This follow up to “Shame” by Jasvinder Sanghera is in some ways an easy read – if you don’t know much about forced marriage, you’ll probably speed through the book, horrified by the many stories of the women Sanghera has met. Stories of rape, murder, incarceration, mutilation – usually at the hands of close family and in the name of “izzat” or “honour” – make you wonder about the state of human society. But there is a glimmer of hope, in the form of those working together to combat these terrible crimes in the UK. Karma Nirvana was founded by Sanghera in 1993 following the death of her sister, who saw suicide by means of setting herself on fire to be the only way out of her marriage. The charity has since expanded, supporting not only women but men and couples in need of help.
I was given “Daughters of Shame” by a friend. I’ve not read the first book, and this wouldn’t be the kind of book I would have picked out myself. Although I was aware of some of the issues surrounding forced marriages, reading this book has made me more aware of the scale of the problem in the UK. It’s easy to think “that kind of thing doesn’t happen any more”, or “that wouldn’t happen in my town” – but it does.
Figures out today show that the Government’s dedicated Forced Marriage Unit are handling around 120 cases per month, although estimates suggest the actual instance of forced marriage could be around five times that. Figures are all very well, but it’s hard to get your head around them, and they are easy to ignore. According to Peter Singer in “The Life You Can Save“, people are more likely to give money to charity if an advertising campaign highlights one individual who the money can help. This is the case with this book – the stories create the impact. Yes, there’s information about Karma Nirvana, and the action that police forces and the government are taking – but the stories are what stick with you.
The book gives a good introduction to forced marriages, the issues surrounding them and the impact they can have, though at times the sheer number of women’s stories in the book can get confusing, as so many stories are interwoven throughout the book. The author’s narrative voice can become a bit overbearing, and at times slightly irritatingly boastful – though you have to respect all the work she and her colleagues have done in the face of opposition and, occasionally, threats of danger.
Reading the stories of “Daughters of Shame” can at times make the situation with forced marriages in the UK seems deep-rooted and hopeless. There is hope though – the beginnings of change are highlighted, such as the Choice Line for those who need help, and the training and support which Karma Nirvana can offer. Training and awareness within the system are key to ensuring that cases of forced marriage are identified and acted on by those who come into contact with the victims – social services, police, schools.
As well as awareness, political change is important in this field. Campaigning by Karma Nirvana was mentioned in the book, and things have progressed since 2009 – as highlighted by today’s announcement. I always think when reading books based on issues – whatever the issue – the author misses a trick by not ending with a “call to action” – even if just a page or two on what readers could do. It might be cheesy, but it might ensure the book has more impact. Contact details for relevant organisations are included though, and if you have a snoop around the Karma Nirvana website there’s a section on things you can do to help. You can write to your MP, or sign their petition. Mostly though, it’s about raising awareness. Hopefully this post will go a small way towards that. Please share.