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Forced Marriage and Free Partner Choice

On Saturday, November 9th Overseas Progressive Pakistanis (OPP) organized an event on the topic of ‘Forced marriages and free partner choice’ and discussed the causes and effects of it on the lives of individuals in particular and the society at large.


A panel of three women that included a member of a welfare organization, a survivor of an abusive marriage and a therapist and life coach, along with many other women in the audience who specialize in many areas of women welfare, discussed the issues faced by women living in abusive relationships without a choice.


Many important issues were discussed that contribute to the problem of forced marriages in our society. First and foremost is the issue of tradition, majority of immigrant parents (afraid to lose their moorings in a new country consider it important to adhere to the traditions of the land they immigrated from) continue to follow the tradition of arranged marriage notwithstanding the big gap that forms in the personalities of the younger generation that grew up in two different environments and cultures, Pakistan and the Netherlands. 


The concept of “apna” (our own/known) plays a big role in forced marriages. Not trusting the unknown (someone out of the family with different family customs), afraid of being labelled as modernized by the family members back home, and not trusting the children who grew up in a different culture to make a good choice in choosing their partners.


Another factor that is equally important is that of religious concepts since the predominant belief is that in Islam when a child reaches puberty, they are considered of marriageable age.  This age is significantly lower than what is considered marriageable in western society. Also, in Islam, getting your children married off is considered the duty and responsibility of the parents regardless of the wishes of the children. To fulfil their responsibility, the parents employ various tactics including emotional blackmail to get their children to agree to an arranged marriage.


One more contributing factor discussed was the concept of honour, when girls and women growing up here do not want to adhere to the traditional way of conservative lifestyle and want to assert their freedom of expression, the parents feel that their family honour is being tarnished, as a result, they forcibly marry off their daughters to a traditional groom in their home country to save the family honour.


Mostly women, but also men are forced to stay in an abusive relationship when they arrive in the Netherlands because of many factors some of the factors discussed during the evening were: lack of integration in the Dutch society. Sometimes the women are forced to stay disconnected from the society by not given the freedom to even go out of the house or making any friends; lack of education, economic independence, freedom of movement and integration into the Dutch society; Negative stereotypes both in Pakistan and in the diaspora about independent-minded women engaged in their economic and social pursuits; and fear of reprisals from the Pakistani diaspora and being alienated from the community along with the fear of disgrace in the family back in Pakistan.


The audience and the panellists came with many recommendations and efforts that can help the women living in an abusive relationship as a result of forced marriage. Some of these ideas are: be sensitized to the situation of domestic violence and view the situation through the lens of human dignity; make issues openly discussable by involving younger generation, organize discussions among peer groups. Organize social gatherings where people talk with each other; education is a key in enabling the victims of domestic violence to understand the violence and also to take steps to free themselves from it; actively support the victims of violence by making individual contacts with possible victims; social media should be used with contact numbers so women are able to get in touch if they are in an abusive relationship and want to get help; leaflets to be placed at different public places like grocery stores, inburgering centres, etc.

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