Why 'We Can' make a difference in Pakistan. Farah Khushi, Scottish Circle founder, explains

Posted by Lindsay Clydesdale Campaigns Press Officer, Scotland

3rd Mar 2012

Growing up in Pakistan, women used to come to visit my Grandmother. At her side, I listened in shock as they explained how they had been beaten by their husbands - often badly. It's not the horror of the violence they described that sticks in my mind, but the matter-of-fact way such awful stories were shared. Domestic violence simply wasn't unusual.

As an adult now living in Scotland, my memories of those stories live on. That's why I helped set up the Scottish Circle - a group of women united in their desire to raise funds for, and awareness of, violence against women in Pakistan.

As part of this work, I recently visited Oxfam's "We Can" projects in South Punjab. These organisations recruit and co-ordinate teams of 'change makers' - women, and men, who work in communities where such violence - both physical and emotional - remains common place.

In one village I spoke to Suriya. She told me how a woman living nearby had been sold by her husband to pay off a gambling debt worth £350. Suriya went from house to house begging for the money she needed to buy the woman her freedom. One woman rescuing another.

In a nearby village, a woman told me how her husband had reacted angrily when she divided a piece of bread equally between their son and daughter. Custom dictates men eat first. When she stood her ground, her husband backed down. Now all food is shared. Change in bite-sized chunks.

Then there was Danyal - a 'change maker' aged just 10. He explained how his mother was the only family member with no 'play-time'. As well as picking cotton in the fields all day - with Danyal's baby sister strapped to her back - the woman would tend to her family's daily needs. Danyal challenged his father about this - he's now ensured his wife has free time of her own.

These stories show change is both possible, and that it's already happening.

But the need remains vast. Across the globe violence against women causes more deaths and disabilities among those of child-bearing age than cancer, malaria, traffic accidents, and war combined. That cannot be allowed to continue.

When I arrived in Scotland in 1985 domestic violence was all too common. Since then high profile campaigns have helped bring about significant change. Domestic violence still exists, but progress has been made. For that we should all be proud. The same can happen in Pakistan.

Talking about the problem is a crucial first step. In some ways, the women who visited my Grandmother when I was a child were the lucky ones: at the very least they had a support network. Many others suffer in silence. It is our responsibility to raise our voices for those who can't.

Violence against women in Pakistan is often due to a lack of education. Oxfam's 'change makers' play a major role in filling that gap. They challenge existing norms - person-to-person, villager-to-villager. When a single man learns a different way of behaving - and the violence stops - he soon sees how much better his relationship can be with his wife and how he starts to value his daughter more. Before long he shares his experience with his friends in the village and they listen. That is how real change happens.

A sign on the entrance to one small village in South Punjab proclaims proudly: 'This is a violence free community'. The slogan is repeated above the door of each house. One woman told me that when her husband gets mad she reminds him of the statement above their door. Real change is about more than a slogan, but perhaps one day a similar sign will welcome me when I first arrive back in Pakistan. Maybe then the stories I over-heard as a child, will genuinely be a thing of the past.

Oxfam is fundraising for International Women's Day on 8 March.

Blog post written by Lindsay Clydesdale

Campaigns Press Officer, Scotland

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