Cambodia: Jolie lauds survivors of forced marriage

Actress, director, and humanitarian Angelina Jolie spent Tuesday night in the Cambodian capital, pledging her support for efforts to prosecute the Khmer Rouge crime of forced marriage and those working here to end violence against women.

Jolie, a UN special envoy for the rights of refugees, co-founded the Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative with former British Foreign Secretary William Hague in 2012. Two years later, both spearheaded a summit in London focusing on ending sexual violence in conflict.

http://aa.com.tr/en/asia-pacific/cambodia-jolie-lauds-survivors-of-forced-marriage/755339

Women of Influence Yasmin Khan

Equality and diversity is the key for pioneering founder of honour based violence project

by Alison Bellamy

Meet Yasmin Khan, who is the pioneering founder of a forced marriage and honour based violence charity the Halo Project.

Yasmin has worked with communities and particularly women, in addressing inequalities in the fields of employment, education and training.

Establishing a strategic community partnership to provide support for forced marriage and honour based violence victims in the North East of England, has resulted in developing the first Forced Marriage/HBV case scrutiny group in the UK.

Tell us about the Halo Project?

It provides services to women and girls who have suffered horrific and abusive pasts they continue to change attitudes within the community and influence the way services are delivered to the most vulnerable in society.

Do you ever feel frustrated about the justice system and the law in relation to so called ‘honour killings’?

 At times, I am deeply frustrated at the lack of prosecutions of forced marriages and FGM, but this demonstrates the deep rooted challenges that exist within communities and the attitudes towards perpetrators.

One in four people from BAME communities struggle with their mental health

One in four people from BAME communities who struggle with their mental health keep it to themselves because they don’t know anyone that would understand.

Of the people we surveyed from BAME communities who said they struggled with their mental health:
• 1 in 4 (24%) keep it to themselves because they don’t know anyone that would understand
• 1 in 2 (50%) don’t speak about it because they wouldn’t want to burden someone with their problems
• In comparison, 84% said that they feel good about themselves when they are there for people they care about
Research out today from the mental health charity Mind¹ has found that one in four Black, Asian or minority ethnic (BAME) people who have struggled with their mental health keep it to themselves because they don’t know anyone that would understand (24%).

One such example of peer support in action is Halo’s Big Sisters Project. Halo works with and supports victims of honour based violence, forced marriage and female genital mutilation, who have suffered psychological and emotional abuse, which has left a profound effect on their mental health and physical well-being. ‘The Big Sisters Project’ run regular coffee mornings which are extremely therapeutic for the women. The sessions provide a comfortable and safe environment to talk to others that understand and share their experiences. The support from peers has given the women the confidence and opened opportunities to access other groups and activities in the area which have helped them feel part of the community.

Yasmin Khan, Director of Halo, commented, “The Big Sisters Project has demonstrated effective community engagement in a trusted community project, which has broken down barriers and achieved a greater understanding of MIND services which are available. This demonstrates the value of specialist providers reaching out to minority groups, especially to those who are extremely vulnerable, such as victims of cultural, harmful practices”.

Charity calls for action as figures reveal cases of FGM in Lincolnshire

Latest NHS figures show that 10 cases of female genital mutilation (FGM) were newly recorded in Lincolnshire in the year 2015/16.

Children’s charity NSPCC is calling for more action to stop FGM after it recorded calls at least once a day from people concerned that girls had already suffered or were at risk of harm.

The practise, also referred to as female genital cutting and female circumcision, is the ritual removal of some or all of the external female genitalia for non-medical reasons.

FGM ranges from pricking or cauterising to partially or totally remove genitals. Cutting is made using instruments such as a knife, pair of scissors, scalpel, glass or a razor blade.

Religious, social or cultural reasons are sometimes given for FGM. However the practice is regarded as child abuse and is a criminal offence.

It is known to have been used to control female sexuality and can cause severe and long-lasting damage to physical and emotional health.

The practice is believed to affect around 137,000 women and girls in England and Wales.

 

The History of Honour Killing Laws in Pakistan

On December 28th 2016, a man in Jhelum killed his own wife on the pretext of disrespecting his honour. He was not the first one to do this, nor will he be the last. According to the Honour Based Violence Awareness Network, over 1000 women are killed in Pakistan annually for honour. This begs the question: Why are our laws not deterring these crimes?

