I was abused as a child bride and this is what I learned | Samra Zafar | TEDxMississauga

Translator: Araminta Dutta
Reviewer: Peter van de Ven I’d like to invite all of you to take part
in a little exercise with me. Don’t worry, you don’t have to get up. Please close your eyes for a few moments
and imagine yourself in a dark box. A confined space with no light, no sound, except that
of your own breathing, enough air that you can breathe, but not enough
that you can breathe freely. You feel trapped, suffocated and helpless. Now imagine you’re going
to be in that box forever. That is what abuse feels like. Now please open your eyes. I’m Samra Zafar,
and I’m a survivor of abuse. I grew up in a small town in Abu Dhabi,
in many ways a brash, rebellious teenager, a girl who always liked
to push the envelopes and challenge the stereotypes. While my friends dreamed
of weddings and bangles, I dreamed of going to Harvard or Stanford. The founder of the girls’ cricket team,
editor of the school newspaper, a straight-A student. But I was also a girl
who was growing up too fast. My body developing
into that of a young woman, I was a ticking time bomb
waiting to explode. And one day, when I was 16 years old,
I was told that in a few months, I was going to be married
to a man 12 years older than me, who I’d never met before, who lives in a faraway country
called Canada. A year later, I arrived in this country
as a child bride in a forced marriage with only one dream; the dream of getting an education. I became a mother right away. I gave birth to my older daughter at 18 –
I had no idea about birth control – and that dream of education
was snatched away from me. I was told that now that I was a mother,
I was someone’s wife, I was someone’s daughter-in-law, it was inappropriate for me
to go to university, or even go to high school. I was not allowed to go out
of the house, make any friends, or have any independence whatsoever, but it was for my own good. I was being protected
from the corrupt Western society. I was humiliated every day,
called bad words. ‘You’re useless.’ ‘You’re worthless.’ ‘You don’t deserve
to be loved or respected.’ ‘You’re not worthy of respect.’ And when I asked why,
I was told, ‘Because you deserve it.’ When you hear that on a daily basis,
you start believing it. So when the first bruises appeared
on my face and body, I thought I deserved that too. I spent years trying
to fix myself, thinking, ‘Maybe the secret to perfect wife-hood
is somehow eluding me. Maybe if I cooked better food,
washed clothes better, didn’t express my opinions,
didn’t have opinions, talked less, didn’t watch cricket,
this would change.’ But nothing changed. I made mistakes … and I suffered the consequences. Throughout this entire time,
there was this tiny voice in my head that just wouldn’t be quiet. The voice that said,
‘Maybe I do deserve better. Maybe there are options out there. Maybe this is not the way
that things are supposed to be.’ Education was something
I was not willing to give up on, so I finished all my high school
through distance learning at home, and after ten years of struggle
and many, many hard-fought battles, I started university at the age of 26
as a mother of two children. I still remember the day
when I got my first mark for my Economics 100 exam. I got one-hundred percent. (Applause) And my professor announced my name in front of the entire class
of 300 students, and everybody turned to look at me. And I, instead of feeling proud
and accomplished and excited, I was petrified. I wanted to crawl into a dark hole
and never come out. I didn’t want to be seen. I didn’t want to be known. I wanted to be invisible. And after the class ended, a lot of these students
came up to me and said, ‘Oh, my gosh, you’re amazing!
Can we go for coffee tomorrow?’ ‘Can we hang out at the pub
and eat chicken wings?’ ‘Can you help me with this question?’ ‘Can you help me study?’ And I remember standing there
and thinking to myself, ‘Oh, my gosh. These people
are not supposed to be talking to me. They don’t know that I’m useless,
worthless piece of scum stuck at the bottom of someone’s shoe. In a few days, they’re going to
find that reality about me, and they’re not going to
want to talk to me, anymore.’ But that didn’t happen. They still wanted to talk to me,
they still wanted to be my friend. So I started thinking,
‘If I am this amazing, why am I being treated so badly at home? And if I’m that bad,
why do all these people shower me with respect
and admiration at school?’ And one day, as I was in my dilemma and in my confusion
of thoughts and everything, I was walking to the bookstore, and right beside the bookstore
was the health and counselling centre. And there was a sign there
that had a bunch of questions on it. ‘Do you feel intimidated?’
‘Do you feel like you’ve lost your voice?’ ‘Do you feel you’re always living in fear,
walking on eggshells?’ ‘Do you feel that you cannot express
your opinions, thoughts and feelings? And I answered ‘yes’ to each
and every one of those questions. ‘Come in and make
