My name is Anam* and I am 25 years old. I hope to make a difference for other women by sharing my story.
I was born in Pakistan to a wealthy family. I was loved, supported and given everything I needed. Education was highly valued by my parents and it was my dream to work in medicine.
When my parents told me I was to be married to a man I barely knew, I was okay with it. Arranged marriages are part of my culture. I believed our love would grow over time. I had no idea that one day I would have nothing more than the clothes on my back.
When we met, we couldn’t seem to “click”. Our first year of marriage was difficult. For practical reasons, we did not live together. I was worried as we had plans to move to Australia by ourselves. My parents assured me that things would get better when we were in the same house.
This turned out to be untrue. My husband didn’t want me to work. He told me I should “focus on being a wife”. I was shocked at his attitude but wasn’t prepared for what happened after we emigrated.
After less than a month in Australia, my husband started hitting me. I do not know what made my husband strike me that first time. Or the times that followed. I turned to my family for help. Their response shocked me.
Over the phone, my mother told me I was expected to “make sacrifices” to make my relationship work. She warned me about the shame I would bring to my family if I left him. She said that having a child would improve things. I believed her but found myself being abused in many different ways in the name of saving my marriage. And my parents’ “honour”.
I had gone from being excited about my future to being isolated in a country I didn’t yet understand. It was a blessing that I spoke the language. But my husband made sure I made no friends and had no support network. I couldn’t come to terms with how someone like me could become so isolated, vulnerable and trapped.
An escape route eventually found me. But it nearly cost me my life. The last time my husband hit me, I was beaten unconscious and rushed to hospital. Lying in bed recovering from my injuries, I knew he would eventually kill me. My fear was greater than the shame I felt, so I confided in a hospital social worker. She found a place for me in a women’s refuge. I had no money, no belongings, just the clothes I was wearing.
Finally, I was away from the man who nearly destroyed me, but I was not free. My parents would not help me and I was not welcome to return to Pakistan. They wanted me to go back to him. I refused. I felt desperate and so alone.
I knew I had to get work. Someone told me Fitted for Work might be able to help me with clothes for job interviews. I found out they could help me with a lot more. I signed up to their Transition to Work program and learnt how to go about getting a job in Australia.
Through the program, I started to find my confidence again. I realised that I wasn’t alone anymore. Fitted for Work matched me with a wonderful mentor. I bonded with the other women on the course and started to build a network that gave me, and continues to give me, great strength. They helped me find the job I have had for over a year. So now I have money of my own and can make decisions about my future.
Life is looking up. Today, I still have physical and emotional scars but I love my work and am saving up to one day buy a place of my own. I recently received permission from my parents to visit Pakistan. This approval feels bitter-sweet.
When I was asked to share my story, it was difficult for me to put pen to paper. But if I can help even just one woman get work and find a way out, then it will be worth it. I always tell people to support Fitted for Work. They literally helped save my life.
Thank you for reading my story.
*Model used and name changed for privacy and safety reasons.