The final episode of the documentary joins the Forced Marriage Unit in a race against time to prevent a 17 year-old British girl from being forced to marry in Iraq.
In the final episode of a three part BBC series which aired last week, viewers were given insight into the work of the joint Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Home Office Forced Marriage Unit (FMU), which leads on the Government’s efforts to combat forced marriage in the UK and overseas.
The episode follows the FMU’s Sophie Lott – who was nominated for a True Honour Award earlier this year – as she and her team assist a 17 year-old British girl who was taken to Iraq by her family for a forced marriage and threatened with “honour” killing if she didn’t go through with it. From the outset of the program, we see Sophie identify this case as “honour” based violence, which is crucial to how she proceeds with assisting the girl.
The Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation (IKWRO) defines “honour” based violence as a form of Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) which is rooted in perceived “honour”. “Honour” works to restrict women’s autonomy, particularly sexual autonomy within male-dominated societies which place a high value on women’s chastity. “Honour” based violence is often described as linked to culture or tradition, however it is a crime and women from a wide range of countries are affected by HBV. IKWRO assert that culture should never be used to excuse VAWG. Within “honour” crimes, families may collaborate to commit violence against a relative who is thought to have violated the restrictions around female behaviour. “Honour” based violence is understood as a broader issue which can often be at the root of forced marriage and female genital mutilation.
The girl’s identity remains protected throughout the duration of the show, because of the high risk to her safety. However, after she is rescued, she appears on camera with her identity concealed and says:
“In my opinion, every single girl in the world should be the one to choose who she wants to complete her life with […] a marriage can last a lifetime and it’s really horrible when someone forces you to marry someone you don’t want”
We see her arriving at the airport to be met by Sophie, who is relieved to see her arrive safely, as well as staff from a women’s refuge charity who will help her settle back in to life in the UK.
This episode provides a glimpse into the crucial role of women’s refuges in enabling women and girls to escape violence and abuse. Organisations like IKWRO do essential work to tackle “honour” based violence and forced marriage on a daily basis, and collaboration between the FMU and specialist organisations is absolutely vital to achieving positive outcomes.
Organisations that specialise in BME (Black and Minority Ethnic) women’s rights provide crucial support services such as advice, advocacy, counselling, training and refuges which are best placed to support BME women experiencing violence and abuse. These specialist services are integral to supporting women experiencing, or at risk of, “honour” based violence. Unfortunately, these services are oversubscribed and underfunded, resulting in a worrying situation for many of the women who depend on these organisations.
IKWRO Executive Director, Diana Nammi, said:
“We were pleased to see the important issues of “honour” based violence and forced marriage highlighted in this documentary, particularly as there was a positive outcome in this case. However, there are many other women and girls like her who need advice and support from specialist organisations, as well as the Forced Marriage Unit, who may not know where to turn.
Therefore, we hope that this important issue continues to get the attention it deserves so that more women are aware of – and able to access – the services they need. In addition, these services must be fully funded to ensure that they can continue to do this lifesaving work.”
As specialists in “honour” based violence, forced marriage, female genital mutilation, child marriage and domestic violence; IKWRO understand the crucial context in which these crimes take place. IKWRO support Middle Eastern, North African and Afghan women in the UK who are experiencing – or at risk of – these crimes, helping them to live safe, independent lives free from violence and abuse.