When Pakistani activist and author Khalida Brohi was just 16 years old, her cousin Khadija was murdered by her uncle for dishonoring the family by refusing an arranged marriage. Khadija was just 14 at the time. Even before Brohi was born, she noted in an interview with NPR about her new memoir, I Should Have Honor, she herself was almost engaged to be married after that same uncle demanded that her father promise his first-born daughter to another family so that the uncle could obtain a wife from the family in exchange. Her father’s refusal disgraced him in the eyes of his family, but allowed Brohi the opportunity to become the first girl in her village to attend school — and helped set her on a path to becoming one of the more prominent activists in the world working to end the practice of so-called “honor killings” in Pakistan.
Speaking to NPR, Brohi said that “exchange marriages” of the type that nearly led to her own betrothal are common between different tribes “who don’t know each and other cannot trust each other.”
“One tribe gives a daughter to the other tribe and demands a daughter in return. This is usually so that the daughter they’ve given is kept happy, and in any given good facilities of life, and if she’s ever beaten in the other tribe, they would beat this daughter,” she explained. “Before I was born, my uncle … who at this time had murdered his own wife, decided that he’s going to marry again and he needed another wife, but the family he was asking that woman from demanded an exchange, and there was no one else to be given, so he asked my father, who was his youngest brother … to give his first daughter as an exchange … This was the first time when [my father] said no.”
Her father, she said, went on to leave the family and to attend university, where he almost decided to leave her mother — with whom he had his own exchange marriage when he was 13 and she was just 9 years old — for a woman who was attending the college.
“[But] he remembered the time when my mother came to him as a bride, that night when he walked into that room, it was a dark room the first night of their marriage, my mother was sitting on a cot decorated like a doll with clothes from someone else, jewelry hanging off of her, her makeup all smeared because she’d been crying, and he remembered how much she was shaking,” said Brohi. “She was so scared, that 9-year-old girl who only wanted to go back to her mother, and he was like, ‘That was not her fault. If education is what I love about a woman, I’m going to go and educate her, and I’m sure I would love her.’ And so he did. And they fall in love and they were the biggest love story of the village.”
Now, Brohi is leading the fight to improve women’s access to work and education, as well as to create a world where “women are not killed for honor, but are honored and given equal status” through her non-profit organizations the Sughar Foundation and The Chai Spot. In the interview with NPR, Brohi also candidly discussed the tragedy of her cousin’s death, and how the family of her cousin took money in exchange for not killing her cousin’s lover. The family, she said, bought food with that money, but her aunt initially refused to eat it. When she finally relented, Brohi recalled, her aunt told the family: “I feel a cancer growing in me, because I ate my daughter.”
Listen to the interview with Brohi below.
Read the full story at NPR.