Forced marriage? Don’t forget the boys.

Published by Daily Mail

Forced marriage2I wrote some time ago of Halima (not her real name) who was one of my delights to teach. I’d identified her as ‘Gifted & Talented’ after just one lesson when she came to me in Year 10. She loved philosophy and was captivated by politics and theology, especially issues relating to the Middle East. She also had a flair for public speaking and a charisma for debating which frequently left her peers floundering. I always remember intellects like hers, not least because they made getting out of bed in a morning so much more worthwhile. She told me at one point that she wanted to go into politics: I’d helped to nurture a little future Aung San Suu Kyi. Brilliant.

Then, one day, she arrived at my class wearing a hijab. Nothing wrong with that: hundreds of girls in the school wore one, and seemed very content to do so. But Halima was no longer arguing or debating; in fact, she was scarcely speaking. This went on for quite a few weeks; neither her form tutor nor head of year could elicit anything from her as to why her demeanour had changed so profoundly; why she was suddenly so sad and withdrawn. And neither could I, until one parents’ evening when her father and elder brother came to see. In front of Halima, they began to explain to me how this straight-A* student was such a disappointment to them: all she talked about was religion and politics – men’s things – and she showed no respect for them or interest in getting married and being a doctor – the imminent life they clearly had planned for her. I listened politely, trying very subtly to reason with them by drawing attention to Halima’s outstanding grades. She became visibly upset as I made the defence. Her father scolded her, told her she was a disgrace, and they moved on to their next appointment. Continue reading