Bushra’s Journey from Distress to Success
Bushra Kunwal – the young entrepreneur is breaking taboos about divorced women. Running her own catering business and managing a full time job, she is setting an example for women out there who may be suffering through abusive marriages, but are not raising their voices to claim their own rights. She shares her experience with Aurat Raaj so that other women would learn that they need to step up for themselves and take a stand against what’s wrong! And realize that they can be in charge of their lives and happiness with grace and poise.
What is your educational background?
Higher secondary education – Certified beautician and hairdresser. Plus a certified social translator Urdu/Hindi to Dutch/French/English.
Which organization do you represent?
I have my own company called: Indisch koken met Bushra. (Indian cooking with Bushra)
What industry are you working in?
Catering, Telecommunication – Social services
What were your interests as a child?
I loved working. I used to help my father manage his stores from a very early age. I loved helping my mother with house chores too but the minute I was done with them I would be on my pink bike out and about. I loved roaming the Belgian beach too.
How have you broken gender stereotypes?
People expect divorced women to be depressed and shy away from society. I have broken that taboo if you ask me. I am very content. I’m doing very well in my life now. Alhumdulillah.
What makes your work important for you and society?
As Urdu- Dutch social translator I help families in Belgium who haven’t learned the language yet. I operate in schools/hospitals/social services. For our Pakistani/ Indians my services are free, I get a commission from the Belgian government.
What is your biggest achievement so far?
My son. It is not easy being a single parent, as it is. Living in country where Islamic value are seen as evil increases the difficulties. But I can proudly say that my son is a gem of a person.
What has been your biggest failure? How did you deal with it?
My marriage. I decided to focus on my son’s well-being and my own health and making our life successful and happy.
What challenges have you faced because of your gender?
As a Muslim Asian living abroad. We sometimes feel we are disowned from both ends. The west does not accept us as their own and given the current social situations considers us to be terrorists straight out. On the contrary our own community considers us westernized.
My ex-husband was from Pakistan. Since almost 85% percent of the Pakistani women settled here are not working and are stay at home moms. He found it very easy to convince our community both here and back in Pakistan that I don’t play the role that I should and that I was cheating on him. He used to say “Gorri (foreigner) hai. Ghar ke kaam nai karti”. It’s sad but apparently in our community people will believe a man raised in Pakistan more than a girl who has been brought up abroad.
It’s hilarious, he used to complain that I can’t cook. Right now I’m my own catering business and I’m teaching the locals here how to cook Pakistani and Indian cuisine.
What personal challenges have you faced in your life?
I learnt at a very young age that you have to stand up for yourself in life and not wait for somebody to come in and save you. As a teen our Pakistani community couldn’t handle the fact that I was a free spirited girl. I had my father’s support but I was harassed and threatened for being like that. It’s one hell of a scary experience when adult men hold you against the wall and tell you that they will come after you if you don’t mend your ways and put you straight.
I got married right after I completed my education. And with that my life became a dramatic Indian soap opera. For somebody who never gave up on a challenge I tried my best to make my married life work. But I had in laws who practiced black magic on me. God knows how many times I found weird things around the house and in my pillow cases. I had an abusive, aggressive husband. Who did not shy away from creating scene whether we were in public or we were alone. He used to come home high, eat and then throw away all the food with none left for me or my son.
I remember the day I put my foot down, he started physically abusing me. My son was hiding behind a sofa, he stopped and asked him to come out of hiding and witness what was happening. When I asked him to stop he was scaring him he told me it’s important that he teach his son how to deal with women. That night, I called the police and got him arrested. And I left the house with my son. He tried coaxing his way back after that, apologizing, saying that he will change but I had seen that many times before it didn’t make any difference to me what so ever. When that didn’t work he started bad mouthing about me everywhere. However, I never got engaged the “he said/ she said” conversation. Instead I distanced myself from everyone (except my amazing parents and siblings – who supported and helped me every day of my life). I focused on working on my son’s and my own mental well-being. And getting physically fit. I worked to pay off the debt that was drawn against my name by my ex-husband.
Has your marital status helped or hindered your career growth?
My ex-husband couldn’t handle that his wife was more successful than him. After we got divorced, nobody held me back and that helped me pursue my goals. Of-course, living in a country where divorce doesn’t shadow a woman’s existence helped me a great deal.
I had to maintain a distance from the Pakistani Community in Belgium, as they also tried to bring me down. This was hard for my parents as they were worried I would become distant from Islam. But with time they realized that Islamic values and Pakistani community are two different things. I love Pakistan, but I do not like how most Pakistanis behave and think.
What role has luck played in your journey?
If I think how many times someone tried to break me down and everything I had to endure, I can’t declare myself as lucky person, But Allhumdullilah I stood strong .There is only one explanation and that is Allah is watching over me.
When my divorced got finalized, I prayed, cried and begged Almighty Allah, not to leave me alone ever. It has been almost 6 years now, and I feel that I always have Him at my side. Whenever I get stuck somewhere, it doesn’t last, a door always opens up for my help.
What role has your family played in your success or achievements?
I was very lucky to have a strong support system – my parents and siblings. They gave me space to find my way and where always there when I needed help.
Who has been your biggest role model?
No one. I followed my own gut-feeling to achieve my happiness.
Do you think women feel easily intimidated in work situations?
It’s not about how we feel, there are men who get easily intimidated. But women do have to jump higher for the same hurdles than men to succeed.
What role has hard work played in your journey?
A couple of weeks before my divorce got officially registered, my ex cashed out credit cards on my name and left the country before I could claim back the money, leaving me with a debt of more than 25000 Euros, raising my son alone and juggling 3 jobs. It was all about hard work! I work full-time in the sales department for a telecom company, I have my own company of catering small events and parties and hosting Indian/Pakistani cuisine cooking classes. And I am a social translator Urdu/Dutch, helping Pakistani/Indian families whenever I can.
What are your interests outside of work?
I often meet up with friends at a stand-up comedy show or see a live jazz band to unwind.
What advice would you give to Pakistani women?
Don’t let anyone weigh you down by saying “Log kya kahenge” (What will people say?”).
Anybody who says that to me I simply tell them that Allah knows what’s in my heart and that’s more than enough for me. I’m not answerable to anyone else.
Raise your voice against injustice. Sadly women do not stand up for each other. Raise your voice if you see your brother misbehave with his wife. Raise your voice if you see your son mistreat your daughter in law. Stand next to the stranger lady who is getting teased on the streets. Back up that girl in your classroom who is getting picked on. Do not just listen what the local Maulvi says, study the Quran yourself! We can’t be silent anymore, we have to stand up and speak. Fight for yourself and your sisters’ happiness!
Anything else you would like to highlight about yourself and your career?
Pakistani culture is unknown to Belgians. They expect the Taliban/Osama Bin Laden story and situation. I advertise as an Indian cuisine caterer but during the sessions when people (who have traveled to India or have had Indian food before) praise my cooking to be better than what they had experienced before, I reveal it’s because my cuisine is a mix of Indian and Pakistani cuisine. I tell them about our country and our values, try to change the perspective they have of us. A lot of people have come to me afterwards and they tell me that their thoughts about Pakistan and Islam have changed because of that.