To gain a deeper understanding of the answer to this question, let’s take a walk down memory lane to ascertain the effectiveness of Honour Killings Laws in Pakistan.

Honour Killings have never been a firm standing for the Pakistani legal system. Until 2004, it wasn’t even officially punishable by law. Under international and domestic pressure, a rudimentary law finally sanctioned a term of seven years for the crime and death penalty in the most extreme cases.

This law was never used.

The reason for this was not that there were no instances of honour killing after the law’s passing. There were thousands of them. However, due to a bizarre loophole in the law, no one was ever convicted of the crime.

Honour Killings in Pakistan revolve around families conspiring together to kill a member of their family, usually a woman, for disrespecting the family’s ‘honour’. By ‘disrespecting honour’, it can be anything from marrying without consent to going out of the house without permission (varies according to the local customs). Not only is the act arelic from the days of uncultured brutality where tribal customs gained reverence but the law itself was even more archaic.

 

Charity get calls every day about FGM

The NSPCC has revealed that they get a call every single day from someone worried about female genital mutilation (FGM).

They launched their helpline in June 2013.

The charity has now revealed that they have been contacted more than 1,500 times, with around a third of concerns serious enough to be referred to police or social services.

Worried callers have included those contacting the helpline with fears for babies who they believed were at risk of FGM.

FGM has been a criminal offence in the UK for 30 years, and in 2003 it also became a criminal offence for UK nationals or permanent UK residents to take their child abroad to have female genital mutilation.

Despite this, there is yet to be a successful prosecution for the offence.

One doctor told the NSPCC helpline:

“I have suspicions in relation to a child that I think may have been flown out of the country for the FGM procedure.

“The child was brought into my surgery today but the parent wouldn’t allow me to perform an internal examination on the child. The parent was adamant that the child would be checked abroad instead.”

 

No orders made to protect Welsh girls at risk of FGM

FGM protection orders (FGMPO) ban those at risk of the practice from being taken outside the UK.

While 77 of the orders were granted by courts in England between July 2015 and June 2016, not one was imposed in Wales.

The NSPCC, who obtained the data, said FGM had “no place in any society”.

Charity Welsh Women’s Aid added: “The lack of prosecutions and FGM protection orders in Wales highlights that, despite legislation, there is still a need for a stronger commitment to changing attitudes as well as a commitment to support provision of specialist services for girls and women affected by FGM.”

It called for national and local support for community-based interventions to “challenge attitudes and identify girls at risk”, and for professionals, such as school staff and health visitors, to be specially trained.

 

#itsnotok

I had known for a few months that I was going to be speaking at the ‘its not ok’ event and sharing my experience of child sex abuse and honour based violence. I had written my speech over the Christmas and New Year holidays and was confident and looking forward to the event. I had read the speech out loud in front of a few close friends and family and my voice didn’t shake nor did I get emotional. What I was not prepared for was listening to the presentations from the other speakers and the emotions that it would bring up for me.

I wanted to raise awareness of how difficult it can be for someone from a Pakistani background to report child sex abuse; too many people think that the sexual abuse of children does not happen in the Pakistani community. Too many people are wrong and far too many children are sexually abused and raped on a daily basis, here in the UK. They have no specialist services to confide in.

If there were a helpline set up, a South Asian Child Line, then the phones would not stop ringing. Listening to the speakers at the event made me realise how difficult it is for those who have been sexually abused and raped to come forward and get help, how they are passed from one agency to another, having to re tell their experience all over again. How much more difficult would that be for the Pakistani child? Where would they send them? What help is available out there?

Many Pakistani children are not taught about appropriate and inappropriate touching, sex is still very much a taboo subject. Not much has changed from when I was a child and if anyone kissed on the TV, I was told to close my eyes. Education is key in helping these children at least know what is happening is wrong and they are not to blame.

My experience 

Thank you for inviting me and allowing me to share my story and my experience of honour based violence and child sex abuse. I hope it gives you a better understanding of how to help someone in a situation similar to mine. Even though my story took place many years ago, some of the same mistakes are still being made today and women and men continue to suffer.

