Tag Archives: forced marriage

Parliamentary committee says it’s time to make forced marriage a crime

 

Leila has just finished first year at university.  Like other young women her age, she wants to be a success and to live her own life.  She’s bright and has lots of friends.  She wants to be happy.

Leila is a survivor of forced marriage.   When she was 17 her father said that she had to marry an older man.  When she refused, he accused her of dishonouring her family.  Her mother begged her to go along with the marriage, and her father began to lock her in the house, and threatened to take her out of school.  Leila became worried and called IKWRO.

Last year IKWRO provided in depth support to 148 women and girls at risk of forced marriage and “honour” based violence.  A forced marriage is a marriage where one or both parties do not, or are not able to, consent.  Forced marriage isn’t a crime in the UK but since 2008 Forced Marriage Protection Orders have been used to protect those at risk.  An order can be initiated by the police or a local authority and bans a person’s family from certain conduct such as coming near them, preventing them from going out or taking them overseas.

Unfortunately, in a recent report the Home Affairs Committee found that protection orders were frequently not followed up on, so it was unclear whether they were really protecting people.  The Committee also reported that awareness of forced marriage and the protections available was still too low, especially in schools.  Recently a teacher in a London school told IKWRO that while she had seen many cases of forced marriage she had never called the government Forced Marriage Unit.  When asked what help she gave pupils, she said she simply offered “a shoulder to cry on”.

It isn’t just teachers who need to improve their response to forced marriage.  Social workers, police, GPs and other professionals all have a role to play, and many are keen to learn.  IKWRO is currently providing training on forced marriage in advance of the school summer holidays.  Already the demand has been huge.

But organisations like IKWRO can’t reach all the professionals who need training or all the young people who are at risk.  It’s up to the government to make sure that local authorities, schools, parents and young people are getting the message loud and clear that forced marriage is an abuse of human rights and will not be tolerated.

One way to get the message out would be to make forced marriage a criminal offence, as the Home Affairs Committee have recommended.  IKWRO believes that if forced marriage became a crime this would act as a deterrent to parents and families, would give potential victims a better understanding of their rights and would help to ensure that the authorities take the issue seriously. 

At the same time, some people including the solicitor Anne-Marie Hutchinson OBE who is a specialist in forced marriage fear that young people will be less likely to report forced marriage if it means their parents could be dragged through the criminal courts and end up in prison

IKWRO supports the committee’s recommendations to make forced marriage a crime, but we believe that forced marriage protection orders should also remain in place.  We believe that this will give people who don’t want to go down the criminal route a means to protect themselves, whilst also sending out a stronger signal that forced marriage is wrong.

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Getting it right first time: women and asylum

Asylum Aid recently exposed very high rates of refusal for women seeking asylum in the UK. Russell Hargrave has written a guest blog to tell us more:

The typical image of a political refugee is of a single male, fleeing conflict in which he has become embroiled at home. But in 2009 more than 7000 women applied for asylum in the UK. 

The factors which lead women to seek asylum can be very different from their male counterparts. Women face persecution for their political activities, but also for their gender. They may come from societies where violation of women’s rights is the norm, and may be fleeing ‘honour’ killing, rape, forced marriage or FGM to be carried out against them or their daughters. 

Asylum Aid’s report on the quality of decisions when women seek asylum – Unsustainable – was conducted against a background of poor decision-making generally. In 2009, almost 30% of Home Office decisions to refuse asylum were reversed on appeal by an independent immigration judge. That is, one in three of the people denied protection when they turned to the UK for help was then found by a judge to need that protection after all. The human cost is enormous, as victims of torture and rape struggle through the labyrinthine appeals process. The economic cost of unnecessary appeals and ongoing support payments is also vast.

Unsustainable vividly illustrates one area in which decision-making has gone very badly wrong. 87% of the applications we looked at were refused, nearly always because doubt was cast on the credibility of the woman’s claim; yet half of these refusals were then reversed by a judge on appeal, and the woman’s credibility was accepted in each case. 

So why does this happen? Worryingly the disbelief confronting so many women in the UK – for example as survivors of rape or violence approaching the police or before the courts – almost certainly permeates the asylum system. 

However, Unsustainable also showed multiple flaws in the ways that individual applications were considered. Some decision-makers displayed a shockingly limited understanding of women’s rights (one woman was told that she was not a victim of domestic violence as her husband had only once tried to hit her), and the evidence used to support decisions was sometimes extraordinarily flimsy (one refusal letter ignored objective information about the woman’s home country, and referred instead to an article from a gossip site). 

