ABUSE: Calgary shelter empowers women from all backgrounds to stay in the community

A client of the Calgary Emergency Women’s Shelter in Calgary, Alta. Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2012. Her identity is concealed. Stuart Gradon/Postmedia News


She came to Canada from Pakistan with the promise of a better life, but her first five years in Calgary were filled with isolation and abuse.

Newly wedded through an arranged marriage, the trained medical doctor arrived in 2007.

“When I came here, everything was totally different,” says Tahira, now in her mid-30s. “It was like a shock to me.

“He totally isolated me. No social life. Financially abusing me, physically abusing me, sexually abusing me.”

For years, Tahira (whose name has been changed to protect her) stayed because she genuinely believed there was no way out.

But her escape came this summer.

One day, soon after a visit home to Pakistan where family members encouraged Tahira to gain control of her life, her husband slapped her in front of their children.

“The very next day, my son said to me, ‘Mama, I will slap you like that,’” she recalls. “He was only four years old.

“I was just shocked.” Not long afterward, her three-year-old daughter asked her about the bite marks on her face.

So, the next time her husband picked a fight, she stood up for herself.

Tahira picked up the phone to call the police and he knocked it away. She grabbed her secret cell-phone and made the call.

Her husband was charged with assault.

“That was it,” she says. “Finally, it was over.”

She received an emergency protection order and was connected to the Calgary Women’s Emergency Shelter, which has been offering a range of programs for women, children, youth and men for 35 years.

It serves more than 12,000 Calgarians annually.

The programs include a 24hour family violence help line, an emergency shelter and community outreach services.

Robbin, an outreach counsellor at the shelter whose last name is being withheld for security reasons, helps women like Tahira who stay in the community rather than using the shelter.

“(Tahira) is such an ambitious person,” she says. “(Tahira) is an individual that, when provided with information, she just soars.

“Due to her hard work and dedication to her own change, leaving her partner, there has been amazing change in only six weeks.”

It wasn’t easy for Tahira. She was a strong believer in the vow of marriage.

“I loved a married life, I wanted a married life, I really loved it,” she says. “For me, the most important relationship in the world is a husband.”

But the five-year marriage almost broke her.

Within months of arriving in Canada, she became pregnant and miscarried. Another pregnancy soon followed, leading to the birth of a son. He was only a few months old when Tahira made the first call to police, but she was reluctant to lay charges.

“Why? Because I was pregnant,” she says. “I again became insecure.

“Who would take care of me? How would I survive? I didn’t know.”

There were other opportunities to leave, but the insecurities kept coming back whenever her husband would make threats and the cycle of abuse would continue.

She even tried returning to Pakistan a couple of times.

Instead of staying, Tahira decided she would get a job and start upgrading her medical training so she could practice in Canada.

But the control continued until the day she called police and followed through with the charges.

Since she sought help, Tahira has come to realize the level of support in the community.

“Everything I needed was provided to me,” she says, noting she is receiving legal guidance, daycare, income support and even housing.

“Sometimes I say to my friends, ‘It feels like the whole universe is helping me.’

“They say, ‘You deserve it because you faced it for five years.’”

Calgarians who want to help women like Tahira and her children can donate to the Calgary Herald Christmas Fund.

The agency’s portion of the money raised will go toward its child care program, which provides support for children up to age 14 who are in shelter programs or staying at the shelter.

It helps their mothers feel safe to leave their children in the care of others while they go to work or deal with other issues.


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