I was three years old when I was taken to Pakistan to live with my paternal grandparents. My parents were in a polygamous marriage and I have never really known why they chose to send me to Pakistan. I guess it is just something some Pakistani parents do. For some families it has become part of their traditions and culture, sending children to live in Pakistan, some do it for 6 weeks, some for three months and in my case years. My mother visited twice in the years we were there but I have little memories of those visits. Nobody questioned why we were sent away, it was part of my father’s traditions, and I’m sure my parents would have stopped anyone from asking questions. This is how easy it has become to ‘send’ your daughter or son back home to Pakistan.

Even though I was sexually abused in Pakistan, I still remember that part of my child-hood, as one of a happy time, my grandparents and my aunt loved me unconditionally.

I didn’t know that what he was doing was wrong. I had nobody to tell me. I was a child born in the 70s, and in Pakistan, sex was a taboo subject and even if the abuse had taken place in Glasgow, sex was a taboo subject in Glasgow too. We are only in the last ten years or so beginning to teach children how to stay safe, making them aware of appropriate and inappropriate touching even though we have known for years that children are sexually abused.

Sex is still a taboo subject for many and talk of children being raped and abused is not a topic most people feel easy discussing. Who wants to hear about a child being sexually abused or raped? But if we don’t hear these horrific stories then who will listen and who will help?

The numbers of sexually abused children and adults, who were abused as children, is shockingly high, and that won’t include the figures for Pakistani children and adults. It is rarely reported, police are rarely told, statistics are not collected, the figures are not known. The abuse continues. And if you do find the courage to tell then sometimes the blame can be placed on you. The child. You are blamed for smiling too much, for laughing, for not having your hair covered, for encouraging him. You are the guilty one and the abuser is innocent.

My abuser was able to abuse me throughout the five years I lived in Pakistan. I can remember when the time came for me to leave Pakistan and return to Glasgow. He took me to the roof with him, where he could be alone with me, promising to buy me things when he visited Glasgow, dolls and prams and other fancy toys, if I did things to him. I did all the things he asked.

The biggest problem with child sex abuse in the Pakistani community, even if you tell there are few families that will report the rape and abuse to the police. There are even fewer children who will tell their parents and the abuse continues.

Even if Pakistani children wanted to tell, whom would they tell? Pakistani families are so close knit and sometimes it can feel like everyone really does know everyone and if you tell, everyone will know this ‘dirty’ secret that will bring shame on the family. Shame on the family name, for many Pakistani families, is more important than the rape of their children.

How can anyone possibly think it is a good idea to allow polygamous marriages for cultural reasons? One woman sharing one man can be tough enough to handle for most of us. Two women, and two women from completely backgrounds competing for the attention from the same man. Anger taken out on children because he is paying one wife too much attention, anger taken out on each other because he didn’t share your bed last night. Speak to those who lived through the experience. People always want to hear what is was like for the wives, or what benefits the man gets out of a polygamous marriage. Ask the children. As always it is the children who suffer.

When I was forced into my marriage a part of me secretly hoped life would be better. Anything had to be better than the polygamous home I lived in. In this home the Pakistani side was treated like the favourite son and the white side was always made to feel inferior.

I couldn’t have been more wrong about my marriage. It was hell from the wedding night until I finally left him. He was much older than me and let me know early on that he was only with me for the red passport and had no interest in me. This lack of interest didn’t stop him from having sex with me whenever he wanted. Even if I said no he still carried on and the only way to stop him the next night was to lie and say I was on my periods. Most men are embarrassed when it comes to talk about periods and men from Pakistan are no different. I would return to my father’s home regularly and stay for days on end, until he phoned or arrived at the door to take me back home.

I hated him. I look back at the time in my life, which seems a lifetime away, and still can remember how miserable I was that taking my own life seemed the easy way out. There was no Halo Project, no help lines, no trained police officers or other safeguarding agencies that I could have rang for some friendly advice. I had tried to get help when I was 16 years old. I had run away one night and gone to the police station, I was turned away. I tried calling Child Line and telling them of my fears. My fears of being sent to Pakistan and being married to an older man, a stranger and asked for help. I was willing to go into care than return to my parent’s home. They didn’t understand my fears. I ended up going back home that night.

That experience made me believe there was nobody in my life I could talk to and share my feelings with. When it seems like there is nobody to talk to then suicide has an appeal to it. When it seems like there is no end to the misery then being alive is hell. Death would have given me an ending from it all.

