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Horrified at what the survivors were saying

Sufiya Ahmed has written a novel about forced marriageSecrets of the Henna Girl

Published in 2012, it tells the story of an everyday teenager, waiting for her GCSE results, looking forward to college and dreaming of the day she will meet her one true love.

But her parents have other plans and, in Pakistan for the summer, Zeba’s world is shattered as her future is threatened by an unthinkable – and forced – duty to protect her father’s honour.

That’s one for the list.

Sufiya was working in the House of Commons as a researcher for an MP when she encountered countless brave Asian women who shared their harrowing experiences with parliamentarians so awareness of the issue could be raised on a national level.

She said: “I was horrified at what the survivors were saying.

“I was shocked that British-born women who were brought up in this country were going through this in the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s.

“We had this attitude that it’s the Asian culture, we mustn’t interfere.

“We had this liberal idea that we can’t interfere in other people’s cultures.

“Actually no, we need to talk about these things.

“Talking about it does raise awareness.

“The survivors talk about just 15 years ago, they were on the receiving end of hatred, people would attack them.

“They had their tyres slashed and windows broken, just for speaking out.

“It’s no longer okay to say, this is our community — you can’t interfere.

“If there’s a human abuse going on, social services and the police should be involved.”

The tide is turning.

Comments

  1. Pen says

    Er, hmmm, the women’s toilets in the airports around London have had advice and helplines for women who may be involved in forced marriage for some time. I’ve been hearing about cases since the ’80’s and I believe the police have had a special department to tackle it for some time. I think I’m overlooking a legal technicality. Before, it was ‘illegal’ and now, it’s ‘criminal’.

    Okay. Well, it should be, but as with FGM, it raises the stakes and forces women who want help to turn in their closest family members. I sincerely hope this is going to work out.

  2. quixote says

    The girls’ and women’s families are doing their best to destroy their daughters’ lives. And yet the daughters continue to feel so much for the feelings of these monsters that they can’t save themselves.

    Somehow, for me, it raises it to a whole new level of crime when you use people’s compassion against themselves. Because it’s not all learned helplessness. There’s also genuine care for others, and that’s part of what does these poor girls in.

    Horrible monsters.

  3. Pen says

    The girls’ and women’s families are doing their best to destroy their daughters’ lives.

    And they don’t know that they’re doing their best to destroy their daughter’s lives and their daughters know that they don’t know. They are often motivated by love and a genuine desire to do what’s best for their daughters, in a situation where considerations of their daughter’s honour and virtue as well as their own are an important aspect of ‘best’.

    They often don’t realize that especially when they send their daughters abroad in a forced marriage, the women become particularly vulnerable to becoming household slaves, beaten and abused in ways even they recognise as wrong, far from the help of anyone who knows them. Obviously, we recognize that these marriages also involve the woman’s autonomy being violated and her being repeatedly raped, and we wonder where the honour and virtue are supposed to be. They don’t see that… yet.

  4. says

    Do you know that, Pen, or are you just assuming it? Do you know that “They are often motivated by love and a genuine desire to do what’s best for their daughters” or are you just assuming it?

    I think what you say about “honour” is confused. It’s about the family’s honour and the male members of the family’s honour; the female members of the family are simply vessels for that honour, not real possessors of it.

    It looks to me as if you’re just telling yourself a story about what the underlying feelings must be, but with a bias toward assuming they must be good loving feelings.

  5. Gordon Willis says

    I think that Pen is extrapolating, and going too far. Pen was more accurate at #2, saying that female victims are in the predicament of “turning in” their loved ones. No one wants to betray people who have been their world since they were hours old; but it has to be made clear that no one can cope with the turmoil of finding that their world condemns them for being…for being.

    One is born and believes oneself on an equal footing with other born creatures with whom one belongs and has ones being…and then one discovers that extraordinary conditions are attached for quite extraneous reasons. It must come as a profound and incomprehensible shock to any child — well, to any child who is a girl. For a boy there is no change; for a girl, there is a complete disintegration of everything once believed and trusted and an entirely incomprehensible world-order of shame and vulnerability.

