When you are raised to believe you have no choice in anything you do

Shaheen Hashmat did an interview for the Scottish Sunday Mail ten days ago, and she has the article on her blog.

This is the transcript of an article by journalist Jenny Morrison featuring the most in-depth interview about my experiences that I’ve done to date. It took me a while to agree to do this, as it would a mean a lot more detailed exposure closer to home and my fear of a backlash was greater. But the imbalance of efforts to raise awareness and provide support throughout the UK is too significant to dismiss an opportunity to at least try and address this. Please note the minor clarifications I’ve included below the transcript.

She’s brave.

She was just 12 years old when she escaped from her family home.

But Shaheen Hashmat says the emotional scars of her childhood have been harder to leave behind. Growing up in a large Pakistani family Shaheen, now 31, says relatives controlled everything from how she should dress, to who she should speak to. She was expected to work in her family’s businesses from an early age – and if she refused, she’d be beaten. As she grew up, Shaheen saw several female family members being put on a plane, sent to Pakistan and forced into marriage. When it became clear that the same fate awaited 12-year-old Shaheen, a concerned relative tipped off social services and the police. With the legal protection of the authorities, she was able to leave her family but it has taken years for her to come to terms with the honour abuse she suffered.

She’s talking about it now because she wants to help people in the same situation. When she was a child she thought she was all alone.

I would see people getting beaten and there was a strong history of forced marriage in my family. Every single aspect of my life was under strictest control. When you are raised to believe you have no choice in anything you do, when every aspect of your life is so closely monitored, you feel worthless. At times, I have felt suicidal. But I am determined that I am not going to hide away – what happened to me is not my shame, I didn’t do anything wrong. I’m not going to change my name or adopt a new identity because I shouldn’t have to hide. Sadly I’m not the only person this has happened to but if I can help others by speaking out, then I must.

When she was 12 she escaped, with the help of a relative and the police.

Shaheen says a turning point in her life came three years ago when she read Jasvinder Sanghera’s book Daughters of Shame. The book, which tells the stories of women who have survived honour abuse or been forced into marriage, let Shaheen see she was not alone. She said, “I could really relate to these women’s stories. I hadn’t been forced on to a plane and forced into a marriage but I was still a victim of honour abuse.”

If only they could all escape, but it’s only a tiny fraction who can. Yet.


  1. Blanche Quizno says

    I was raised in a fundamentalist Evangelical Christian family here in the US, and her account sounded uncannily familiar. Here, I’ve changed a few things to make it mine:

    [Her devout mother] controlled everything from how she should dress, to who she should speak to. She was expected to [be obedient and comply with every request without question] – and if she refused, she’d be beaten.

    Every single aspect of my life was under strictest control. When you are raised to believe you have no choice in anything you do, when every aspect of your life is so closely monitored, you feel worthless. At times, I have felt suicidal.

    To be sure, there was never any plan to put me on a plane and send me away into an arranged marriage, but this same type of child abuse is going on all around us. It is not at all uncommon for Christian mothers to “vet” their children’s friends, and disallow associating with any whose families are not appropriately, adequately Christian. Often, the child’s social milieu is restricted to the children of members of the parents’ church’s congregation. It is not at all uncommon to see Christian families to focus entirely on obedience and immediate compliance with all commands, using violence to force the child to submit. Christian books (such as by those awful Pearl people and that horrid James Dobson) are quite open that the goal is to break the child’s spirit, and that, if the child is resisting in any way, the parents are simply not being cruel enough. Don’t let a few bruises or welts put you off – shut the windows before you beat, and don’t beat the day or two before a scheduled visit to the pediatrician – and don’t pay any attention when they cry (as the Bible says) – crying is just another devious attempt at manipulation by those nasty, selfish, greedy, monstrous little brats of yours, anyhow.

    Now I’m just waiting for someone to go all “Dear Muslima” on me. That doesn’t change the fact that that same attitude is widespread throughout Christianity, the whole “isolate, control, and dominate the children so that they no longer have any confidence or agency”. You don’t have to be in some clannish immigrant group to experience deliberate isolation – simply being Mormon or Evangelical Christian or Catholic is often enough.

  2. cuervocuero says

    And given those upbringings, especially the ones imposed upon female children, it would be nice if the ranty ‘blame the victim’ antitheists bagging on about women being idiots for staying in religious situations could, just for a moment, bother to understand the years of violent conditioning at play.

    Another voice out there that calls a woman stupid for not behaving as the critic wishes is just situation as usual for someone whose self esteem has already been mangled into compliant humility.

  3. sonofrojblake says

    We in the UK imported this poisonous culture en masse in the fifties and sixties, and it has been permitted to persist even as it is surrounded by the otherwise progressive, civilised people who allowed it in in the first place. It is surely now time to stop tolerating it, stop this nonsense that all cultures are equally valid. It’s time to say no – this isn’t how you treat children, and if that’s “your culture” you are wrong and more importantly, you will be punished. Anyone who doesn’t like it and wishes to avoid the sanctions is of course welcome to go live somewhere that allows it. We absolutely shouldn’t be indulging these barbarians in their backward practices.

    See also veiling, genital mutilation of boys and girls, and “witchcraft” trials, among other things.

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