Trigger warning: Strong language, Sensitive topic, Suicide, Abuse, Murder.
When I was fourteen, my life changed forever. For my birthday, my friend Salihah gave me a book. As we laughed, neither of us realised what a powerful gift it was. Jasvinder Sanghera’s ‘Daughter’s of Shame’ is a collection of stories of women and men who had suffered in Forced Marriages and from Honour Based Abuse. Jasvinder’s own story of how she escaped such a match at the age of 16 was hard to swallow. Her sister Robina’s tragic suicide due to her own abusive marriage was ever harder. But neither story prepared me for the devastation that belonged only to Uzma Arshad, who was battered to death alongside her three small children for ‘dishonoring her husband.’
Uzma’s story cemented itself in my mind. It lingered there for days, and I was unable to sleep. I longed to save those children. I wanted to help, but at 14? I didn’t know how I could. Coming from an Irani-Pakistani background myself, I could have easily been in their position. But I wasn’t. My single mother didn’t subscribe to the notion of honour in the same way. I knew I had to act. So I began the simplest form of activism I knew; talking. I talked to everyone I knew about the book; teachers, friends, other students, my family. It was evident I was passionate about it.
It took me three years to launch my first campaign. Three years, three proposals and three different Head teachers. By my final year, when I sat in the Head’s office explaining what I wanted to do, I was desperate for them to believe I was capable enough to do my GCSEs and launch the campaign.
Eventually they agreed, and with my friends we pulled off a spectacular event. We would hold bake sales and cold call businesses for sponsorship, as we had no budget to hold the event. Catering companies and big businesses donated canapés for a drinks reception, three-course meal, drinks and items to auction and raffle.
We invited 120 people, including local councilors, parents, students, and Baroness Scotland delivered a keynote speech. Ruby James a Yr. 11 student wrote and directed a play, and Catherine Phillips choreographed a contemporary dance all on the subject of Forced Marriage. On the evening we raised over £5,000. I left that school with a string of A’s and A*’s proving it was possible after all.
That summer, I did work experience with a law firm and came across some immigration cases that featured Forced Marriage. One lunchtime my phone rang out of the blue. It was an unknown number. I answered it. Someone was ringing me for advice about a Forced Marriage! I quickly intervened, calling the relevant parties.
The girl in question Jasmine* had already been alerted to the authorities but they were unable to bring her back from Algeria as she wasn’t a British Citizen. Through the new information I had brought to the case, it was determined she did have a British passport and could be saved. Jasmine was brought home safe and sound. I felt like all the work so far had been completely worth it, because we had saved someone!
From there I met a Female Genital Mutilation survivor, and we did a double act at Frederick Bremer School discussing these issues. I realized at that point education is at the heart of prevention. Through raising awareness within schools, we could trigger a true grassroots change in our communities to end these practices for good.
Thus, E2E was born; because we educate in order to eradicate these practices. By training teachers we are increasing that chances that young people at risk will be protected. We also work with young people to raise their awareness. It is so important that everyone knows and understands these issues: not just practicing communities. Survivors or potential victims will disclose to those close to them. Breaking the taboo and decreasing isolation can encourage more people to come forward.
In September 2015 I took this campaign with me to the United Nations and discussed it in New York when I was chosen to represent the UK as an Official UK Youth Delegate to the UN. I never could have guessed at 14 reading Jasvinder's book that I would be discussing her story in front of hundreds.
We look forward to building a world where FGM, Forced Marriage and Honour Abuse have become historical practices and where individuals have the freedom to live their lives how they please.
So join us and support our work to #Educate2Eradicate.