Grateful to 'amazing people' at Genevra House
In Samreen's opinion, if domestic abuse happened to her, it can happen to anyone.
The 35-year-old woman, who did not want to provide her last name, worked for four years as a doctor in Pakistan.
She married a Pakistani-Canadian in her home country in 2006, and moved to Sudbury to live with him and his parents in 2009. That's when the abuse started.
“I realize now that being a doctor and being an educated person does not (necessarily) make you very strong,” said Samreen, the guest speaker at YWCA Sudbury's National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women event Dec. 6.
“You cannot resist abuse.”
While she was never subjected to physical abuse, her husband and her in-laws, with whom the couple lived, abused her emotionally.
Samreen said she was intent on studying to pass her Canadian medical licence exams, but her husband and in-laws didn't want her to work.
They were more interested in throwing parties they couldn't afford, which didn't match with her more serious mindset, she said.
At the same time, Samreen was pregnant and then gave birth to her daughter, Maliha, now 3.
“Everybody was telling me that it was my duty, and I was wrong and he was right,” she said.
“What he was asking me to do, even when I was trying, it was not making him happy or his family happy.
“And that was not even making me happy, because I wanted to study or I wanted to work. I wanted to be a doctor again. My goals were not meeting with his way of life.”
One day, when her daughter was six months old, she met with a nurse who had helped to care for Maliha.
“She was a very nice person,” Samreen said. “That's why I approached her, because I thought she would listen to me.”
The nurse had brought along a pamphlet about YWCA Genevra House, a local shelter for women escaping abuse. Samreen phoned the shelter, and learned it was also open to those experiencing emotional abuse.
She said she entered the shelter, but due to family pressure, eventually ended up back with her husband.
“My husband was again being very nice, and he was promising things,” Samreen said. “It's not easy to completely not listen to your family. So I went back once. When he started becoming abusive again, I decided to leave him. If he cannot keep his promises, why should I stick to my promises of being with him?”
In 2011, Genevra House took her in once again.
“They are amazing people,” she said. “It's not a job for them. They are doing it from their heart.”
Staff told Samreen to write down her goals, which included passing her Canadian medical licence exams, something she achieved earlier this fall.
She's now applied for residency positions across the country, and hopes to one day become a pediatrician. Among her more long-term goals are potentially setting up her own women's shelter.
“Now that I have had this life experience, I cannot forget this,” Samreen said. “I want to start doing something for women.”
Most important in her life, however, is her daughter.
“If Maliha ... achieves something in her life, let's say she starts eating well, that is very, very important for me,” Samreen said. “This makes me happy, and it keeps me going.”
Established in 1991 by the Parliament of Canada, the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women day marks the anniversary of the murders in 1989 of 14 young women at l'École Polytechnique de Montréal.
As well as commemorating these women's lives, Dec. 6 represents an opportunity for Canadians to reflect on the phenomenon of violence against women in our society.
YWCA Sudbury's event to mark the day included a candlelight vigil, Aboriginal drumming and a speech by Samreen.
Marlene Gorman, the organization's executive director, said it's important to have abuse survivors share their story to encourage others to leave their abusers.
“Samreen, like so many women who come through our shelter, shows such resilience,” she said. “Their strength and their stories are often similar.”
Because she's a doctor, though, Samreen has a chance to make a real difference, Gorman said.
“This is somebody who will be working in the profession who knows the signs of abuse, who will be able to talk to people about abuse, and to let them know there are supports out there.”