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FCO Women’s stories – fighting forced marriage

With International Women’s Day coming up on 8 March I’m delighted to host a guest post on my blog about some of the women that work in the Foreign Office and about the globally recognised work of the Forced Marriage Unit.

Sophie Wright is a case worker in the Forced Marriage Unit, she helps provide support for people at risk of forced marriage, many of whom are women and girls. Over to you Sophie…

You could say I’ve done a 180 degree turn with my career in some respects, from being a probation officer working with offenders, to championing the rights of victims with the Forced Marriage Unit.

When I became a case worker in the Forced Marriage Unit 18 months ago, it wasn’t an area I knew much about. But I find that as time progresses, I feel more and more passionately about this issue.

Sophie Wright

Sophie Wright

As a probation officer in the public protection unit, I worked with high risk offenders; always trying to defend the ‘underdog’, those many others would never talk to, including rapists, murderers and paedophiles. Now I am working for women and men that deserve to have their voices heard, but are shut down by all those around them.

I knew about honour based violence through my last job – writing reports about fathers who beat their daughters and caused them harm.

Now, I defend and assist people just like those girls. Forced marriage victims, in contrast with offenders, have done nothing wrong; they simply want to make their own decisions about their futures. To be in a job that can directly affect lives and give women hope when all seems lost is amazing and I feel very proud of the work we do.

My work takes me around the UK to undertake outreach activity, as well as overseas to share information with other countries about how the UK is addressing forced marriage. My casework includes assisting victims escape from forced marriages both here in the UK and overseas.

I speak with them – or sometimes worried friends – as well as working with police, social services and our embassies overseas. I also do outreach in schools and colleges to talk about forced marriage, raising awareness of our work and about the warning signs of forced marriage.

Our team also works with NGOs to develop new ways to spread the word about forced marriage and where to get help for those at risk.

Today we’re launching a smartphone app we have helped to fund, which has been developed by the charity ‘Freedom’. We’re always looking for different avenues to make sure people can get the information they need to get help if they are worried they’re at risk of forced marriage.

Forced Marriage can be and is misunderstood.

Before I worked here, I wasn’t sure of the difference between arranged or forced or sham marriages. Or that forced marriage affects men and boys as well as women and girls. I genuinely had no idea about how something as simple as being seen at a bus stop with a boy could trigger a chain of events which could result in a forced marriage.

There are many other horrible crimes committed on the road to a forced marriage as well – kidnap, death threats, violence, rape or torture. Unfortunately, every day I will hear of a case that shocks me and reminds me how serious this issue is.

Working in this role has really opened my eyes to how women from other cultures, communities, backgrounds – as well as from my own – can be treated simply because they are female. It has made me appreciate the freedom I have always taken for granted and has filled me with an ongoing desire to push for all women to have the right to choose how their lives are lived.

5 Responses

  1. Andy Knight says:

    Thanks for this eye opener.

  2. Abiodun Ogundipe says:

    A laudable effort.

  3. No society can move forward wthout the full participation of women.

    As a single parent child who lost his father before birth I can say with authority that if my mother were not educated or treated as an equal, my history would have been different.

    Today I have six Royal Honours to my credit, thanks to my mother.

    Those who treat women as inferior become inferior themselves as everyone is judged by the company they keep.

    It is madness to turn assets into libilities by not treating women as equals. Such people are doomed from the start.

  4. Eugene Egan says:

    I was at an event today in Birmingham about forced marriages. It was very enlightening. Keep up the great work. Without people such as yourself this barbaric practice would continue to go un-noticed with many victims suffering in silence. You give hope to women who are traumatised and who have no voice. Keep up the great work!

  5. Stelios Christopoulos says:

    Forced marriage is an important human rights issue. The use of force is a negative indicator of development in any society. Moreover, the more women are empowered in a society the faster this society can achieve and consolidate its MDGs. I am glad to note that the Foreign Office has such a Unit staffed with good and motivated people.

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