.
By Loretta Bailey with contributions from Adonis Huggins
(Loretta Bailey is a volunteer journalist with the FOCUS Media Arts Centre).
According to a statement provided to FOCUS Media Arts Centre from Honourable
Maryam Monsef, who is Canada’s Minister for Women and Gender Equality and Rural
“As part of the COVID-19 Economic Response Plan, Women and Gender Equality Canada (WAGE)
received $40 million to address the immediate needs of women’s shelters, sexual assault centres and
other front-line organizations providing gender-based violence (GBV) services and supports across the
country. Of this funding, $30 million has already helped address the immediate needs of shelters and
sexual assault centres as follows:
• $20.54 million to Women’s Shelters Canada (WSC) to distribute to 432 violence against women shelters across the country (excluding Quebec).
• $3 million to the Canadian Women’s Foundation (CWF) to distribute the funding to 93
sexual assault centres across the country (excluding Quebec).
$6.46 million to 110 women’s shelters and 44 sexual assault centres in Québec, through an agreement between Canada and Québec.
The remaining $10 million in funding is being distributed to other front-line organizations that provide
critical GBV supports and services.