The Dar-ul-Amaan in Rawalpindi, the main gate is locked and the girls are kept inside the house for their protection, but is looks like a jail for them. (Photo: Malik Ayub Sumbal)
In Pakistan, it’s not easy for women to choose who they want to marry. And if they do, they may be accused of bringing shame on their families, and become victims of “honour killings”.
“I didn’t plan it, but I fell in love with a cousin from Islamabad who was visiting our town. My parents would never let me marry him. So we planned to run away to Islamabad.”
But even after reaching Islamabad, the problems for 26-year-old Samina Bibi and her husband were far from over. Her family filed a case of kidnapping against her husband, and she became a target of “honour killing” by her own family.
The court then sent her to a Darul Aman or “House of Peace” – a government safe house for women in Rawalpindi.
Samina has been living here for a year now... and many women in the shelter share the same story.
Pakistan’s Human Rights Commission says nearly 1,000 women and girls were killed in so-called “honour killings” last year. Such killings are illegal, but are still carried out in remote tribal areas.
And these women are sent to Darul Aman shelters while their court cases are ongoing.
The shelter provides vocational training in sewing and other handicraft skills, but with very limited facilities, the women often feel helpless.
It’s very overcrowded. The house where Samina lives is designed for 30 people, but there are currently 80 people living there.
And Samina isn’t comfortable being here...
“Living here is an example of real misery. The aim of the house is to provide shelter for women in distress... but the staffs here treat us like prisoners. They promised vocational education but the technical facilities are limited. The food is not good either. Inside the house, we’re still at risk of sexual assault from the male staff. Some of my friends here told me that some of the staff here forced women into prostitution.”
International organisations have pushed for improvements to the 15 government shelters across the country. Some NGOs have even started private shelters to provide better treatment.
Lawyer 50-year-old Zamir Abbasi says, conditions need to be improved.
“Shelters are a good idea, but measures are needed to improve the conditions. Helpless women face many difficulties inside and this should have been highlighted and addressed by the government.”
Authorities say they’re aware of the situation.
But the head of the Rawalpindi shelter, Afzal Khan, says they have a very limited budget.
“We’re trying to improve the facilities for these women in Darul Amans with limited resources. But the government is not interested in modernizing shelters like this.”
Samina’s court case is still ongoing... cases like hers can drag on for more than two years.
The court will then decide her fate ....whether she can live with her husband or has to return to her parents.
“I have only one wish that I want to fulfil as soon as possible.. that is to reunite with my husband and start living with him... with a new life ahead.”