Seven insights from Soul Sisters Pakistan

The group Soul Sisters Pakistan was the first of its kind – a women-only group created four years ago to discuss issues pertaining to Pakistani women. A conversation starter. These were issues not being discussed anywhere else. Not on morning shows, not at the dinner table. Women of Pakistan were completely disenfranchised of a space where their needs were of the utmost importance.

Over time some topics have been discussed to the point where we see a pattern. These include red flags in relationships, how to recover from heartbreak, how to smell out a bad rishta. Things girls all over Pakistan are worried about.

Here are some of the insights we’ve gathered together from these discussions. We’re posting them in the hope it benefits some of you out there.

  1. Future in-laws demanding a Jahez? Warning: Shitty Lifestyle Ahead.

Whether it’s a “love marriage” or “arranged,” when the guy’s parents start asking for material things as if it’s their right, it’s usually a really big red flag.

Girls have testified to it in the group. Some eventually faced so much ill-treatment as the demands kept escalating after marriage that they were forced to flee their marriages. Basically, demanding that the bride-to-be’s parents should give her a large amount of goods is a warning sign of the mentality and priorities that the family being married into has.

  1. Boy lives abroad. Is fuzzy on visa details

Sometimes, shady boy living in the west wants bholi-bhali girl imported from the east. The idea is that the wife should be somebody easily suppressed. To achieve this they never really give her a proper legal visa status once she lands on their soil. This keeps her a prisoner who can never complain to authorities about abuse she faces. This especially seems to be the case for prospective grooms from the US.

Of course, not every family who brings a rishta from abroad is like this, so what are the signs?

Not having the confidence to talk one-on-one. Not giving details about the visa process. Being in a rush. Not being happy to include the bride’s family in the information loop.

There has been a good amount of advice regarding the legal aspects of what to do once such a thing happens, but there are some preventive measures that can be taken. Most important is to educate yourself regarding visas and immigrations laws of the country you’re moving to.

  1. Spineless boy letting fiance get bashed by his parents = Spineless husband letting wife get bashed by his parents

This is one of the nuggets of conventional wisdom that has unfortunately proven true for a lot of women. If there’s a major issue before marriage, and the groom-to-be isn’t taking a stand for his fiance’s rights, don’t expect him to magically grow a spine after the rukhsati music dies down. It’s to be expected that before spending time together everyone needs time for trust to grow. But if there’s a real issue at stake and the girl or her family are facing difficulties, there is no room for passivity from the guy’s side.

  1. All that investment in portraying oneself as the subservient bahu before marriage is going to backfire.

Expectations must be set early. Being well-mannered is one thing, but being pushed into being a doormat is another.

Some girls going through the rishta process complain that their families are patient to a fault – trying to overly please potential rishtas and policing their daughters’ lives so they don’t fall foul of their future susraal.

But some women who have emerged on the other side of the rishta scene and who are now married say this is the wrong move. Being yourself attracts the kind of husband and family you’re meant to be with. While being too willing to please shows weakness and attracts greedy people eager to take advantage.

  1. Some women will stay in abusive marriages, and while we may not understand that, bashing them is never okay

Some of the stories of domestic violence are truly upsetting. Women who have never been in such a situation read these stories and are full of pity and solutions for the woman at the receiving end. Yet often the woman being abused will claim her abuser loves her, and won’t hear a word against him.

Stories on the group by women who have escaped and are now recovering from domestic abuse have a clue in why this happens. At the time of the abuse they were disoriented, unsure, full of insecurities regarding life after leaving their identity as a “wife” behind. If we have been privileged enough to not be in their shoes, it means we should behave with compassion. Even if it seems as though they are “choosing” to be in a situation we don’t understand. Patience and constant support is best.

  1. Divorce may seem like an extreme solution. But in extreme situations, women have no other choice.

Many women who have gone through divorce are at peace. Some had to struggle a lot. Some had the support of their family. Rather than stigmatising them, it’s better to make society a place where marriage counselling and support systems exist to make marriages stronger, rather than creating a nation-wide incubator for toxic marriages and then reacting with judgement when the marriage dissolves.

Of course, there will be people who say it’s a woman’s responsibility to undergo all manner of physical and emotional abuse, and they often quote children as a reason to stay in an abusive marriage. But there hasn’t been a single case (at least that we’ve seen) where the child of abusive parents is grateful for them staying together. 

In fact, children of marriages that were toxic have said on the group that they wish their parents had separated rather than living together for the “good” of the children.When marriage counselling was either never an option, or it was tried and failed, children of such marriages have to see either one or both of their parents utterly miserable. It has really taken a negative toll on them.

  1. Mental health problems are still thought of as unreal and made up. Even by educated people.

Mental health problems are so prevalent in our society. We receive so many posts about depression or anxiety or OCD. There’s usually a plethora of really good advice and warm hearted support. Sadly some advice seems to revolve around discarding medicine and focussing solely on prayer or family to heal the mind.

Other women have pointed out that just as one doesn’t exclusively pray to recover from heart attacks or other physical ailments, mental health problems require just as much medical attention. Doctors have agreed with this point of view. This is the perspective that needs encouraging – that along with whatever brings you spiritual comfort, medical help is absolutely crucial.


Ultimately, the main problem we all face, men and women alike, is lack of empathy. The “might is right” and “law of the jungle” mentalities dominate the discourse. “Soul Sisters Pakistan” seeks to bring a different balance to the conversation. To highlight how women can be complete, fulfilled members of society, and how that not only benefits them, but society as a whole. So many of the social problems we see everyday would disappear if we eradicate the pain and bitterness that we have somehow accepted to be the destiny of those considered “weak” by society.

Identifying the toxic patterns that pop up time and again will make us all the more capable of shooting down bad behaviour from losers and users. But first of all, we need to be informed enough to identify them.

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