International Women's Day - Be bold for change!
International Women's Day - Be bold for change!
8 March 2017
Today is International Women’s Day. It is a day to focus on what we, as individuals and collectively, can do to empower women and girls and create a more inclusive, gender-equal world, for everyone.
Themes for the day are connected, from #BeBoldForChange (internationalwomensday.com) to the United Nations theme, “Women in the Changing World of Work: Planet 50-50 by 2030” (unwomen.org/en/news/in-focus/international-womens-day; unwomen.org.au).
In Australia, and around the world, broadening the response to the growing issue of forced marriage is a major step to empowering women and girls and ensuring their human rights in all spheres of life are respected and supported.
In Australia, forced marriage is an act of slavery that was criminalised in 2013.
Below, Laura Vidal, National Projects Coordinator for The Salvation Army’s Freedom Partnership – to End Modern Slavery, writes about forced marriage and the vital need to end the practice in Australia.
Laura has recently been awarded a Winston Churchill Memorial Trust Fellowship to develop policies, practices and strategies to help end early and forced marriage in Australia. To read more, go to others.org.au/news/2016/12/09/freedom-partnerships-laura-vidal-earns-churchill-fellowship/
It’s time to end forced marriage in Australia
Laura Vidal has been awarded a Winston Churchill Memorial Trust Fellowship.
Just a few hours before I sat down to write this article, I was with a young woman at a school in Sydney. She was facing a forced marriage; promised to a man 12 years her senior. Through physical and psychological abuse, she was being presented with no choice other than to enter into the marriage. Fearful, alone and exhausted, she shared her story with me, taking a chance and boldly reaching out, hoping that there was something else for her, that this marriage was not something she had to do.
In Australia, forced marriage is an act of slavery that was criminalised in 2013. Since then, the Australian Federal Police has received 113 reports of this practice. The criminalisation of forced marriage has led to a concentrated effort by the Federal Government and community to raise awareness, but there remains little comprehensive data available about the true extent of this practice in Australia. The shame and fear associated with reporting a forced marriage means that what we know about its prevalence is only the tip of the iceberg. Many choose not to report to the police for fear of the consequences that any involvement with law enforcement will have on their family and community. Also, many people in the community do not know how they can help people like the young woman I met at the school.
Individuals impacted in Australia by forced marriage are primarily girls under the age of 18, with relatives or people close to them alleged to have organised or be organising a marriage without their free and full consent. The framework to support these individuals in Australia is developing, but there are significant gaps in the availability of appropriate services. Access to support services is contingent on cooperation with law enforcement.
On International Women’s Day last year, I wrote an article for the Huffington Post on this issue, recommending that broadening Australia’s approach to forced marriage is the next step to empowering women and girls. While attitudes are shifting, there has been no substantive change to Australia’s response in the past 12 months. I write again, calling for the same advances to Australia’s response. As with victims of crimes such as family violence or sexual assault, services should be made available to people, without a requirement to cooperate with police. Additionally, state and federal government agencies need to develop cooperative frameworks to ensure that no person facing forced marriage falls through the cracks.
Forced marriage is an act which deprives somebody of their human rights. While recognised as a form a form of slavery in Australia, globally forced marriage is understood as a form of gender-based violence. It does affect men, however the highest representation of victims are women, demonstrating that we continue to live in a world where the rights of women/girls are not equal. One could further argue that the cooperation requirement with law enforcement in order to access support, disadvantages women and their right to escape violence.
The theme for International Women’s Day in 2017, on 8 March, is “Be Bold For Change!”. It requires all of us, men and women, to engage in purposeful collaboration. It is evermore pressing for us to take action when as a sophisticated country there remain unacceptable levels of disparity between men and women. We cannot stand by and accept that women face situations of forced marriage as a result of their diminished status in society.
There is no simple solution to ending forced marriage. However, we must start by committing to genuine engagement with communities to recognise that women and girls have equal value to that of their male counterparts. In recognising their equal value, we can promote empowerment, choice and opportunity. Women and girls have a right to choose who, when and if they marry.
The young woman I met at that school in Sydney displayed tremendous courage in reaching out for help. Women and girls like her deserve no less than our equal courage, to be bold in our actions, to agitate for change and lead the way for women and girls to experience the full realisation of their rights.
To learn more about The Freedom Partnership’s work on forced marriage in Australia, go to endslavery.salvos.org.au/learn/identifying-slave-like-or-forced-marriage