Above all, though, the provisions in the 1951 Refugee Convention that offer international protection to women as members of a Particular Social Group (PSG) at proven risk of persecution were consistently overlooked. The Home Office made no reference to PSG in the majority of cases based solely on gender-related persecution. The means to protect women exist, but were normally ignored.

Recently the Home Office has recognised the importance of getting asylum decisions right first time, albeit on cost grounds more than any other. Now they need to act. One way to maintain pressure on them is to endorse the Charter of Rights of Women Seeking Asylum, a set of goals around which more than two hundred charities and community groups have campaigned. 

You can find out more about the Charter and the Unsustainable report on our website. You can also watch a short film about Asylum Aid’s Every Single Woman campaign.

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Government plan on violence against women and girls: OUR VERDICT

In January IKWRO asked our supporters to write to the Home Secretary and ask her to get tough on ‘honour’ based violence.  Many of you sent emails to Teresa may asking her to increase government efforts to tackle ‘honour’ based violence and to commit to providing training for all public sector workers.

That was six weeks ago.  On Tuesday you may have spotted IKWRO’s Diana Nammi in the Guardian, talking about the government’s new action plan which was released to coincide with International Women’s Day.  The Guardian article, by Rachel Williams, was titled ‘Honour’ killings plan does not go far enough.  But why not?

The action plan sets out what the government will do over the next four years in order to tackle violence against women and girls.  As far as ‘honour’ based violence goes, it commits to just three actions: 

  1. Work on the development of learning programmes for the Police on ‘honour’ based violence. 
  2. Continue training for specialist and dedicated prosecutors in ‘honour’ based violence.
  3. Identify models of effective practice to share with local areas, particularly those where awareness and activity to tackle ‘honour’ based violence is low.

While these commitments are all going in the right direction, the first two are not even new.  In 2008 the Association of Chief Police Officers also promised training.  Last year they finally began to develop a training programme but so far it hasn’t been rolled out.  The UK also already has specialist ‘honour’ based violence prosecutors who play an important role in ensuring that victims have access to justice through the courts.  Good, but again, nothing new. 

What’s more, training is also needed for other professionals such as social workers, teachers, health workers and housing officers.  Information sharing may help to tackle low awareness and improve the response to HBV, but so far it is unclear how information will be shared and whether there will be any monitoring to identify if local areas have used it to improve their work.

IKWRO believes that what is really needed is a national, cross government ‘honour’ based violence strategy which sets out what changes the government want to bring about, ways they will do this and how they will measure progress.  IKWRO will continue to campaign for stronger government leadership in this area through our UNITED against ‘honour’ based violence campaign.

 

Introducing…. the Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation

At IKWRO we work with Kurdish, Farsi, Dari, Arabic and Turkish speaking women living in the UK. From our London office we provide advice and support to women and girls facing a whole range of problems – forced marriage, ‘honour’ based violence, sexual assault, domestic abuse and even female genital mutilation. Sometimes, we’re the only lifeline they have.

‘But what exactly do you do?’ people often ask us. 

And we say ‘a lot of things!’ 

In an average day we could be finding space in a refuge for a woman who’s escaped an abusive partner, or we might be helping a young girl to get police protection because her own family are threatening to kill her. There are family court hearings to attend, social workers to ring, immigration forms to fill. And there’s building our clients’ confidence too, reassuring them that things will get better, that they will be able to manage on their own.

We also go out to the communities where vulnerable women live and let them know about their rights and the ways in which we can protect them. It’s not always easy to win these women’s trust, but we speak their language and we know where they’re coming from, and that helps.

And then of course there’s campaigning – which means pushing for changes to the law that will make it easier for our clients to lead safe, happy lives. There’s a lot to take on: failing laws on female genital mutilation, a Forced Marriage Act that’s not tough enough, unresolved cases of ‘honour’ killing and immigration rules that make it hard for women who do not have indefinite leave to remain here to get out of abusive relationships and find space in a refuge. 

‘So where do I come in?’ we hear you ask.

Right here. We’re using this blog to share stories about the vital work we do and to spread the word about our campaigns. Stay in touch with us and share the blog with all your friends. Go on! It’s only a few clicks, but you could help us to make a real difference.

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