Saliha Rashid: Disability and Honor Abuse Didn’t Stop Me

A survivor of honor based abuse, Saliha Rashid was once told that because she was blind and a woman, she could not have high aspirations.  Recently named Woman of the Year in the 2015 Yorkshire Women of Achievement Awards, she is currently pursuing a Law Degree. 

I was mostly raised by my grandparents. Despite the fact that I am blind, they ensured that I had a relatively normal childhood. I went to school and the mosque as any other child would.

However, during my adolescent years, things changed when I moved back in with my parents. My family began to operate an honor system, which meant that all aspects of my life were under constant monitoring and control. As a consequence, I was not allowed to do things deemed “dishonorable”  – including going out with friends, participating in school trips, or even owning a mobile phone.

To re-enforce this control, I was constantly told that due to my disability, I would never live an independent life and would thus be forced to rely on my family. This was something which I could not accept.

At the age of sixteen I tried to leave this system behind and sought refuge in a shelter. I was now in an unfamiliar city, and unlike my sighted counterparts I was not able to go out and explore the new surroundings. I was told by social services that it would take at least six weeks to organize a support package to meet my needs. I could see no way out of the loneliness and isolation. I wanted to take my own life, and I ended up in the hospital. At the same time, I was under a great deal of emotional pressure from my family to return home and I did so. By that point I knew realistically that it couldn’t make me feel any worse.

Upon returning home, I was told that I had made a mistake and had to change my behavior. Instead, the abuse from my family continued. In 2011 I again tried to leave, staying temporarily with a relative. Yet due to emotional blackmail and a lack of support, I once again returned to my family, feeling worthless and like a failure. At this point, I believed their claims about how my disability would leave me at a disadvantage and under their control for the rest of my life. I now realize that had statutory support been in place, I would never have returned.

A few months later, I started a Psychology degree program at a local university. The restrictions imposed upon me intensified, to the point where basic aspects of my everyday routine – such as the time I went to bed, the books I read, and the phone calls I made – were no longer in my control. I had to provide justification every time I left the house and was asked to share my university timetable. This left me unable to participate in extra-curricular activities, severely limiting the social and academic opportunities I could take advantage of.

The taunting comments about my disability continued and the feeling of worthlessness led me to consider withdrawing from my course. But thanks to the support and encouragement of friends I continued studying and decided to leave home for the third and final time in April of 2012. I moved into the student dormitory and in my tiny room I felt liberated. For the first time, my life was my own, but it was unfamiliar to me. It almost felt like a holiday. Having control over the basic aspects of my life is still something I find difficult to accept and believe.

Attempts at emotional blackmail by my family continued, but I gained inner strength and did not succumb to them. I received many unpleasant messages from a family member – someone whose role should be to show unconditional love and support. Instead, this relative sends me messages designed to deflate me: “Why are you blind? [God] has given me everything, and I don’t have to depend on others because that is the worst suffering.”

Still I graduated with a degree in Psychology last July, and I am currently studying law in graduate school, with the intentions to practice in the field of criminal and human rights law. I am particularly interested in raising awareness about disabled victims of honor-based abuse and forced marriage. I want to become successful in order to help other victims in the situation in which I once found myself.

My experiences enabled me to develop self-confidence and the belief that I can do anything. Three years ago, I considered withdrawing from university. I was told that because I am blind and an Asian woman, I cannot have big aspirations. But my experience at university has demonstrated otherwise. I now realize that the world is my oyster and I can follow my dreams.

This narrative is part of MALA’s #16Days of Activism and #OrangeTheWorld Campaign against gender-based violence. Use the hashtags and submit your story to join the movement.