    This is a devastating discovery, and must forever remain incomprehensible. It’s a total betrayal of personality and community. A new world in which no one can be trusted — not father, not mother, not brother, not uncle, not aunt… nothing. No one to turn to, no one to shelter you, no one to love you. It’s the end.

    For a boy there is only the shock of being beaten by a girl. Here is the full measure of the injustice. For a girl it’s the destruction of all that life is.

  6. Gordon Willis says

    They are often motivated by love and a genuine desire to do what’s best for their daughters, in a situation where considerations of their daughter’s honour and virtue as well as their own are an important aspect of ‘best’.

    Actually, we really don’t know this. It’s just very natural for us Westerners to assume it. But we do know historically that rejection of girls begins at birth, because of hereditity and because of shame (we need male heirs, because well, male heirs, and a man whose “seed” produces only girls is…). The evidence is that a lot of people will do anything not to have girls, including foeticide and infanticide.

    What you say makes a certain sort of sense, because you are a Westerner imbued with several centuries of proto-democratic idealism. Imagine a world in which a Jane Austin is a true member of society (even though revolutionary) and contrast it with a world in which a genuine desire to do what’s best for one’s daughter entails murdering her to preserve the reputation of…whom, exactly?

    Confusion of thought? Or confusion because no thought? Or no thought because thinking leads to bad ends and must not be allowed?

  7. Pen says

    Ophelia @ 5 – Honestly Ophelia, I don’t think you’ve thought about what you’re saying. You seem to be putting forward the idea that emotions rooted in biology, and relationships built on real intimacy between people can just be eradicated by culture. You really think there is a culturally defined group of men who see their daughters, sisters, mothers and wives as inanimate objects? I’m afraid you’re seeing them as the Nefarious Minions of Evil Dr. Islam from a comic strip. Dehumanised in other words. But as I think you really do think that, here’s my best attempt at answers.

    First, check out whether you can relate to this concept at all in our own culture. Up until the 20th C our literature is full of fathers, brothers and husbands destroying the lives of the girls and women they loved because of their belief system, but yes, they did love them (barring exceptions) and we all understand it when we read their stuff. Women were chattel AND often loved. They were institutionally oppressed, culturally infantilised AND often individually respected by their entourage because of their personal qualities and also the ways in which they fulfilled their assigned roles. Also consider the plight of gay children in western societies today. Do you think parental rejection, or attempts to dissuade the child from being gay are correlated with the amount of love and the degree of desire to do what’s best for the child? Not unless you want a ‘No true love..’ kind of argument.

    Second to address the question of ‘do I know this’. At first, I wrote an answer to this which was ten miles long but that won’t do. To put it briefly, I know many people who are, shall we say ‘on the spectrum’ of loving their children and intending what’s best for them, even when it isn’t, including people from Islamic and several cultures. If I knew someone who had actually arranged a forced marriage, rest assured that I would turn them in myself. Possibly, a risk factor for arranging a forced marriage is having a sufficiently negative view of western culture that they would tend to be avoiding me anyway. On the other hand, I wish I had a dollar for every person I know who’s been coerced OUT of marrying someone they wanted to by loving parents (and often married someone their parents wanted on the rebound). I’ve known a number of parents who’ve found themselves in difficult situations as a result of disastrous arranged marriages (not as difficult as they were for the child!). Anyway, as an example of vicarious experience, this may help a bit: http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2013/oct/12/dad-forced-marriage-saved-me-turkey

    Third: is about the men’s honour or the woman’s? I am absolutely certain that in the men’s eyes (and in those of other women in the family) a woman dishonours herself if she dates men of her choice and especially outside her culture. But as you say, you have to imagine to yourself a culture where the family unit takes precedence over individuals. Her dishonouring the family is more important, in the same way that many states consider treason worse than say, ruining your own life by taking drugs. But because it is a patriarchal family, it’s the fathers and brothers who are responsible for upholding the family honour in the same way that it’s the judicial system, not you and me, who uphold the law. Their dishonour arises from the fact that they aren’t carrying out their responsibilities properly. However, I’m also sure they rationalise their choices in terms of the woman’s good AND deeply internalise their rationalisations. Like the murderer who sincerely believes his/her victim deserves death (or the rapist who’s sure she wanted it really), they sincerely believe their daughters will be best served by the marriage they’ve just arranged without consulting her. Conveniently, they also sincerely believe it’s their daughters’ duty to serve the family honour in the way laid down by their culture, just as they do themselves, and may consider her essentially a traitor if she fails to do so. And because they love her, and believed she loved them, they may feel terribly hurt, disappointed and angry.

