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Slave in Copenhagen

 Hus Forbi (Denmark) 09 July 2019

A young, outgoing and modern Pakistani woman in Denmark, Nazema could never have imagined the torment that marriage would bring. After fleeing a violent and sexually aggressive husband and his domineering mother she built her life again, before divorce proceedings threatened all she had worked for. (2589 Words) - By Jens Høvsgaard

Hus Forbi

Stock image. Photo: REUTERS/Morteza Nikoubazl

The Icelandic ash cloud gave Nazema a few days of extra peace, but when the particles from the volcano had left the Danish airspace, it was time for her to leave too. As a passenger in Flight PK 752 to Islamabad, Pakistan she could see Denmark become smaller and smaller and finally vanish, but the memories about the stay in the North European country will never leave her. The enormities exposed to her by her Pakistani in-laws and the way the Danish immigration authority treated her when she asked them for help, will never be forgotten.

For a year her mother in law held her as a house slave. She was humiliated, kept locked up, was supervised when on the phone, had her emails controlled and was beaten and raped by the husband she had married because of love.

Today she is wondering how she could be so stupid and naive. She does not understand why she did not realise sooner that something was not right.

"But I believed in him. I had fallen in love with him, and even though he did not turn out to be the one I had imagined, I was not ready to give up. I always thought that when one day I marry, it is a marriage for life - something you fight for," she says squeezing a paper tissue.

An almost empty box of Kleenex is sitting on the table in front of her; it was full when the interview started two hours earlier.  She does not understand that the only help she has received from Denmark is a single ticket to Pakistan. When she finally gathered enough courage to leave the matrimonial prison after two long years, she succeeded in becoming a Danish taxpayer with a job and her own flat - without help from social services. Her independence and determination makes her a real gain for society, a real prize-immigrant of the kind that is not a burden for our social system, but is proud to cope without support.

"I do not understand. I have not taken anything from anyone. I have created my own position in the company I was employed by, and they needed me and my knowledge" she says in her flawless and perfect English. She understands and speaks Danish to some degree, even though her husband would not let her attend language school.

But the 'mistake' she made was to divorce her violent husband after two and a half years marriage, a mistake that would lead to expulsion. Had she managed another four and a half years of violence the situation would have been different. Then she would reach the magical limit of seven years and then her connection to Denmark would be stable enough to let her stay.

Sadly, this story about an ordinary 34-year-old Pakistani woman and her life in a parallel society is not unique. An unknown but - according to experts in the field - large number of foreign women are living under similar conditions in this country, but they are rarely heard from. Therefore the story about Nezema is not only a story about a marriage that went completely wrong, a rigid Danish immigration system and a hurt and unhappy woman, it is also an account of and a unique peak into a Danish-Pakistani environment where rules, hierarchy and ethics are founded in a reality that has not followed the development in neither Denmark nor Pakistan.

Nazema first met her husband to be in the beginning of May 2006. They were introduced through members of his family, when he was visiting Pakistan. Even though the husband's family thought the two were a good match, the marriage was not a forced one. Nazema simply fell for him and even though her family advised her not to rush into anything, she was convinced that the man from Denmark was the man for her. She was so convinced that the two of them got married two and a half month after their first meeting.

"We communicated really well and shared the same ideas of how a marriage should be. He told me that he is not the type of man who thinks that a wife should be at home and nowhere else. He wanted to support me, so that I could get a career in Denmark."

Servant and the husband's toy

Nazema studied business administration at the university in the city Lahore and is also educated as a teacher. When she met her husband, she worked in the administration at the university, which collaborates with Copenhagen Business School (CBS). She had a great social life with both male and female friends, played tennis, went to cafes and the cinema when it suited her. She did not wear traditional clothes and a scarf, but had her hair loose and wore Western fashion clothes. In other words she lived her life like any other single woman in our part of the world - with one exemption.

"Sex before marriage is not something we practise in our religion, but that was not a problem. At least it was nothing I thought about. I wanted to wait for the right person."

She thought the right one was the man from Denmark, but as soon as the rings were on their fingers he changed personality and turned into a Danish/Pakistani version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. As soon as she was installed in the in-laws' house in Valby in Copenhagen he changed from being the understanding and modern man into a middle age-like tyrant - assisted by his aggressive mother.

"He gave me a timetable. From 8 am to 5 pm I was to be available to his mother and do as she demanded and from 5 pm to 8 am he was the one in charge of me."

In the time before their wedding, Nazema and her husband spoke about their forthcoming life together in Denmark. He promised her that they would live in their own house, but nothing became of it. Instead they moved into the first floor of the in laws' house where Nazema was seen as a servant. Far from being an equal member of the family, Nazema had to wear traditional Pakistani clothes and was not allowed to leave the house without supervision, an arrangement that was contrary to the husband's siblings who were younger than Nezema and dressed like other young Danes and had an active life outside the house.

When guests were visiting, she had to pour them tea in an adjoining room and neither look at them or serve them. "They were supposed to see me on a distance; that I was looking neat, but I was not allowed to talk to them. My mother in law explained to me that I should consider myself the son's toy - a doll he did not want to share with anybody else. It was my duty. And then I was to become pregnant as soon as possible. For that reason I was not allowed to drink coffee or tea because it could diminish the chances of a pregnancy, according to my in laws."

Exposed to humiliating and hard sex

But Nazema did not become pregnant in spite of the husband constantly demanding sex. When she had finished her daily chores in the house - always ending up giving her mother in law a foot massage, he was waiting upstairs. Not with hugs and kisses, but with a fist and demands of sadistic sex.

