People often cross our paths who have achieved great things in life, but it is rare for someone to cross your path whose light shines more brightly than that of Saliha Rashid.
A couple of months ago I joined a support group for people who are estranged from their families. The reason for the estrangement varies from person to person and people in the group find acceptance, support and love from a community who knows the same pain.
It was within this group, within all the stories of hurt and suffering, that I met this incredible young woman. The reason she stood out for me was because she, like the other people in the group, had to overcome a lot in life. And she stood out as a beacon of hope.
Saliha is from Pakistani descent and was born in the United Kingdom. She was born blind, but despite that she had a normal childhood. As she grew older she was confronted with an Honour Based System in her family.
An Honour System is a set of rules and regulations set out by a community or family to ensure no person can break or abuse trust.
Every aspect of Saliha’s life was controlled and she wasn’t allowed to do anything that was deemed as dishonouring her family.
She wasn’t allowed to be friends with people from different religions or the opposite sex because it was viewed as being dishonourable.
Saliha was told because she was a woman and blind, she would never achieve any success. As a teenager she was never allowed to go on school trips nor have any friends.
When Saliha turned 16 she ran away from home because she couldn’t handle the restrictions placed on her and she wanted to break free. She found a place of safety in a woman's refuge. Although she was in a place of safety, feelings of isolation and loneliness made her suicidal and she was committed to hospital.
Her family reached out to her with promises of change but when she returned she found more restrictions being forced upon her.
Although she was allowed to have friends, they had to be approved by the family and her phone calls were regularly checked and monitored. She tried to run away again a few years later but due to emotional blackmail she was forced to return.
After finishing school she pursued a degree in psychology. She lived a double life between her studies and her home life.
The control enforced upon her got more and more intense. She had to share everything with her family. All aspects of her life were in the control of her family, even her sleeping habits.
Everything from her phone conversations to her course material had to be shared. She had no freedom. She lived in a prison and was regularly reminded that she was a blind woman and that she would forever be reliant on people.
In April 2012 she broke away from her family for the final time. She managed to find residence at the university.
In 2014 she completed her Psychology First Class Degree and she is currently studying law and hopes to use this knowledge to help other women like herself. She hopes to use her experiences and knowledge to become a human rights lawyer.
During her time studying psychology she was involved in a charity supporting victims and survivors of forced marriage and honour abuse and now she is part of their Survivor Ambassador Panel. She became a voice that spoke up against gender discrimination and she campaigned for the rights of Asian women.
She is currently volunteering with No Going Back, a charity providing free legal representation to asylum seekers seeking asylum on the grounds of sexual orientation in the UK.
Early in May 2015 she was honoured for all her work and achievements by winning the Young Achiever of the Year award as well as the Sue Ryder Yorkshire Woman of the year award.
When I recently had the privileged to speak to this remarkable woman, I asked her what message she wants to share with the young women of South Africa.
Saliha shared: "You don't have to suffer in silence. There is help out there. If I can achieve with my disability, so can you."
Saliha touched my life deeply, not only because of the honour abuse she overcame, but because of her achievements despite her disability. She has taught me what courage and determination can achieve.
Her story is a shining light of hope for women who face abuse, and she is an inspiration for every disabled person showing that ability can be much stronger than disability.
"You can recognize the survivors of abuse by their courage. When silence is so inviting, they step forward and share their truth so others know they are not alone" Jeanne Mcelvaney