    I actually don’t think this is rocket science, and I’m mystified that it should seem to require explanation. It’s not as if understanding is tantamount to approval ! All it buys you is the ability to find the best solution to the problem accurately and with minimum damage.

  8. Pen says

    Gordon @ 7

    Imagine a world in which a Jane Austin is a true member of society (even though revolutionary) and contrast it with a world in which a genuine desire to do what’s best for one’s daughter entails murdering her to preserve the reputation of…whom, exactly?

    We’re talking about forced marriages, not murder. Murder would fall under the category of ‘she’s betrayed us and our values to the point where she must die.’ And here’s a little snippet from proto-democratic idealist western culture. I’m sure you must know it, it’s from Midsummer Night’s Dream.

    With cunning hast thou filch’d my daughter’s heart,
    Turn’d her obedience, which is due to me,
    To stubborn harshness: and, my gracious duke,
    Be it so she; will not here before your grace
    Consent to marry with Demetrius,
    I beg the ancient privilege of Athens,
    As she is mine, I may dispose of her:
    Which shall be either to this gentleman
    Or to her death, according to our law
    Immediately provided in that case.

    Did this really happen much in Shakespeare’s day? I don’t know, but I’m sure fathers could marry their daughters to whoever they chose. Marriage was usually arranged and probably often coerced at the very least.

    I have no idea what it could possibly mean for Jane Austen to have been a ‘true member of society’. Everyone’s a true member of society, but hers was a very sexist one which granted her few opportunities. Her characters usually willingly complied with a pretty rigid code of expectations in terms of marriage and behaviour. It is true that in Pride and Prejudice, Lydia, who runs off with someone unsuitable of her choice, isn’t murdered, but the attack on the family’s honour is very perceptible and traumatic to them, as are the potential social repercussions. In fact it seems pretty clear that Wickham and Lydia were forced into marrying to protect the family’s honour. Quite probably, Lydia wanted to marry and Wickham didn’t. And that’s just one example.

    Which reminds me, those of you who’ve been following this blog will be familiar with the kind of fate reserved for proto-democratic female true members of society who dishonoured themselves and their families to the extent to getting pregnant, right up until very recently. Actually, if that fate is proof that parents didn’t really love their daughters and want what was best for them, it would appear that parental love is a very recent invention. Just about any woman could satisfy herself that her parents didn’t bear her any by falling pregnant, no matter how loving they had seemed before.

  9. says

    However, I’m also sure they rationalise their choices in terms of the woman’s good AND deeply internalise their rationalisations.

    But *why* are you sure?

    I’ll agree that it’s likely that some do, perhaps that many do. But am I sure that all do? Fuck no. There are too many cases of daughters murdered at a moment’s notice, just for looking at a boy.

    Up until the 20th C our literature is full of fathers, brothers and husbands destroying the lives of the girls and women they loved because of their belief system, but yes, they did love them (barring exceptions) and we all understand it when we read their stuff.

    Well, yes and no. There’s also a quite staggering amount and quality of misogyny. Some did love them, but lots hated them. It’s very transparent and unapologetic. Some Jacobean tragedies are hard to read, they’re so rife with it.

  10. Gordon Willis says

    Also, it’s hard to understand what “love” can mean where reputation comes first. To sacrifice for the sake of “honour” the very thing for which one should be prepared to stake all is not what I would call honourable, but the very opposite. It can only happen in a society in which everyone devalues girls as persons from the outset, thus removing any solid basis of love and rendering it mutable and conditional. The value of a girl remains a matter of exchange and bargaining. Honour is trade and being seen to control the merchandise so as to guarantee the quality of the goods. In such a world, love is a mere sentimental attachment to be despised and repudiated in the face of society’s demands. Honour, in fact, is male negotiation. A man who behaves as if his wife were his friend is an object of scorn.

