Success at university for blind Saliha despite family 'honours' barriers

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First published in Local news

A woman who escaped a strict 'honour' based upbringing to take control of her own life is graduating with a first class degree in psychology this week.

Saliha Rashid, 21, who grew up in a Pakistani family in Bradford, was told she could not have big aspirations because she was a woman and she was blind.

But she was determined to forge her own path in life, and now she campaigns for the rights of Asian women at a national level, speaking at the House of Lords and featuring on a BBC Radio 4 programme.

Saliha, who studied for her degree at Leeds Trinity University in Horsforth, describes herself as a survivor of honour-based abuse. Her own experiences have inspired her to campaign for others and she now hopes to become a Barrister in criminal and human rights law.

She has already made her mark - giving evidence to the forced marriage commission last October, in support of the criminalisation of the practice.

She also helps other survivors, working as a volunteer call handler at Karma Nirvana, an organisation which aims to stop the scandal of forced marriage and honour based violence.

Saliha, who was also the Disabilities Officer for Leeds Trinity Students’ Union in her second year, described how her life was controlled by the honour system during her teenage years, leaving her "squeezed between two cultures."

"I wasn't allowed to go on school trips, I wasn't allowed to have a mobile phone, I wasn't allowed to socialise with people from other ethnic backgrounds," she said.

She was seen as being westernised because she was very liberal minded and believed in speaking up - making her position at home particularly hard.

She made three attempts to leave home before she was successful.

"There is a big emphasis on honour and the smallest things are seen as dishonourable," she said. "I knew from a young age that I didn't really want to be like this. When I was 16 I left home and went to a women's refuge, but went back because of the emotional blackmail and because I am blind.

"I was told that because I am blind I would be reliant on my family and would not be independent."

But she finally left home on her third attempt, moving into university accommodation at the end of her first year, and no longer has contact with her immediate family.

She is grateful for her time at Leeds Trinity and to the staff and the friends she made there.

"It enabled me to develop as a person, as well as giving me self-confidence and the belief that I can do anything," she said.

"Three years ago, I considered withdrawing from university. I was told that because I am blind and an Asian woman, I cannot have big aspirations. But my experience at university has suggested otherwise. I now realise that the world is my oyster and I can follow my dreams."

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