an appointment’, it said. So I walk in, make an appointment,
and a few days later, I’m sitting across from my counsellor
and the floodgates opened. I started pouring my heart out and saying, ‘This is happening to me.
I don’t know what’s going on. Can you please help me figure this out? Can you please help me and shut that voice up that goes on
inside my head all the time? Can you tell me how to fix this? I don’t know, am I going crazy?’ And my counsellor,
after listening to me for an hour, said the one sentence
that shifted my entire world. She said, ‘It’s not your fault.’ It was the first time anyone
had ever said that to me. ‘It’s not your fault. No matter what you do,
you do not deserve to be treated with disrespect and abuse
and humiliation.’ That was the first time
I heard the word ‘abuse’. I said, ‘What? Am I being abused?’ ‘Yes, you are’, she said. The next few months, I spent researching
all I could find on abusive behaviours – reading articles, journals,
looking at charts of abuse, the cycles of abuse, the types of abuse – and that’s when I realised,
‘Oh, my God. It’s not me. It’s something bigger than me.
It’s something that’s out of my control. It’s something that I cannot fix,
and I only have two choices: either stay and accept it,
or stand up for myself and walk away.’ But somehow I thought, ‘You know, if my abuser only knew
that this was abusive, what he’s doing is wrong,
maybe he’ll change himself. Maybe he’ll fix things.’ So I started standing up
for myself at home. And then guess what happened? The abuse got worse. Because at the end of the day,
abuse is just about power and control. It’s someone’s need to feel powerful
and good about themselves by controlling another person
and making them feel bad. That’s all it is about. So when I started speaking up,
my abuser was losing control and the abuse got worse. It took me another two years
of gathering knowledge, awareness, realising my internal strength and power, and then, finally,
being able to walk away. At the age of 28, with two girls in tow,
I moved to U of T campus housing, finished my education as a single mother
working multiple jobs, and achieved more success
than I ever imagined was possible. That’s when I knew that I had to do
something with this. I had a purpose. So I started sharing my story because I knew that my story
was not just mine. It was the story of millions
of people around the world who continue to suffer in silence because they feel
they don’t deserve any better. They feel they don’t have choices,
they don’t have options, and they don’t have rights,
and it infuriated me. For the past five years, I’ve been sharing my story
everywhere that I possibly can. Every day, I wake up
to hundreds of messages from people all over the world. I get hate messages. I even receive death threats. But for every one
of those negative messages, I receive thousands of messages filled
with love, support and encouragement. My biggest award so far
came to me three months ago, when a man in Pakistan
wrote an email to me and said, ‘I have a 17-year-old daughter
who’s supposed to get married next month, and I’ve decided to turn down
that marriage proposal and send her to university instead, after reading your article
on Toronto Life.’ (Cheers) (Applause) That’s when I knew that I had my purpose. Today, I consider myself to be a strong, successful,
independent woman, in my own right, and I very pompously thought, ‘You know what? I know all there is to know about abuse. It cannot possibly happen to me again.’ But I was wrong. Very recently, a few months ago, in fact, I found myself in another
abusive relationship. It was not physical this time. It was emotional. It was psychological. It was verbal. And it was filled with love and affection. But when I was vulnerable,
when I was weak, that mask dropped, and I was shocked at the onslaught
of humiliation and insults coming at me. And I thought to myself, ‘Oh, my God.
How did I end up here again?’ Again, knowledge is what gave me the power to be able to stand up
for myself and walk out. I educated myself on the types
of emotional abuse and learned what was happening to me
was beyond my control and not my fault. Physical abuse is easy to detect, right? There’s bruises. Someone slaps you or kicks you,
you’re like, ‘Game over. I’m walking out.’ But emotional and psychological abuse,
verbal abuse, is insidious. It’s hidden. It creeps up on you. And before you know it,
you’re looking back and thinking, ‘Oh, my God. How on Earth did I get here?’ The stats are staggering. One in three women every year,
one in three women in North America, and ten percent of men, which, by the way,
is a hugely under-reported stat because, as we all know,
it’s very ‘unmanly’ to admit that you’re being abused, one in three women and ten percent
of men in North America will have faced intimate partner violence
at some point in their lives. That’s a lot of people. And that’s under-reported,
and that’s only physical abuse, so the real number is much higher. All the support that exists out there, whether it’s police, shelters, therapy,
