August 29, 2019

Zara’s story: life after an arranged marriage

How can you possibly grow, without any encouragement? How can you put yourself first, love yourself, deem yourself as important, if everyone around you tells you differently?

Growing up I was told, repeatedly, that women didn’t need an education, that we weren’t put on this earth for our brains but for our ability to love and nurture others. If I did as I was told, abided my family’s demands, and fulfilled their wishes; I would be considered the perfect, respectable Pakistani daughter. And I was. I gave them everything I had to give and possibly more. But over time, little pieces of myself started chipping away.

Zara* was brought up to think that her purpose in life was to please others. She had no independence, being escorted around by her younger brother as, for her family, it was unheard of for a woman to go out alone. She had no interest in education, because what was the point if she would ultimately be a housewife?

At just 11, Zara was engaged to marry her father’s nephew. When the wedding date was set in 2017, she knew she had to do something. She ended up running away and was put in a women’s refuge, a million miles away from anything she knew before.

Getting engaged at 11 forced me to learn early on that my friend’s lives would never exactly coincide with mine. But that was my normal.

When you have never been given the option to even contemplate having a future, the world suddenly becoming your oyster can seem monumentally daunting. I had this drive in me, this self-pressure to prove that I can make something of myself. But that pressure can be overwhelming, and at times I couldn’t handle it. It honestly felt like I was drowning, and I needed help, I needed someone to guide me, and it was like God had answered my prayers in the form of New Leaf.

After meeting with her mentor, Clare, Zara could finally see a future for herself. Clare worked with her to not only help Zara find a focus in life but to build her up to be strong enough to go for them by supporting her in other areas of life.

Essentially, my mentor helped me build a life for myself. I don’t know where I would be if it wasn’t for her support. Above all else, I’m grateful that I met her. I don’t know how many times I cried in her office. I went to her for everything, at one point I think I was at New Leaf daily!

Eventually, when Zara felt strong enough, her mentor was able to help her reconnect with her family.

I can’t even begin to describe how I felt when I met my parents for the first time, it was scarier than actually leaving home, to begin with; I felt as though I couldn’t tell my  support workers because I didn’t want to be talked out of it, so I confided in you, and your love and support was and has been overwhelming.

Zara received help from our money advice worker on how to budget and make the most of her income, something she had never had to consider before leaving home.

With the support of her mentor, Zara has now completed A Levels in psychology, sociology, and criminology and will be starting university, on a full scholarship, this autumn. A far cry from the future she thought was set in stone for her.

My whole life I have been conditioned to believe that I wouldn’t be able to survive the outside world on my own. Thankfully, Alhamdulillah, I’m still standing. A little wobbly at times but I’m here, and I’m striving for more.

Starting your life over after escaping an arranged marriage is incredibly difficult. But you don’t have to do it alone. New Leaf can help you to not only survive, but to thrive:
T: 01925 452131

*Name has been changed

New Leaf is led by Torus Foundation and is part of the Building Better Opportunities Programme, funded by the European Social Fund (ESF) and The National Lottery Community Fund.

New Leaf Lottery Funded