Day 14/16 of Activism Against Gender Violence: Giving Chances
There are some stories that remain with you.
One such incident is of a young 15-year-old girl, Aliya*. The eldest of seven children, her mother and father had their hands full with the younger children. Aliya was neglected emotionally, and in order to grasp the attention of her parents or to find someone to appreciate or love her she began to play truant.
She became involved with a group of men who befriended her, offering her alcohol and drugs, saying they would help her relax, help her forget, make her feel good. One of these men became her ‘boyfriend’ and once he had gained her trust, he initiated a sexual relationship. He told her repeatedly that he loved her. After a few months this man started to pass her around within his group of friends, and then abducted her and took her to Birmingham.
Together with the police we were able to track her down and bring her back to safety, albeit temporarily. Aliya’s parents then decided to take her overseas and marry her off. Luckily, we were able to make contact with Aliya and her father whilst they were abroad. The father promised us he would not go ahead with the marriage.
On her return, Aliya was determined to get her life together. She applied to the police force and we were asked for a recommendation. Happily, she was given that second chance - she became a special and went to college to complete her GCSE’s.
Another story that stands out is that of a young mother. Together with her two children she was sent overseas by her husband, who had become increasingly angry and hostile. He felt she was too ‘Western’ in her thoughts, views and behaviour. He had made plans with his brother to abduct and kill her, and potentially the children as well.
Her sister made contact with Practical Solutions and asked us to help get the family back home to safety. We were able to work with the British High Commission. At this point the mother and children were no longer even at the address we were given; they had been moved and hidden. To our relief, the High Commission was able to exert pressure, and finally all three mysteriously appeared at their offices. Once we arranged for them to be flown back to the UK, they were taken to emergency accommodation. Today all three are alive and well and happy!
Many Muslim and minority women are caught in a double bind. Indeterminate or questionable legal status prevents many minority women from accessing aid. Often they are told they will be deported if they approach any service provider, and this fear prevents them from seeking help. Their fear is exacerbated by threats that their children will be taken away from them.
For many, state law clashes with the non-codified laws of their community and society. There is little or no understanding amongst service providers of these clashes, or the real repercussions of over-riding them to try and access support. There are also those within this field who wrongly hold the belief that violence and oppression are intrinsically part of some faiths.
Many barriers exist to accessing help for minority women, from the notion of honour, to the very real threat of being disowned and ostracised by family and community alike. Minority women often cannot even think about speaking with someone, and when they do pluck up the courage, there is no clear path for them to follow. Often they are passed from service to service and person to person.
It is difficult to identify trustworthy solicitors who speak their language. Further, many public sector organisations use independent advisors on community-related issues. Often these advisors have little or no interest in the women. In fact these they often tell the women they should remain in their predicament, be patient, that they are bad for wanting to leave, that they will be damned, never forgiven by God.
Women may then remain in abusive and dangerous situations, believing that no one is interested in them and their issues, that no one will help them.
Working for these women, I have faced many different challenges from members of the Muslim community, male and female. There are those who feel it is wrong to interfere with tradition and practice, that I shouldn't challenge the abuses of forced marriage and honour based violence. They argue that I am upsetting the status quo.
I have received threats to harm myself and my family, and death threats. I have been followed, my car has been damaged. People have spat at me on the street, walked out of meetings and conferences where I have been present, and called me a liar and troublemaker. What they fail to understand is that all this has just made my resolve stronger!
Thankfully, people have now realized that I am not just going to give up and disappear. They now come hesitantly to seek advice and guidance. I think this has a great deal to do with my tenacity, as well as changes in law and public discussions on forced marriage and honour based violence. Now communities are much more willing to discuss these issues and most are more understanding of why they are unacceptable. Sadly, there are those who will always believe that their beliefs and traditions are right. For anyone to challenge the patriarchal social system, especially a woman, is tantamount to sacrilege.
I believe religion is often misused and exploited and has been used to justify many abuses. I came to my faith over a period of time and through my own volition. On my return from my first Hadj, I started to read and research my own faith and realised that this gave me far more rights as a woman than I had thought. This spurred me to learn more, and to pass this knowledge to the women I work with.
For me, religion and faith have given the strength and justification to challenge what is wrong. In fact this is a duty for Muslims, and, I feel, our duty as members of the human race.
*name has been changed
Practical Solutions was founded in 2005 by Mussurut Zia, and registered as a community organisation in the United Kingdom 2007. Mussurut has over 14 years experience of working with victims of domestic abuse, and specialises in challenging the practices of forced marriage and honour based violence. Practical Solutions is made up of a team of volunteers, from different backgrounds, nationalities and faiths. For more information please visit http://www.practical-solutions.info/Home.aspx.
Submitted on Sun, 12/09/2012 - 11:07