    Re Lydia: she actually made her own choices and was kept in society, not thrown out; but the thrust of the book is the role of the father and the nature of his responsibility towards his children.

  11. Gordon Willis says

    Furthermore, Wickham’s treatment of Darcy’s sister did not devalue her in Darcy’s eyes: Darcy’s nurturing and protective response is the opposite of what we so often see in societies where male honour precedes all else.

  12. Gordon Willis says

    Another point is that Darcy gives up his inbred notions of honour to marry a woman whom he not only loves but respects. His vain snobbery is destroyed not merely by the warmth of his affections but by his new and transforming recognition of true human value; and his overriding care for his sister shows the real nature of his character even before he says “bugger reputation”. Wickham is the model of the honour-based society, in the sense that his behaviour is the outcome of male privilege. Austen’s society has clearly gone a long way away from the primitive notions which modern lefties want us to respect as “culture”, as if culture were a good-in-itself, even though the change is by no means complete. Nevertheless, Austen’s concern is what really constitutes honourable behaviour and its basis, and she leaves us in no doubt about what she thinks it is.

  13. says

    It can only happen in a society in which everyone devalues girls as persons from the outset, thus removing any solid basis of love and rendering it mutable and conditional.

    Perfectly put, Gordon.

    Parental love pretty much has to be more unconditional than any other kind. The more it’s shaped by foundational beliefs about the worthlessness and expense of daughters at best, and their sluttish whorish filthyness at worst, the less unconditional love of daughters will be.

    The issue of what happens to women or girls who have sex outside marriage plays a part in every Austen novel except I think Persuasion. There’s a very interesting range of attitudes and ways of dealing. You know who is the most ferociously punitive (in thoughts) of all? Dear little passive Fanny Price.

  14. medivh says

    Gordon: I’ve lived through a decade long scenario of weekly emotional damage, owing to a culture of ownership of one’s children. The perpetrator was my biological father, who “raised” me. Because of this, I’m somewhat sceptical of any argument of “emotions rooted in biology” being any defence against a person choosing to go with path of least resistance through a culture, or through their own desires. Please note in this that I’m male, and look and sound like my father enough that all the usual biological stuff should have worked, and that the culture I was raised in was white-bred blue collar Western city dweller.

    Loveless parental relationships exist, and are probably more common than you think. Especially because the culture of the West’s path of least resistance demands parents put on a show of loving their children. That the West’s PoLR contradicts certain Muslim PoLRs regarding arranged marriage doesn’t really matter if all the “loving” that a parent gives is just for show.

  15. Gordon Willis says

    Hello medivh. I think you mean Pen at #8, not me, as I have not used the phrase “emotions rooted in biology”, and I agree that loveless parents are regrettably common, and boys do indeed suffer from them, even though this particular post is about girls and the particular social stigma that attaches to them merely for being girls. I am very sorry to hear of your suffering, and I do understand what you mean by the culture of ownership of one’s children. It’s an ancient, very primitive male view and highly destructive of personal integrity. It’s a pattern of behaviour which destroys lives from beginning to end and no rational society could tolerate it. My own comments are about the responsibility that we have to our children, and that not only do children not exist for our personal pleasure or reputation (whether they are “wanted” or “unwanted”), but our unconditional love and nurturing care is a requirement.

    I think that primitive notions persist because they are close to the emotional bedrock of self-interest which we all share. Being human is a call to go beyond mere nature, and is something one has to learn, while being an animal is given. Learning is hard, and being an animal is so much more easy. That is as much as I have to say about “emotions rooted in biology”.

    All best wishes,

    Gordon.

    PS: I also think that the MRAs and the Slymepitters and all the misogynistic riff-raff are merely rebelling against the requirements that the attainment of humanity [in my definition] entails. Tough.

  16. Gordon Willis says

    Please note in this that I’m male, and look and sound like my father enough that all the usual biological stuff should have worked, and that the culture I was raised in was white-bred blue collar Western city dweller.

