#16DaysofActivism: Marriage, shame and honour: How to ensure equality & justice for South Asian LGBTQ+ community members

By Adesola Anyaegbu

Adesola Anyaegbu is a Graduate Student at the School of International Development and Global Studies, University of Ottawa. 

Marriage should be a celebration of love, commitment and family, however, in many racialized communities around the world, marriage is often reserved for individuals who fit into societal heteronormative standards – this is a problem. 

When we think of gender-based violence in forced marriages, our minds can wander to children who have been forced into arranged marriages. This may take place as an expression of monolithic cultural and religious traditions, or, as a strategy to mitigate the effects of poverty, by poor rural families in the Global South. However, intersectional feminist perspectives highlight the need for greater considerations of LGBTQ+ communities, in forced marriage situations. For example, in South Asian cultures, individuals who do not follow given societal norms or prescribed gender identities and sexual orientation, are often rejected from their communities. 

In Bangladesh and Pakistan, homosexuality is criminalized, with the maximum punishment of a life sentence and capital punishment, respectively. Forced marriages are commonly found practices among South Asian communities in the diaspora – this is a form of honour-based violence. Families, in many cases, arrange marriages for their children, especially those who identify as queer, in an attempt to preserve the family’s honour within the local community. Thomas Reuters Foundation reports the case of Noor, a lesbian British-Pakistani woman. She was told by her family to “find someone for yourself or we’ll find one for you.” Noor was forced to marry another gay man, and has been left impoverished, as a result of the end of her fake marriage. 

The freedom to choose: How do we define consent?

A forced marriage typically occurs, when one or both of the individuals involved, are coerced into a marriage against their wishes: this is a violation of human rights and a form of gender-based violence. LGBTQ+ community members are held to cultural and religious expectations, which expect them to marry partners of the opposite sex, or they are seen as bringing shame to their families. In Canada, it is against the law to force an individual into marriage, however, LGBTQ+ individuals can often times be tricked by their families, into forced marriages abroad. 

The Forced Marriage Unit (FMU), established in 2005, documented the case of Sukhvinder, who was tricked into going to India to visit a relative that had fallen ill. Upon arrival, his mobile phone, travel documents and money were confiscated by his family. They told him that they knew he was gay, and that he would have to remain in India, and marry a woman that was assigned to him. Sukhvinder reported that he refused and was beaten by male members of his family. He was able to return to the United Kingdom with the help of the British consulate. This form of violence, often results in severe trauma, and inevitable intimate partner violence in the form of rape, psychological aggression, and loss of life.

Funding not-for-profits can save lives.

Matt Mahmood-Ogston, a queer activist, is the founder of the Naz & Matt Foundation which was created after Matt’s partner, Naz, took his own life after he was confronted by his family about his sexuality. Matt explains that Naz was seen as bringing dishonor and shame to his family. The Foundation was created by Matt in 2014, and provides support for LGBTQ+ individuals, to address challenges relating to shame and stigma within their families. 

Not-for-profit organizations which seek to empower racialized LGBTQ+ community members, are at the forefront of the battle for stronger protection, and support to those whose human rights have been breached. Many LGBTQ+ individuals that speak against their family are ostracized from the community; and younger LGBTQ+ individuals, especially, are left with limited financial resources and mental health support. FMU reports, that in addition to physical, emotional and psychological abuse, individuals often face financial abuse, such as withholding a person’s wage as one of the risk factors associated with forced marriages. Immigration Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), lists forced marriages as one of the concerns for travelling overseas, and provides some assistance for potential victims. Despite Canada’s vast South Asian community, the government has not created a unit similar to the FMU to address these issues. However, the IRCC website lists non-governmental resources which provide assistance, such as the South Asian Legal Clinic of Ontario (SALC), and the End Forced Marriage Project created by MOSAIC, and Ending Violence Association of BC (EVA).

It is imperative that we invest in harm reduction and fiscally support organizations, who are actively contributing to the protection and promotion of the rights of LGBTQ+ community members. Their life-saving and resource-sharing work, is vital to the survival of LGBTQ+ community members; our contributions to supporting the end of gender-based violence must include them, for a truly supportive and sustainable violence-free world.  


References

Lin Taylor. Young, gay and married – Britons wed to avoid abuse. Thomson Reuters Foundation August 23, 2018.

Map of Countries that Criminalize LGBT People.

Forced marriage (Government of Canada)

Child, early and forced marriage (Government of Canada)

What is a Forced Marriage? (UK Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office)

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