Monday, 15 December 2008

Forced Marriages

I was part of a crew in Baku a few years back when one of the guys got involved with a local girl, an ethnic Russian. For the brief time they were together they actually made a good looking couple. But Tim (as we shall call him) obviously had little idea about the local culture. One night over a few vodka’s, he looked over at Svetlana and said, almost to himself

“Maybe I should kidnap you.”

My heart sank. “No Tim, you have no clue what it’s like here.”

Svetlana stared back. “I already have been kidnapped. I escaped after three days.”

Today, the story of Humyra Abedin, 33, the UK-based trainee doctor, is in the news. She is being returned to Britain after suffering four months of captivity at the hands of her parents, who had been trying to force her into a local marriage. Most people associate such behaviour with families originating within the Indian sub-continent. This is not the case. Kidnap and forced marriage has long been a tradition in the southern republics of the ex-Soviet Union; often with the connivance of the girl’s family.

Before we were married, my wife was often pursued by suitors. One such was a close friend of her cousin who lives in Almaty, Kazakhstan. This particular friend was well-liked by the rest of the family and was undoubtedly sincere in intent. But for some reason was not acceptable to the one person whose opinion mattered most. This led to much frustration, until one day the cousins were discussing the matter. The conversation ended with the threat:

“So you won’t have him? What if I lock you in this room until you change your mind?”

It is at such times women realise their own vulnerability in the face of violence, even at the hands of their own family. Such attitudes will only end when women are no longer as seen as commodities to be traded and are respected for what and who they are: each as an individual human being.

Photo Credit: Dr Abedin outside the Dhaka High Court Photo: EPA

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