The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

Running from the altar, in search of justice, freedom

Freedom was within sight. Disguised in costumes of boys’ clothing, two young girls were on the bus — their destination: Herat province. Though Herat is not the most liberal province of Afghanistan, it stood as a beacon of hope for these girls when neither their parents nor the police would protect them. In fact, it was their parents and the illegal marriages that were forced upon them that had driven them to search for solace in the first place. Prior to their escape, the girls had been exchanged like currency and forced into marriage with strangers to repay a debt of their family’s honor.

At long last, they made their escape. That is, until the bus reached the checkpoint.

Seeing through the facade, a police officer apprehended the girls and returned them to the custody of their parents, who sent them back to live with their significantly older husbands in their village in Ghor province.

Seldom is a brutal public flogging considered a suitable welcome home, but — under the watch of townspeople armed with video cameras — these girls endured the violent punishment. Neither Khadija Rasoul, 13, nor Basgol Sakhi, 14, flinched.

This story, published on May 30, 2010, in The New York Times, is only one example of the countless illegal forced child marriages that have taken place and continue to take place globally.

As reported by the United Nations, “the 2009 Elimination of Violence against Women law criminalizes child marriage, forced marriage, selling and buying women for the purpose or under the pretext of marriage, baad (giving away a woman or girl to settle a dispute), forced self-immolation and 17 other acts of violence against women, including rape and beating.” However it is clear that despite the EVAW law, illegal forced marriages are still taking place.

“We need to work towards … equity, especially for women, in different societies, and – if we see means that limit them – we do need to participate more fully but in a dialogical way or looking at local solutions,” said Assistant Professor of Religious Studies Parveen Hasanali. “Quite often in the same ways as there are groups like UNICEF that are global, there are also women’s groups within the society itself that are fighting for these things. We need to turn to people who have the expertise within their societies to resolve the problems in that particular society.”

One such group is Women For Afghan Women. This organization, based in both Afghanistan and New York, works, in the words of New York program manager Naheed Bahram, to “teach the family about the values of having a daughter, the importance of having a daughter — teaching them of the equality between having a daughter and a son which does not exist in Afghanistan.”

Hasanali also brought up the importance of taking into account the problem of ethnocentrism. Bahram, herself having had an arranged marriage, points out that, while we may judge certain customs as strange or unethical, there may be more similarities than we realize.

“To be honest with you, marrying somebody is a gamble,” said Bahram to the Guilfordian. “You marry your boyfriend with whom you were for five or six years, after you marry him, he is not your boyfriend, he is your husband.

“Arranged marriage is the same thing. You marry someone who you may not know well enough and that has been chosen by your family who has more experience than you, who has more knowledge of life than you, and in the case of having trouble, they will (welcome) you back with open arms.”

There is a fine line between forced marriage and arranged marriage. It is important to be respectful of a culture’s choice to practice marriage as they wish, but we must also take into consideration the rights of women everywhere.

With the help of organizations such as Women For Afghan Women, victims of domestic violence and forced marriage may have hope to live as free and willfully independent women, but the fight will not be over until every woman is allowed to live the life she wants.

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