By Iman Bukhari, CEO of Canadian Mosaic Foundation
Forced marriage is a complicated issue. It is a form of slavery and violence. In a forced marriage, the marriage takes place without the free consent of the individuals getting married, where pressure (physical and emotional) or abuse is used to force one or both people to marry against their will.
This can happen to anyone: of any sex or age. Something that many people don’t know is that a forced marriage can occur in any culture, class, religion or area of the world. It’s important to note that it may occur more often in certain parts of the world, but it is not promoted through any religion or culture.
Marriages throughout human history were originally arranged between families, especially before the 18th century. The practices varied by culture, but usually involved the legal transfer of dependency of the woman from her father to the husband. The emancipation of women in the 19th and 20th centuries changed marriage laws dramatically. However, this old traditional practice still remains in our world today. Forced marriages are a global problem, and a hidden problem in Canada. Many people don’t know that it happens in our own backyard.
I remember having several conversations about the issue to some friends, colleagues, acquaintances and more. Many of them went on to say that this practice is from the East, and Canada, being the advance country it is, has nothing to do with it. I believe these people didn’t understand the historical aspect behind the practice and how real it still is, even in Canada.
Last year, I had the eye opening experience of documenting this issue. I originally began the documentary by inspiration of a film competition held by the Rational Society of Pakistan. I started out with asking my friends and community if they knew any victims. To my surprise, a few of my own friends were forced into a marriage (ranging from the age of 17-27).
Although the topic of forced marriage has never been foreign to me, I found it shocking that I actually knew people who were forced. Seeing pictures of their wedding through social media, I had only assumed there was consent from both sides. After further research, I began to talk to more victims about their devastating stories. I spoke to a total of 10 different individuals. Their race, religion, sex and culture varied. However, I found it continuously difficult to convince them to be a part of my documentary. You can imagine the stigma attached to this. The concept of shame, dishonour, hurt and depression was constantly brought up.
I was finally able to convince a woman who had an amazing story to tell. I promised her that her identity would remain anonymous, and in my film I show only parts of her (hands, lips, hair). She is probably one of the bravest women I know. I can’t even imagine going through the endless struggles that were put upon her at the tender age of 13! It’s hard to even comprehend the thought: a 13 year old. That’s typically a child in grade seven, going through all kinds of changes. It’s a very fragile age, and to be put upon that situation, not knowing what to do is a very heart breaking thought. Listening to her, I saw tears flow in her eyes constantly when speaking of her dark days. Sometimes, she would start shaking and ask for a break. If sheer emotional pain can be physically seen, then I have seen it in her.
At the end of the interview, I left her house as a changed woman. If my documentary allows the audience to relate to her, then my work will be worthwhile. A forced marriage damages the self-worth of a victim and creates a cycle of tragic events for the entire family. My documentary looks at this modern day form of slavery: its history, the emotional devastation for the victim and the point of view of a mother who forced her daughter into marriage. You can come watch a free screening of the documentary tomorrow at noon at the John Dutton theatre.
A youtube link will also be made available a few days after the documentary is screened.