Actor and writer Yasra Rizvi's recent social media campaign is meant to make viewers uncomfortable for a reason. It speaks out against forced marriages and divorce shaming — two social evils that can cause undue suffering.
Rizvi — who starred in the hit ZEE5 drama Churails alongside Sarwat Gilani, Mehar Bano and Nimra Bucha — posted a series of pictures on social media meant as a visual commentary against forced marriages and divorce shaming. The pictures show Rizvi in a festive red outfit with gold jewellery. She is bound in chains, her make-up badly smudged and hair dishevelled.
"Whether one wants to marry is an important and a very personal decision to make," she wrote in the caption. "Who to marry, how and where, getting to decide all this by yourself is a person's fundamental right. If the decision to marry turns out to be a mistake or if the marriage you willingly chose to undertake becomes a bitter experience, to end such a marriage is also a person's fundamental right.
"This is not some Western propaganda, it is a personal freedom given to us by our religion and law. The ones who are most affected by a marriage are the husband and wife, they are the ones who are most impacted the marriages good or bad consequences. They are the one who either live a peaceful life together or a life fraught with fights," Rizvi said.
"A marriage that decides what kind of lives two people will live together, how can that marriage come as a decision made by someone else other than the two people?" she asked. "How is this appropriate that the decision to marry be made without consulting or asking the people who are to marry? There's a difference between giving your opinion and imposing your decisions on a person to decide their life. Forced marriages and divorce shaming are not ways to respect tradition these are blatant attacks on basic human rights and sadly the most common and accepted ones around us. This needs to stop!"
The actor highlighted that marriage is a "social contract" that ensures the rights of and responsibilities towards one partner from the other. "It is unfair to make marriage an experience akin to imprisonment or death sentence," she said.
The actor encouraged her followers to stand up for those who experience oppression because of their marriages. "Stand up for your daughters, sisters, friends, female relatives and abused neighbours or that random woman being beaten up by her husband in a restaurant while he says 'yeh hamara aapas ka maamla hai' [this is our personal matter] before you get to carry a [loved one] of your own to the graveyard just because you were too busy being polite!" she said.
Women and young girls often bear the brunt of forced marriages in Pakistan. According to a 2013 UNICEF report, 21 per cent of girls were married before the age of 18 in Pakistan. Such marriages can prove detrimental for girls who are often physically and mentally unprepared for the sexual and reproductive activity that ensues between their often older spouses and themselves. According to the WHO, complications during pregnancy and childbirth are the leading cause of death in 15 to 19-year-olds globally.
Whether a marriage was forced or not, ending the contract can often prove rather difficult. Although the law grants both men and women the right to divorce, individuals are often stopped or discouraged from exercising that right because breaking a marriage is considered a social taboo. With her campaign, Rizvi is trying to make more people understand that these practices are wrong and we're so glad she is speaking out.