The Next Chapter

Why Samra Zafar is sharing how she left an abusive marriage with the world

The author and activist shares her story about getting married and moving to Canada at 17, enduring 10 years of an abusive marriage and finally breaking free in her memoir, A Good Wife.
Samra Zafar is the author of A Good Wife. (Sinisa Jolic/CBC)
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One day while she was in her room doing her math homework, Samra Zafar's mother came to her with a marriage proposal. Her mother wanted Zafar to marry a man she'd never met, who was 11 years older and from Canada.

Zafar was 15 at the time. By the time she was married, she was 17. She moved from Pakistan to Canada. Soon after that, she was pregnant. From there, she spent 10 years in an abusive relationship before she was able to get away. Zafar has written about her experience in a new book called A Good Wife.

Zafar spoke with Shelagh Rogers about her memoir, which was co-written with Meg Masters.

The shock

"I had grown up in an environment where I'm the eldest of four girls. Everybody around me is telling me that my actual purpose in life is to get married. The fact that I have ambitions and goals and dreams — yeah, they're great, but nothing really is going to happen. But I never took all of that seriously. I believed in my dreams and goals. When my mom came to me and told me that her friend is interested in me as a bride for her brother, who lives in Canada, who is 11 years older and that he'd be a perfect match for me. I was shocked. I was taken aback. I thought it was a joke. I thought it's my mom testing me or teasing me. 

"Everybody around me — my friends and my cousins and everybody — were like, 'Oh my God! You're so lucky! You are the first one among us to get married! What an accomplishment! My mom kept telling me that this this is a gift from God and if I reject it then I'm going to be ungrateful and a sinner. The pressure was so much. It was the culture and the environment. When you were 16 and everybody around you is telling you this is the best thing for you, even though your inner voice screams 'No!' and you want to run away, what are you going to do?"

A cycle of abuse

"He started neglecting me. He started not spending time with me. The verbal abuse started, the name calling. Every time I would go out of the house, it would be with his parents. I never had one-on-one time with my husband. I lost that bond with him and I tried to get it back. That's what the cycle of abuse is like in the beginning. The abuser always puts the victim on a pedestal to gain that trust and love. Then the victim forever spends their time get trying to get back on the pedestal and trying to get back into the loving eyes. You're never good enough. 

"Abuse is never black and white. There are moments of tenderness. There are moments of love and moments of care. Every time there's an abusive episode, the next cycle is the honeymoon period. Suddenly everything seems like it's perfect. It's a perfect marriage. He's so loving, he's so kind to me. He's taking care of me. Things are going to change. That's why victims hang on to that hope and stay far longer than they need to or they should."

Breaking free

"I knew that if I am going to get out of this, it has to be through my own efforts. I cannot rely on anybody. The first thing I knew I had to do was to make some money and get some leverage in the home. I started being more calculated. It gave me validation and confidence in myself, little by little. 

"I was in my second year of undergrad when I finally left my marriage. Two years later, I won a scholarship. I got a lot of success and started speaking up. But the biggest thing that everybody has given me is the validation that I needed that I was not crazy. That my dreams did matter."

Sharing her story

"There are so many in this world who are still trapped and who will continue to be unless we change things, unless we speak up. The reason I am raising my voice and breaking the silence is for the millions of silences that are still waiting to be broken." 

Samra Zafar's comments have been edited for length and clarity.

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