We arrived at a London school to deliver one of our forced marriage (FM) seminars to a group of year 10 students, only to find out – to our horror – that the teacher responsible had hand-picked a group of Asian girls from the year and had sent their parents a letter seeking permission for them to attend a class about arranged marriages. What is wrong with that I hear you ask? EVERYTHING I say! And it is the strongest confirmation possible that our work in schools is so important.
But the teachers are not alone. Even on the phone with the receptionist it is clear from the onset that there are still many misconceptions that prevail in schools and the wider society. When we’re asking to speak to the head of citizenship/PHSE, the reply usually is: Oh, shouldn’t you be speaking to the head of RE about this? No, actually, we shouldn’t.
Let’s be clear about this:
“FM is the same as an arranged marriage” No. The clue is in the words forced and arranged. You will notice that they mean different things entirely. In an arranged marriage, families play a leading role in finding the partner, but both parties are free to refuse the proposal. In a FM, the victim is pressured into marrying someone against their will and they might agree to the wedding even if they don’t really want to.
“FMs only affect Asian girls” – Wrong and wrong. FMs affect people from all backgrounds and walks of life and it affects both women AND men. Statistics show us that in 2011, 78% of victims were female (Forced Marriage Unit (FMU)). That means 22% of the victims that came forward were male and it is likely that quite a few of the 78% of female victims were forced to marry men that were just as unhappy with the marriage. Unfortunately, many men are extremely reluctant to report a FM as there is still a lot of stigma attached to FMs and admitting to be forced into a marriage is seen as a slight of their manliness. In 2011, 56% of FM cases involved victims of Pakistani origin, 9.3% of UK origin, 7.8% of Bangladeshi origin, 6.2% of Indian origin and 20.7% of other origins including Europe, the Middle East and Africa. However, high prevalence rates among these communities are partly due to their relative size in the UK population and to discuss FMs as an ‘Asian’ issue denies a voice to those from other communities who have experienced it.
“FMs are a religious issue that is preached by some faiths” No, it isn’t. FM is a cultural issue that has been passed on from generation to generation. This might have happened in the mistaken belief that FMs are a part of one’s religion through ignorance BUT no major religion endorses FMs. In Islam, which often the main ‘suspect’ of promoting FMs, consent from both man and woman is a must before a marriage can take place. The Qur’an states “O you who have believed, it is not lawful for you to inherit women by compulsion…” (4:19). The Sahih al-Bukhari, one of the most revered sources of hadith (Islamic practice) states: “When a man gives his daughter in marriage and she dislikes it, the marriage shall be repudiated” (Bukhari, 67:43).
But hope is not all lost. The up-side is that the kids really do understand what this issue is really about. Which is fantastic and we have great hope for this generation’s role in eradicating FM’s in the future.
Often children do not hold the same misconceptions as the older generation- maybe because society has not yet had enough time to instill these views into them. This makes them more open minded and willing to challenge pre-conceived ideas. We could not ask for a better audience when trying to change attitudes towards FM. Here are some examples of their fantastic contributions:
When explaining about the common causes of FMs in one of our seminars a 12 year old said “They just want to control them, really.” YES. That’s exactly what this is all about.
And when discussing the link between shame, honour based violence, and FMs one kid asked this brilliant question: “Miss, wouldn’t it be more shameful to be a murderer than for the child to date someone?” Yeah you’d think so, wouldn’t you?
As we continue our FM workshops to schools throughout London we will leave you with this final example which neatly sums up our experience so far. After one hour of great discussion and learning, to our dismay the teacher referred to a forced marriage as an arranged marriage, but then to our absolute delight the class interjected with “NO MISS – that would be a forced marriage!” And our reply to these bright students, ‘Thank you.’