Photo credit: Flickr / United Nations Photo

Swara sacrifice

Swara is the practice of giving your daughter or other female relative in marriage to an enemy in order to make peace and end feuds within and between families. It’s a historic part of Pashtun culture.

Parveen‘s marriage took place when she was ten years old. Her grandfather’s father had been accused of his uncle’s murder. He had fled to another village to seek protection and planned to live there. After the great grandfathers death, the sons of the uncle kept this grudge alive and day-by-day this grew harder. When the grandsons matured, they decided to end the feud. They consulted with the village elders. All the elders of the village gathered together and reached a customary decision that they should give a girl in marriage and thirty thousand rupees. The amount was large.

Parveen was very young – just ten years old at the time – so she didn’t know what was happening to her. She had been married and her life was now full of complications. From that point on, she has endured their grievances over her great-grandfather’s crimes. She cannot meet her parents without the permission of her in-laws. I am not broaching this topic simply to tell a story.  My goal is to end these harmful customs and to change this culture.

Swara is a form of domestic violence against women that has been going on for years. Everyone deserves the chance to live a prosperous life, and to have opportunities to do something for themselves and others. The decision to get married should be a person’s own choice and sometimes, younger people’s decisions are better than those made by their elders. Parveen’s family may have rid themselves of the problem of the feud, but they did so by putting their daughter in hell.

Now she is 35 years old and has eight daughters and two sons. She isn’t permitted to use family planning methods. Apart from her parents, nobody visits her, even though her sacrifice secured her whole family’s future. Her family are aware of her miserable life, filled with problems and anxieties, and this has become a cautionary tale. There seems no way out for her. She hasn’t got a college degree or a school certificate to get a job. She can’t live without depending on other people.

An independent woman can benefit her family and become a wall protecting her family. Education is a fundamental human right and the most powerful tool to transform lives and build the world of tomorrow. There is a famous saying: ‘There are two powers in the world; one is the sword and the other is the pen. There is a great competition and rivalry between the two. There is a third power which is stronger than both: and that is the power of women.’ To access this power, we need to work together to end domestic violence and to educate women.