Ismail, Child Protection Committee member
Ismail, 28, lives in Village Pipli Wala in District Lodhran, Punjab province with his relatives, family and newlywed wife. His father is a farmer and his mother a housewife. Ismail has completed an Intermediate in Commerce (12th Grade) and is employed by an NGO which works for poor farmers in his community.
Growing up as the second eldest of nine siblings, Ismail became very close to his five sisters. “They always confided their problems in me because I would make an effort to understand and find solutions for them. It’s unlike men in our society to empathize with women”, he says. So, when staff from Oxfam’s partner Bedari came to Ismail’s village in 2017 to conduct a session on early marriage and the issues it poses for young women and girls, he went to attend it without a second thought.
“I’ve always detested the idea of child marriage, especially with such cases constantly being featured on the news; but for some reason, I felt reluctant to voice my concerns over it… I didn’t know who to talk to or what to expect”, Ismail says. But once he established contact with Bedari’s staff, Ismail says he finally had a platform to discuss and raise awareness about the issue. At first, he initiated conversations with his brothers. Next, Ismail visited neighboring villages with his friends, spreading the word about child marriage, health rights, and hygiene. “While all of my friends agreed with the cause, most of them didn’t want to get involved for fear of backlash from family and community members”, he says.
While Ismail’s own family was accepting of his ideas on the need for social change, when it came to his own sister’s marriage, they turned a blind eye to her rights. “Without informing me, my parents decided to marry off my sister. But she confided in me right away to tell me she wasn’t ready, and that she was too scared to tell our parents”, he says. That day, Ismail vowed to stand by his sister’s side, so she wouldn’t be forced to live a life she didn’t want. Ismail kept pushing his parents and relatives, using the information he learnt during Bedari’s session to warn them about the law and inform them about his sister’s basic rights which they were denying her. “My family got offended and stopped talking to me, but I didn’t care. I wanted to change their thinking; I wanted them to trust my sister”, he says. One major barrier to women’s independence is the lack of trust in their judgment and decision-making; families feel that women are emotional and unreliable, Ismail says, and should be controlled to protect the family’s honour.
From his experience with postponing his sister’s marriage, Ismail questions, “If I can’t bring change at home, how can I expect it out there in the world?” With a good reputation in his village, Ismail regularly arranges meetings for women, teaching them and their daughters about the issues linked to early marriage and how they can use the law to negotiate their way around such matters with families, especially men. He hopes that every girl in his village lives with the confidence he now sees in his sisters, boldly working towards their dreams as equals to men.