    I hope you don’t mind me picking up on this, medivh, but it seems to me very important. There is the assumption that if one looks like one’s father one should somehow be one’s father. I’m quite sure that the last thing you want to be is your father, and it’s a very good thing indeed that you are you, and that everyday expectations of biology are just wrong. Culture affects us ineradicably, but it is not a good in itself and can be opposed on moral grounds. We can resist its influence. People have died for this, so we in our turn should fight. No culture is an ultimate good: culture is only a sort of sum of how we treat each other, and it is in how we treat each other that good is to be found.

  17. Gordon Willis says

    @Ophelia #14. I’m surprised that you see Fanny Price as passive. She is perceived as a nonentity but it is her integrity and firmness of character which causes the necessary moral transformation. She is not passive, but only humble, and her presence and her excellent mind are a constant force. Austen makes a good case, and I’m still thinking about it, after many years. Fanny is highly active in the minds of the stronger protagonists. I think in this connection of Mr Bingley: his essential simplicity and complete lack of affectation are not the stuff of which heroes of books are commonly made, but he epitomises the core values which the “heroes” eventually discover, and is a strong influence on the behaviour of Mr Darcy, to whom he looks up and who never lets him down. In Fanny Price, a Mr Bingley has become the protagonist: a very difficult choice, and maybe Austen should have written several more books to work the idea out. I think, however, that she just got overwhelmed by illness and disappointment.

  18. says

    Yes I too have thought a lot about Fanny, and tried to see her through different lenses so that she didn’t repel me. I think someone – possibly Lionel Trilling – did give a reading of her that helped me do that for awhile, but it broke down. I can’t like her. Yes she has integrity but she’s so joyless…That was part of Austen’s point: making the attractive energetic fun people bad and the dreary moralizing ones good, and I take her point, but…I can’t like Fanny. One of her things is being horrified by Mary Crawford’s levity about the church. Yeah well…

  19. says

    I do strongly doubt your reading of Mr Bingley though. I don’t think he does epitomize any core values, because he’s too biddable to have any. That’s Lizzie’s big objection to him – he’s putty in Darcy’s hands. He’s a nice guy, but that’s all. He’s good enough for Jane but not for Elizabeth.

  20. swbarnes2 says

    Bingley is a good example of what Wentworth thought Anne to be, someone who let another stronger personality persuade them out of what was really good for them.

    Fanny has joys, but they are mostly in nature, not in people. The narrator teases Fanny a little about being so serious, so I don’t think we are supposed to think the author 100% agrees with her fastidiousness. She’s in a tough position. In Austen’s eyes, the Price house is as poor as you can get, and Fanny risks being sent there if she makes waves. Certainly, if her uncle suspected that she loved her cousin, she’d be out on her ear pretty quick.

  21. says

    Oh good point, about Bingley and Anne. I hadn’t thought of that.

    No, that’s what I mean – I think Austen loads her with annoying qualities as a novelist’s experiment. Austen doesn’t “agree with” her personality, so to speak…she’s going against her own grain, maybe as a sort of religious exercise. Fanny has zero sense of humor and I suspect that in real life Austen found people like that very hard to take. She’s asking herself “but what about the good people who are hard to take?”

  22. medivh says

    Gordon:

    Hello medivh. I think you mean Pen at #8, not me

    You’re 100% correct. Apparently I had an off night last night, and given the three typos of the word “night” I just deleted, that may continue. Apologies.

    …this particular post is about girls and the particular social stigma that attaches to them merely for being girls.

    I fully agree; I was trying to point out that it doesn’t take culturally acceptable dehumanisation to get a parent to fake being loving. I, by all the criteria put forward by a culture that hates complications, should have been the last to be dehumanised by a parent. And yet… Therefore, I have no trouble believing that there are men that see their daughters as objects to be thrown around according to cultural norms, and I see people that do have trouble with that concept as sheltered or worse.

    I’m quite sure that the last thing you want to be is your father

    I don’t talk to him and, in the interests of self preservation, refer to him in private as “the arsehole” or if I’m feeling rather stable and solid, he gets his name back. As far as I’m concerned, he’s a sperm donor who should have stayed that way – and out of my life – since the beginning. Worse, when we were last on speaking terms, he was rather fond of pointing out my successes as due to him, and my faults as being just like his own abusive father. A habit that I fought to my last word with him.

    I’m very happy to be my own man, indeed.

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