counselling, crisis lines, it’s all reactive. It all happens after the abuse
has already happened, and it does little or nothing to bring that one-in-three
or ten-percent number down. But how can we prevent
abuse from happening rather than curing it
after it has already happened? The answer lies
in education and awareness, because, remember, knowledge is power. We need to start educating our children
and youth about healthy relationships, healthy boundaries, and early signs
of abusive behaviours and tendencies. We spend so much time
on making our children book smart but not enough on making them life smart
and relationship smart. We talk to our kids about physical health,
sexual health, even mental health, now. Why don’t we talk to them
about relationship health and emotional health? It’s important for us to teach
our children from a very young age the importance of empathy, compassion,
giving back, paying it forward, asking and receiving help,
being yourself truly and unapologetically, asking and receiving connection,
authentic connection, because that’s what we’re here
in this world for; love, connection and relationships. As Brené Brown so beautifully says in her TED talk,
‘The Power of Vulnerability’, it’s not our job to hold our kids
and say you’re perfect, it’s our job to hold them and say, ‘You’re imperfect and you’re beautiful,
and you’re absolutely worthy of love, respect,
connection and belonging.’ It gets trickier, though,
as kids get older. We live in a world where children are starting to date
at younger and younger ages. 16, 15, sometimes even 14. They’re starting to have feelings,
date, form romantic connections, and abuse is not something
you want to talk to them about, right? It’s better if you just
brush it under the rug, keep it behind closed doors,
bury your head in the sand, and pretend it doesn’t happen, because,
obviously, it cannot happen to our child. But guess what? We live in a messy world, and abuse is hidden,
but a harsh and cruel reality. It can happen to anyone,
anywhere and anytime. Last year, my 15-year-old daughter
came up to me and said, ‘Mum, I think my friend
is in an abusive relationship.’ And I said, ‘What? What do you mean?’ And she said, ‘You know what?
Her boyfriend, he seems so perfect, showers her with crazy amounts
of love and affection, buys her flowers
and chocolates and gifts, but then, when they’re having
a fight, he calls her crazy, he calls her bad words, and he says
she’s useless and worthless, he treats her badly,
and he makes her cry, and I think that’s abusive, mum.’ While my heart went out to that girl, I was so proud of my daughter for being able to recognise abuse
for what it was, and stand up for her friend. And I know that she was able to do that because I’ve had those conversations
with her on a daily basis. There are many, many signs of abusive behaviour and tendencies
that we can talk about, because, remember,
abuse doesn’t happen in good times. Just because someone
buys you flowers and chocolates, showers you with love
and affection and gifts, does not mean that they have the right
to disrespect you and humiliate you and treat you with any less
than a hundred percent respect when times are bad, because that’s when abuse happens; when times are bad,
in times of disagreement. There are many early signs
that we can talk about. If someone’s rushing you
into commitment, into having sex, into doing anything
that you’re not ready for, that’s not a good sign. If someone’s showering you with insane amounts of love
and affection and romance without even taking the time
to get to know you first, that’s often a cover for underlying behaviours
of jealousy and control that you don’t even see
coming your way until it’s too late. Jealousy’s a natural human emotion, right? All of us want to have an element
of possession and jealousy in us. You know, we like it when our partner
is jealous of the people we hang out with to a certain degree. But there’s a very fine line
between healthy jealousy and unhealthy, controlling behaviour,
and it’s so important to be aware of that. When you’re constantly thinking, ‘I want to say something
but I don’t know how to phrase it; if I should say it this way or that way, use this word instead of that word
to get the message across, because if I say it in the wrong way,
I’ll be judged, I’ll be misunderstood, and I will be disrespected
and humiliated’, that’s not a healthy sign. If you feel you always have to be perfect
in order to be loved and respected, you always have to be up
on some kind of a pedestal, and the moment you fall down
you’ll lose that love and respect, that’s a sign of abusive behaviour. Because guess what? We’re humans. We’re imperfect. We’re meant to be imperfect. We’re meant to have flaws. But that does not mean that we deserve
any less than one hundred percent respect when we are flawed, when we make mistakes. No one has the right to do that to us. Being imperfect and having flaws is what makes us beautifully
and unapologetically human beings. (Cheers) (Applause)

