A Good Wife: Escaping the life I never chose

A good wife must always obey. | Photo by Emily D. Photography

Samra Zafar is an advocate for equity, human rights, women’s rights, diversity and inclusion. She’s also a survivor of violence and abuse, recalling her personal story of resiliency and perseverance in the Good Wife, her memoir of being a child bride and immigrating to Canada with her husband and in-laws. They promised her a better life and the opportunity to pursue an education. She had no idea how hard she would have to fight for this right.

Vancouver Writers Fest presents Incite: Resiliency in Storytelling, Feb. 20 at the Vancouver Public Library. Zafar shares the stage with Darrel J. McLeod, author of Mamaskatch: A Cree Coming of Age.

A good wife tolerates…

As a young girl growing up in India, Zafar wasn’t interested in cultural traditions and naively thought these rules didn’t apply to her future.

“I was always the girl who was going outside to play cricket or dreaming of going to university,” says Zafar, “whereas my cousins were dreaming about wedding gowns and getting married. I was a bit of an anomaly even then… I ‘ve always been a bit of a rebel…”

When she arrived in Canada her life was turned upside down. She was pregnant with her first child, living in a new country and unable to speak the language. Overwhelmed by many changes in her life, including living with her in-laws, Zafar struggled to conform to family expectations, which manifested into physical and psychological abuse from her husband and her in-laws.

“From the standpoint of my husband and his family, a good wife stays quiet, a good wife tolerates, a good wife listens, a good wife obeys, a good wife keeps the family together and protects the family’s honour,” says Zafar.

Throughout her marriage, Zafar fought against social and cultural traditions that she believed were imposed by both men and women in her life who were trying to maintain the status quo. She explains these people are often victims themselves, or they conform because breaking the rules jeopardizes their own reality of their position within the family hierarchy and community.

“I actually feel sorry for [these people] because they are victims of their own mental prison that is created by society,” says Zafar. “They cannot do it, so a woman who does it, who is able to break free and build a life of her own is a woman that’s promiscuous, or there must be something wrong with her…How could she do it, if I couldn’t do it?”

Zafar explains both women and men are willing to discipline others who don’t conform to cultural norms. She suggests we’re all complicit in making violence and abuse acceptable.

“That’s why gender based violence is not a woman’s issue, it’s an all of us issue…,” says Zafar.

Breaking the silence

Samra Zafar will read from her book at the VPL. | Photo by Emily D. Photography

Violence and abuse, an universal issue, require ongoing support and awareness. Zafar has shared her story for the last six years at conferences like TEDx and Amnesty International, as well as part of conferences at major universities, banks and corporations.

Zafar finds it emotional sharing painful times in her life, but she also knows it’s part of the healing process.

“Writing this book has opened my eyes to some of my own healing that I needed to do,” says Zafar. “It’s allowed me to look within myself and reconcile with my past and what happened, rather than running away from it. It’s been an emotional journey for sure, but a good one overall.”

Prior to leaving her husband, Zafar had little to no money to support a new life with her two daughters. But somehow, she cobbled together the resources to rent a small student apartment where her children would be safe and she could continue her education. Her resiliency and perseverance were rewarded with a master’s degree in economics. And today, she has a successful career as a commercial banker with the Bank of Montreal in Toronto.

The blog version of Zafar’s story was released six years ago. Zafar was compelled to post her personal experiences after an intense conversation with one of her daughters, who put it all into perspective for her.

“‘Mum [said her daughter], if every woman feels ashamed and traumatized, and thinks that she cannot do it, then how will things ever change’,” recalls Zafar. “‘If anyone needs to speak up mum, it’s you’.”

For more information, please visit www.vpl.bibliocommons.com/events/5bf8894d472c6e2b00fe0214