Official statistics state that females are at greater risk of being victims of a forced marriage and those from the British Asian community are most likely to contact the Forced Marriages Unit. Not only does this highlight a problem which is shrouded in silence, but this number highlights that this is another form of abuse in which British Asian female identities are controlled and erased.
Marriage should be a choice and for the majority of us it is this. Yet last year 1,302 forced marriages were reported in the U.K. But the disturbing reality is that we will never actually know the real number. Many cases go unreported by victims, perpetrators, and those aware of what has happened but too afraid to break a code of silence.
Females within the British Asian communities that are at higher risk of forced marriage are those whose families expect them to adhere to traditional models of femininity. This model demands that they place duty to their family, unquestionable loyalty and izzat above all. These key factors are then commonly used against them by their own families in order to control their behaviour and to erase their identity.
Many females that are victims of forced marriages do not become victims overnight; instead those compliant prepare this process in advance by discouraging them from having friends, not allowing them to participate in social activities and by restricting their academic advancement. This serves the purpose of not only isolating the victim from possible support networks, but also strips her individual identity and forces her to view herself as only part of a small family unit. This isolation is key in order to normalise the concept of this marriage to the victim and to reduce the chance of resistance.
A key factor is the concept of ‘izzat’ in which females are expected to bear the sole responsibility of their family honour through sexual purity and compliance is still present within certain parts of the British Asian community. By associating female worth with her ability to comply with family expectations and by making her believe that their honour rests with her actions she is manipulated into believing that it is her obligation to accept this marriage.
Although there are many organisations that seek to help victims of forced marriages, nothing can be done unless those who seek to control and erase female identities within the British Asian communities are identified.
Marriage must always be consensual, and a choice made by two individuals, not made for them by others who manipulate and force them into it. Last year 1,302 forced marriages were reported. Let’s hope that this number never reaches this high again.