A young woman’s life saved
Fighting gender-based violence in Pakistan
Gulmeena had reached her breaking point.
“Please bring me some poison, I want to die,” she repeated. “I do not want to live anymore.”
Gulmeena had been brought to a health facility after a suicide attempt, where her condition was stabilised - but the young woman’s troubles persisted.
“I tried several times to convince my mother that I want to marry the man I love,” she explained, “but she is forcing me to marry somebody else, so there is no other option left. Let me die.”
Among the listeners was 50-year-old Huma Gull, leader of a gender support group organised by International Medical Corps. Originally from a community in Afghanistan with rigid customs and values, Huma has been working to support women in Barakai-I, an Afghan Refugee Village in northwestern Pakistan - where most residents, like Huma and Gulmeena, have been forced from their homes in eastern Afghanistan by ongoing instability.
Unfortunately, Gulmeena’s story is not unusual. In many communities in Afghanistan, the practice of receiving the daughter’s consent to marriage is still the exception.
“I have seen many examples of similar cases from neighbouring communities, where lives were ruined,” Huma explains.
“Gender based violence is also not limited to marriage without consent – nearly half of women living in Afghan refugee villages have experienced physical violence from their husbands.”
International Medical Corps has been in Pakistan for over 30 years, throughout some of the nation’s most trying times, recently expanding its efforts to gender-based violence prevention activities. This includes centres where survivors of gender-based violence can receive services such as psychosocial support and counselling, as well as community groups aimed at reducing stigma around gender-based violence, using lesson plans developed by International Medical Corps in close collaboration with teachers, religious scholars, elders and other members of the community.
Hearing Gulmeena’s story, Huma assured her that she would convince her mother to stop the engagement.
“At first, her mother was reluctant, explaining that it is not customary to ask our daughters for permission,” Huma recalls. “But after hearing more about the dangers of such practices, I could tell that she wanted what was best for her daughter.”
A few days later, Huma and Gulmeena received some good news - Gulmeena’s mother had changed her mind about the engagement.
“A young girl’s life has been saved and now she feels better,” Huma says. “She is happy and has promised not to attempt suicide again.”
The reconciliation has had a big impact on Huma as well.
“When I first joined the gender support group I was shy and hardly interacted with the other members,” she says, “but gradually my confidence improved. Since joining the group, I have grown a lot and been able to overcome many of my previous psychological issues.
“International Medical Corps has given me the strength to stand against gender-based violence.
Note: Names have been changed to protect identity of those concerned