Stephen Childs


  1. Very sad abusive story of her.
    Unfortunately, very few muslim women have been given comments on, they need the most because their quran Taqiyya teaches them to abuse women.

  2. 🌸 I answer yes to all those questions too….that’s very sad
    I’m strong though I fight back at my abusers

    You described a narcissistic type personality, as this is my abuser

    Wow you have saved so many young lives….god bless you

  3. 🌸 the Eastern Child marriages has go to STOP!
    When a person is ready, they will meet and fall in love with someone of their own choice and in turn marry when they are ready and have children as a joint decision.

    It’s too old fashion and has no place in this world, it is barbaric and abusive towards young men and girls.

    OLD ways of thinking need to become extinct and new way has to be born….only person in power over that country can try to change it by and by and not even alone. It will take them decades to reform the olden ways of biblical times

  4. Since I'm working, this left ear thing is great. I can listen but also concentrate on my work.

  5. we are living in a FALLEN WORLD- Christ is The Way,the answer. 🕊

  6. Where is the part where white Americans are to blame for this ?

  7. hmmm… I can't hear anything I put the volume up and there was just the sound of air.. then I clicked on the next video and the sound blasted. There must be something wrong with this video.

  8. My sister it's been in a abusive relationship for thirty years! She know it's wrong, but until this days, she's not ready to walk away. Sadly she probably stay until she dies, and she's not doing anything about it

  9. I grew-up in an abusive home. I literally was told not to tell my grandma about it. Years later, my sister told my cousin what we endured on my " dad's" 60 Birthday. She called my sister Godless. Yeah, I was like really!

  10. Hallelujah! Change one’s mind and you begin to change the world❤️ i wish all would be self aware.

  11. Thank you so very much for your bravery it encouraged me so much. Made me weep. Hugs and prayers for continued healing.

  12. Ms. Zafar is such a beautiful human being. She is helping others realize that the world is not perfect, surviving in it and to realize "It's not your fault." She is doing something significant and that is creating awareness, because if you don't understand the problem, you have no tools to deal with it. That inner voice she is talking about is God, who is with you the whole time, your biggest friend in a world that wants you under control, yet you are part of all that is, and such world can do nothing about that.

  13. I recognize this….it took the police to define my partners behaviour toward me as abuse…and even then it was hard to find a way out

  14. I am sorry to say this, in Islam a man is allowed to hit his wife if she does not obey him. Islam has many good things, but the bad ones seem to overshadow the good ones.

  15. Its not because you're a woman, its because you're a Muhammadan, and as such you were not abused, you were treated fairly and squarely, you are the property of your primary carer, your owner, just something to be bought and sold, and you will remain in this situation until you embrace the freedom that Jesus brought us, the freedom to choose,
    Get right with God.