My life was devoid of happiness and I was suffering from depression. I had bruises on my face, bruises on my arms, my arms bruised when he held me down while raping me, my face when he slapped me for my defiance. I said I walked into doors, cupboards, sometimes I said nothing. I rarely washed or brushed my hair. I stupidly thought if I made myself as ugly as possible he would stop having sex with me. He didn’t care.

I left him three years later, a few months after I turned 21.   If I had stayed I would not be standing here, I would have taken my own life. Even though it has been 25 years since I left my forced marriage, even though my father has been out of my life for longer than he was part of it, it still to this day affects me. Three years of being raped and then to be disowned for having the courage to say no. For leaving my marriage I was disowned, from the entire community. No amount of counselling and pampering can fix the hurt you just get better at dealing with it, owning it.

Is it any wonder that females of Muslim heritage have one of the highest rates of suicide? A life of misery from birth to marriage for so many women suffering, suffering at the hands of their parents, their husbands or both. And those who should be helping hindered by political correctness and the fear of being called racist.

I am not the only one who was forced into a marriage; I was not the only one being raped on a regular basis. There are thousands of women suffering, worse than I ever did and who knows how many more. There is much more help available than there was when I was forced into a marriage and yet we still hear of the women that were not saved, the women that took their own lives and I wonder what more can be done?

This is why the Halo Project is leading the way in dealing with the isolation that arises from making choices that go against what the family want. If I were being forced into a marriage today the Halo Project would have been a godsend for me. I visited the Halo safe house, met with the families staying there and I did imagine how my life might have turned out if that had been available to me all those years ago. Another family from the community, someone else who had chosen to stand up for her rights, someone to help me keep a hold of my identity, somewhere to belong. A new family.

Giving women a safe space to meet for coffee mornings, organising a running club, empowering them with knowledge through training seminars, courses and Basic English classes. There is a support network there that is vital for the women leaving. We leave everything familiar behind when we are forced to leave our communities, it is easy to lose your identity, it is easy to spiral into drugs and alcohol, used to numb the pain of being alone, its easy to fall for people who do not have your best interests at heart. It’s easy to replace one hell with another kind of hell.

Fear of offending someone’s culture needs to be stamped out. There is little point in attending training seminars, listening to stories from women like me who have lived and experienced the horrors some families under the protection of their culture inflict on their children if at the end of the day you are going to allow the misery to continue, for fear of being called a racist.

If you allow girls to suffer for cultural reasons then you are just as guilty as the families.

In 1986 when I voiced my fears no one took them seriously and to this day I suffer from the marriage I was forced into.

Fast-forward to 2017 and many girls have been saved from the life I was forced into but we know there is many more still suffering at the hands of their abusers because of political correctness.

 

 

 

West Scotland MSP Mary Fee calls for global effort to end FGM practice

MSP Mary Fee has called for a global effort to end the practice of female genital mutilation (FGM).

The West Scotland politician spoke during a debate supporting International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation.

In Scotland, it is estimated that 24,000 living in the country today were born in lands that practise FGM and 12 women were killed as a result of so-called honour-based violence, she noted.

Speaking during the debate, Mrs Fee stated: “The practice of FGM and honour-based violence is driven by the deep-rooted unequal power relationship between men and women across the globe

“Education is key to tackling FGM and honour-based violence.

“A grass-roots approach that aims to alter cultural views on FGM might be a slow process, but it is a necessary one and an effective means in the fight to eradicate FGM across the globe.

“It is important to teach young boys and men that FGM is an extremely dangerous procedure that is not a religious requirement, a prerequisite for marriage or a rite-of-passage ritual.

“It is quite simply an unnecessary, barbaric act that violates women’s and girls’ human rights.”

India’s female genital mutilation: a thousand-year-old secret

So little was known, until recently, about the secretive practice of FGM in a small  Muslim community that India is not even on the UN’s list of FGM countries.

India’s Dawoodi Bohra community has been so closeted about its practice of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) that its recent disclosure shocked even women’s rights activists. It was the highly publicised criminal trial of the FGM of two Bohra girls in Australia, in 2010 and 2011, which shattered the secrecy around this practice.  Following investigation and trial, the mother of the girls, the midwife and a Bohra priest in Australia were sentenced to 15 months in prison in 2016.

They are a Shia Muslim sect that migrated to India  from Yemen in the 12th century.  Their custom of FGM probably originated in Yemen as it’s still a widespread practice there. The Bohra population is only about one million in size, with most settled in western India, and smaller communities in other countries.

 

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