"It was as if he was encouraged when he saw that he was hurting me. If I resisted and said no, he just got more excited and aggressive. He grabbed me hard, held me down and bit my neck. He behaved like an animal and also treated me like one."

She only remembers one single time that he touched her without hurting her. When she broke down crying after he had forced her to what she thought was some humiliating and painful positions, her put an arm around her shoulder.

"He spoke to me nicely and wanted to hug me, but he did not know how, so it was very short-lived."

Not only in the bedroom, did Nazema have to put up with his violent sexual behaviour. He demanded sex from her when and where it suited him - often in cars or in public places; something she found extremely humiliating and would not agree to. The end of the story was always the same - rape.

A year of being held captive passed by, without being allowed to use the internet or being able to read anything since all the books and papers in the house were in Danish or without being able to talk about her life with her family in Pakistan. The situation then seemed to brighten when her husband announced that he had found them a house. He told her that unfortunately he could not afford a house in Copenhagen, but instead had found a house in Malmö, Sweden.

"I tried, as so often before, to explain to him that I had no wish of a house. All I wanted was a place of our own. A small apartment would be fine. He would not hear of that. We had to have a house and if we moved to Sweden that would be possible."

Desperate to get away from the dominating mother in law, Nazema accepted. During the move to Sweden the husband wanted sex again, immediately and in the car, but Nazema refused and this time avoided getting raped even though he became aggressive.

"Either you subdue to my feelings or otherwise we will go back to my parents and you will have to beg for permission to stay with them", he threatened, but Nazema did not give in and convinced him that he instead should drive her back to Copenhagen, where her sister lives. "Then we can both reconsider Sweden", she said.

Surprisingly the husband accepted, dropped her off at her sister's and let her understand that if he were to take her back, it would be on his conditions.

During the next twenty days she did not see him. While she stayed with her sister, she discovered that she was pregnant. She went to see a GP, who examined her and found that her condition was not stabile. He told her to relax and not lift heavy things. She was to take it easy. When she returned from the GP, she called her husband to tell him the news. But he did not believe her and accused her of lying. He maintained that the pregnancy was too early and really bad because his father had not been informed.

Nazema was seriously confused. Since she for the first time set foot in her in laws' house, they had wanted her to get pregnant. Now it had finally happened and then that was also wrong.

Three days later she started feeling strong pain and called her husband to get him to take her to the GP. During the visit at the doctor the husband was translating, but he did not tell the doctor that she was in pain. Instead he asked for a pregnancy test to make sure that she actually was pregnant.

"We move to Malmö two days later. My husband does not care that I am expecting and makes me move around furniture. He does not help at all. I have to take care of shopping and house keeping. He also demands sex even though the doctor has advised against it."

Nazema takes one of many breaks in her story and after a deep breath she is back in charge of her feelings and tells that she tried to explain to him that it hurt a lot, that she was in pain and therefore could not have sex.

"Then he said that I have to satisfy him and if I do not, I am of no use and he has to go to see another woman."

High education and too low an income

On their one-year wedding anniversary the 14th of July 2007 her husband insisted on having sex, forcing her into some humiliating positions and violating her sadistically. Afterwards Nazema felt a very strong pain in her abdomen, but her husband refuses to believe her and instructed her to get up. As she stand she discovers that she is heavily bleeding from the abdomen, but it takes her husband five days to call a doctor. Nazema is admitted to the emergency unit and doctors act quickly to remove a pregnancy outside the womb.

After another year with the husband, who not only treats her as a slave but also threatens her saying that her life is in danger both in Denmark and in Pakistan if she puts him or his family to shame, she chooses to escape. She seeks help at the Danner Foundation (Dannerstiftelsen), where she receives help to get back on her feet again.

She finds a small flat, gets a job in a cleaning company and starts filing for divorce. Her fortunes soon change dramatically as the owner of the company discovers her educational background and believes Nazema would be a welcome addition to his new trading business. During the following half year she helps to build up the company from scratch and is earning 20.000 Danish crowns a month while she studies part-time at Roskilde University.

Having escaped from an abusive relationship and became an asset to Danish society, Nazema soon discovered the inadequacies of the Danish immigration system. But as her divorce papers arrive, the papers which were supposed to signify freedom and a new life, it is a catalyst for a new period of disruption in her life.

As a foreign divorcee who has not been in the country for at least seven years, she is not wanted. The law says that she is not connected enough to Denmark, a decision that leaves only one viable option. So she has to go back to Pakistan. Back to a country where a divorced woman is not only bringing shame to the family, but is worth less than the dirt on the ground.

"My situation is very uncertain. If my background is known, men in Pakistan will take advantage of it. They will see me as willing."

Nazema grabs the last paper tissue from the box and wipes away the tear that is rolling down her cheek. She points out a part of the text from the decision of The Danish Immigration Service: 'according to the immigration law's § 9 a, part. 2, nr. 2, a foreign citizen can be granted residence permit if the foreign citizen has been offered employment in an area with a lack of qualified work force. /…/ According to the immigration law's § 9 a, part. 2, nr. 2 it is furthermore a requirement, for obtaining residence permit, that salary and employment conditions are according to Danish norms.'

"I can easily get by on 20.000 a month, but The Danish Immigration Service demands a salary of 32.000. I have a MBA from Pakistan and am doing a master in Finance, which I will finish in January 2011. When I have that exam, I can get a job in for example Canada. I do not want any financial support from Denmark; I can take care of myself. The only thing I ask is permission to stay until I have finished studying. That is what it takes for me to get on with my life. In Pakistan I no longer have a future."


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Originally published by Hus Forbi. ©

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