  16. Instant respect acknowledging abuse that isn't just women, but men too.

  17. Human #1: Let me tell you the story of my suffering… Human #2: Your "suffering"? Wait til you hear how I've suffered! Human #3: No! No! My suffering is FAR worse than your suffering! Human #4: How DARE you say that! I've been victimized relentlessly! I've truly suffered! Human #5: My suffering was longer than your suffering! I've been suffering since childhood! Your suffering is nothing, compared to mine! Human #6: My people have suffered for generations, not just years, as you've suffered! Our suffering is unimaginable! Human #7: Stop! Stop! You haven't heard MY story of MY terrifying suffering! I was in an abusive relationship! Human #8: I deserve MORE pity than any of you! My suffering is from systemic and institutionalized oppression and marginalization!!! Human #9:
    You can't imagine MY suffering, I grew up in a very religious family. There was so much guilt!!! Human #10: You can NEVER understand the depth of MY suffering, I grew up as an only child!!! I was always alone!!! My suffering is FAR worse than any of your suffering!!! Me: Ok, who wins the competition for suffering the most, thereby receiving the greatest outpouring of pity? These "stories of suffering" are all getting a bit self-indulgent and infantile. EVERY HUMAN ON THIS PLANET SUFFERS. That is the nature of this dimension.

  18. Your self esteem plunges when it's the people who are meant to be the closest to you who constantly putting you down telling you that you're not capable of something or not good enough. Thank you for sharing

  19. I am seeing this again after 2 year later and I can't believe that I didn't even know I was going through emotional abuse by my family. 5 days before I left my home. I am living in a apartment on my own. I am an independent girl at the age of only 19 in Pakistan.

  20. Thank you Samra for your moving work, fighting ignorance and abuse is like fighting the tides, but please keep going!

  21. This woman is amazing. I'm in an emotionally abusive relationship now. She has given me hope. She's my hero

  22. I cried with my memories of my own abuse and jealousy …but I walked away…nobody can change an abuser only he can do that and is very, very hard…they think is normal…

  23. I was in an abusive marriage too and before that brought up by a narcissistic mom. I am glad I saw your video. It made my day 🙂

  24. My dad used to make fun and ape me of my stutter as well. Today he is resting in peace. He did try to do alot for me. But dad, I never forgot the humiliation you put me thru.

  25. Wht u say is horrible BUT… if they really thts abusive I dint think they would have ever allowed you to have freedom to study … you said you went to book store saw the counselor made an appointment ..!!! On your own… then girl you had little bit of freedom n choice.. they let you complete your college.. that’s a big thing…
    There are abuse happens when you get ribellious and start disrespecting your own family… then that type of people try to keep you in total control n they would not even allow you to go anywhere ALone.!!!!

    In your case there must be some other side of story …

  26. Still in many Islamic countries young girls have to get married to uncles bcz there is no fixed age for marriage. Just ridiculous

  27. and YET this same woman would hold that horrid ideology of islam and the warped society it birthed and grows beneath is religious and moral guidance as blameless !!!!!

  28. she grew up in Abu Dhabi. a brutal islamic state which treats women like rats. living proof that islam cannot stand any evidence
    of truth. knows nothing of honesty.. only petty pecuniary based (money) narcissism to the max . how pathetic was her self characterization forced upon her by her Islamic Brutalizers…got to age 26 before she learned what ABUSE meant ??

  29. I cried because this is how I get treated in my family but I can`t change anything

  30. Yeah, she is a fighter and her courage is worth speaking…

    Not that, that camel-foot make her less successful though.

  31. Bless this woman’s heart. I cried the whole time she was talking. She is a beautiful soul.

  32. Horrible, great for her and all survivors. Believe it the 1st time, don't wait.

  33. Yea you really did so much better than an arranged marriage to a man your parents found worthy to marry you..Yessir all that whoring around,creating fatherless kids etc was soooooooo much better of a decision.  to stand there and holler abused when your decisions  brought nothing but abuse and broken home to your children . you call that success? OH! and thank you for the camel toe everytime you lift your arms because yea sound minded child would really appreciate his mother doing that. I feel sorry for your kids you worthless POS.

  34. I love her intelligence. Specially her mentioning the importance of the emotional education of children.

  35. High intelligence is a dis-associative quality. Someone's life or mind can be mince-meat or one could be a nerd with no personality

  36. SHARIA FOR WOMEN: A FEMALE SHARIA SURVIVOR SHARES HER STORY. It's on ILFamilyInstitute. It's even more confronting. Absolutely brought me to tears. ALL politicians should be FORCED to watch and maybe they might stop the political correctness and call a spade a spade and do something before it's too late!

