"Many Pakistani women are afraid to break away from their family"
Charity exposes difficulties they face in avoiding marriage or getting divorced
Barcelona"I have received many threats, but I am not afraid of anything." Says Huma Jamshed Bashir, founder and president of the Pakistani Women's Cultural, Educational and Social Association (Acesop), shortly after organising a rally in Barcelona against the murder of two Pakistani sisters who wanted to leave their forced marriages. The protest brought together a dozen Pakistani women and this small turnout, for Jamshed, is a revelation in itself: "There are few because they are banned".
Jamshed criticises the difficulties posed by the Pakistani community living in Catalonia, because she assures that "it bans women from speaking and integrating". She explains that every day one or two women arrive at Acesop headquarters in the Raval, next to Paral·lel, because they want to avoid a forced marriage or divorce, which is "frowned upon". But 80% of them, once out the door, disappear and are never heard from again. "They are afraid. We always say that when they feel safe they will come back," says Jamshed, who regrets that they are also visited by brothers and uncles who are looking for women who want to break with the family and who put "pressure" on Acesop in order to find their relatives.
According to Jamshed, of the 20% of the women that the organisation receives who file a complaint, only 10% go through with it. The rest, after a few hours, withdraw the complaint because the family threatens to leave them without any support. They even take their passports so they can't leave. "They are scared. You can't even get their phone number because they keep their distance," she says. Jamshed is blunt: "We don't want to marry our cousins. We have no duty to our family – who is my uncle to decide who I have to sleep with?" She asks to "disobey" traditions without "killing anyone": "We denounce patriarchal culture. We want to decide our future. We do not accept any obligations."
Perceived as too "westernised"
The president of Acesop describes two profiles of Pakistani women in Catalonia. One are those who have lived here since they were children and are perceived as too "westernised" when they reach adolescence. Then, according to Jamshed, "they try to negotiate their future; not only for the girls, but also for the boys, but they have more freedom". Still, they are often in love with other people. The second kind are are older and already married: "They are not allowed to leave the house because their role is to clean and always be there; they are not allowed to learn languages either; they are only allowed to help their children". "It is common for them to be beaten at home," says Jamshed.