Forced Marriage as a Form of Violence Against Women
It is important to recognize forced marriage as a form of violence against women in order to understand that:
Forced Marriage is Not a Cultural or Religious Practice
Forced marriage occurs in all patriarchal societies at some point, and manifests itself in all patriarchal institutions, whether they are religious, legal, cultural or governmental. Understanding forced marriage as a form of violence against women allows us to understand that it is not a core tradition of any particular culture or religion but rather a symptom of patriarchal control.
Forced Marriage is Directly Related to Women’s Inferior Position Within Society
Forced marriage is overwhelmingly a form of power and control used against women and girls. Like partner abuse, rape and other forms of sexual assault, it is used to control women, their sexuality, and often, their offspring. If forced marriage is not positioned as a form of violence against women, women’s treatment and status throughout society will not be examined, leaving the roots of this form of violence – women’s inequality – untouched.
Male Victims of Forced Marriage are Treated “As If” They Were Women
In patriarchal societies, the worst insult that can be given to a man is to equate him with, or call him, a woman. Men who are forced to marry often feel less “manly”, less in control, because they feel that they are being treated like women. In her study of young men from immigrant communities in Norway, Anja Bredal found that “Forced marriage is an especially problematic term when trying to get young men to talk. It has been a topic related to young women, and it is important for these men not to be associated with women’s problems.” 4
Positioning forced marriage as a form of violence against women allows us to critique the position of both women and men within society, and the damage done by gender stereotypes and the devaluation of women.
Where forced marriage is not understood as a form of violence against women, some men have reacted by taking out the anger they feel at their loss of control onto the women they have been forced to marry. When this happens, these men are in fact perpetuating the very system that abused them.
When men come to an understanding of the negative consequences of patriarchal control for both genders they will be able to work with women to overcome these attitudes and practices. Men who have faced forced marriage will come to understand that the inferior status of women in patriarchal societies needs to be eliminated in order to ensure the freedom of all members of society.