  37. You are a true inspiration to all women and men around the world. Maam thank you so much for sharing your story. I am truly touched by hearing it.

  38. How many is being abuse in your home by a dad or mother or family members and friends that gose to church come foreword let me help you because iv been there

  39. church people are abuser walk in a church you never been look at their eyes looking and judging you who is that even the spicker trying to save your soul because you are a new person that came ito the church

  40. Well it's an exaggeration my sis my sis in law n many others n family even studied medicine n phd along with having family life both r different I dnt know where she z brought up

  41. This was my childhood, constant insults that I believed and still hear in my head sometimes.

  42. the sad part is when the abuser doesnt know that what they do is abuse.

  43. Asking myself, “what if he’s wrong? “ Started me on my journey out of an abusive relationship. I’m 4 years out of it now.

  44. the same people who are sniveling about this , are the same people who want open borders and open jail cells

  45. Women get abused also in so called modern society! But these sisters of ours, dont deserve to be forced into childhood marriages or any other forceful marriages to control women! Its bad enough to be abused by their fathers and brothers and now getting stuck in an unloved abusive marriage…..every woman on earth must teach their sons to respect women!!!! As for bad mothers in laws….go and get ……!!!!🗣🤓😤🤤😝🇦🇺

  46. Any person that likes to spread control and fear….is just afraid to be controlled also!

  47. Thank you for even saying how male's have been abused both buy the partnership and the system there are no places for us to go

  48. The volume is super low on this, can't hear it…. Is this recorded anywhere else?? So bummed!

  49. Well done beautiful lady. She deserves every success. A true warrior. There are British Russian and eastern European girls subjected to similar . It's men it' the patriarchy unfortunately. Those abusers think they are innately superior. They are misogynists.

  50. Holy shit…I just realized my dad's abusive to me… not physical, but psychologically and emotional…

  51. Amazing woman.
    And there are so many MILLIONS in the position she was in.
    I hope at least some of them see this.
    Thank you for your story.

  52. Relationship health is so important and is often taught by example- even if your parents are divorced they can demonstrate the right way to treat people in your life.
    It's very difficult to learn relationship health when all the relationships around us growing up are unhealthy and abusive.

  53. You don't have to be from another country to be a victim of abuse. This happens all over the world. I am curious what is meant by "corrupt West".
    The corruption is the bought off government that steals away our freedoms and hand it over to those from other countries then they bring their abusive cultures to our country.
    Where are your statistics from? The education system here indoctrinates so I wonder what you mean by "educating" children. I see violent liberals at the university level and at the high school levels complete disrespect for parents. Seems socialism is a major goal through "education"

  54. If she was married off at 16, I just don’t know why she didn’t leave when she turned 20 or even 24? Why wait 12 yrs if it was that bad?

  55. Completely her parents fault, completely! Parents who gave her up too soon, who made her give up her dreams, parents who didnt see her value even tho she was a str8 A student? Did she even think of reporting them? Is it stil a taboo to go against ur parents if they r wrong?

  56. I was abused by my father and sometimes mother. I had to think all of the phrases that wont offend him, but it somehow did and he hits me. At some point i dont care anymore, i say what i wanted even though i know he'll hit me. He told me he loves me, it what he does to educate me. I believed him. At 13 year old, i wanted to die. I planned my death and so on, but i didnt. I realize i just had to bear with it until college and get away from them. I know its weird saying that i still love them but i do.. even though they used to hit me. Now im in college and i dont wanna go home

  57. I felt her 16-year-old girly self on the stage and saw her grow, and grow, and grow to this angel woman. You girl are just amazing! I mean Miss Zafar. It's an oner to hear you speak<3 I send you and everybody all my thoughts and love! I learn so much and grow to a flower of knowledge, power, love, and trust in my self, that the knowledge of "This can happen to me". Soo, it's just like every girl and boy should know and do! Grow to a flowerAngelplant get knowledge, because that is power and that power is trust and love to/in your self. That you are gonna make the right decision for you in the end of the day<3

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