Mehwish*, 18, belongs to the village of Khairpur Sadat, a socially and culturally conservative area of southern Punjab, in Pakistan. “After my parents rejected Ali’s proposal and decided to marry me against my will in three days time, I had no choice but to leave home to marry Ali, a boy of my choice.”
Being an adult, the law permitted her to decide on her marriage. However, conservative social settings discourage both girls and boys to decide their fate. Any revolt to conservative settings is considered disobedience and rebellion and brings shame to the family’s honour. Such actions are usually punished by death, either at the hands of family members or via an informal justice system. Mehwish was to be killed “in honour”.
After getting married, Mehwish and Ali took refuge in the city to save their lives. Her family filed a police case against them. The two families were at the verge of violent dispute and many lives were in danger.
“I was unsure what to do. I badly needed help but didn’t know anyone I could ask for support. That’s when women amidst my neighbours told me about Oxfam’s women resource centre, Tremit, which the union council’s Effective Citizen Group (ECG) had established. They told me that free counselling and advisory services are provided at the centre. It gave me some hope and I went to the centre where I met Raheela, a woman who is in charge of the centre and asked her for help. She comforted me and assured me of complete support of the ECG members.’” Under Oxfam’s Governance and Conflict Transformation programme, ECG members are actively involved in identifying and resolving the local disputes which could turn violent.
The group immediately responded to Mehwish’s request to help avoid the conflict between the families. The ECG members engaged community influentials, elders and police to mediate and amicably resolve the issue. Mehwish’s family was not ready to resolve but after collective mediation efforts finally agreed to sit and discuss the issue. ECG members mediated and convinced them to refrain from bloodshed. Both parties accepted the marriage and the police case was taken back.
Mehwish is now happily living with her in-laws in Muzaffargarh and feels indebted to Oxfam. “I feared for my life. I am so grateful to the ECG members for their all-out support and guidance.”
Oxfam’s Women Effective Citizen Groups provide a platform to identify, whistle blow and transform local disputes for positive solutions through engagement of local organizations, government institutions and local communities to promote peace and social cohesion.
*For Mehwish’s safety, we cannot show her face.