Sexuality played an important role in some participants’ experience of forced marriage. In some cases, parents and extended family pressurised women and men to marry because they were seen as having sexual or potentially sexual experiences that were not acceptable. Pressure was put upon survivors to marry the appropriate person. Forced marriages or engagements were precipitated by fears that survivors (women and men) were in ‘unsuitable relationships’, (or that their siblings were) and as a way of containing their sexuality (THW3, THW4, THW6, THW8, BRW1, BRW4, BRM3 MW2, MW5, MW14, MW19). Three participants were pressurised to marry because they were gay (THW8, MM14, MW19); and two women from abroad married men whom they later discovered were gay (MW8, MW12).
In one case, a man who was Bangladeshi at the time of marriage was forced to marry a British Bangladeshi because he was in love with a woman who was seen as ‘unsuitable’ and because his parents believed that immigrating to the UK would improve his chances of happiness. However, he had experienced severe depression since his marriage (BRM3).
In two other instances women and men outside the UK were forced to marry when they were discovered to be in relationships with members of the opposite sex (THW6, BRM3) and in these cases the relationships were deemed ‘unsuitable’ not for reasons of caste or class differences but because of fears associated with sexual activity.
My relationship with [name of boyfriend] was innocent, we held hands but never did anything…I never even took my clothes off, and we were punished like this….they [aunt and uncle] never asked for my side of the story, and when I tried to explain, my aunt covered her ears and said that she didn’t want to hear the dirt (THW6).
In UK based relationships:
When I went to college I actually met someone [who was considered unsuitable] that’s probably part of the reason why I was forced in to the marriage. (MW5)
In one instance a young woman from India was forced to marry a man living in the UK, when her parents discovered that she was lesbian (THW8). A lesbian woman from Sierra Leone was forced to marry her aunt’s son:
I never thought about getting married to a man, I just wanted to fall in love with a woman…They said I should get married to the son to get help with money…I told my mum I can’t (MW19).
Having disclosed her sexuality, she experienced physical violence and ostracism:
I told my mum I can’t do that …my aunty started slapping me, punching me…you want to be a prostitute and go out with women. (MW19).
A gay man (UK national) was pressurised to marry despite his parents knowing that he was gay. His account demonstrates the pressure to conform and to meet parental and community expectations. The pressure continued throughout his 20s and 30s despite being in a relationship with his current (male) partner. A chance meeting with an Indian lesbian on a trip to India presented an opportunity for both of them.
We concocted this plan where by we would talk to each other and see how it would progress, I told her that if I would go back to my village in India I would get the pressure, the pressure of being single and not married and the pressure of the family expectation of my parents… but again it was by me trying to reconcile those aspects of my life which was how do you fulfil your parent’s expectations. (MM14)
They decided to get engaged and settle for a marriage of convenience:
I felt that actually I will do them a service that actually having this sham, a sham marriage because sham in the way we weren’t attracted to each other, but she happened to be a woman and I happened to be a man and we both could see the, how to help each other in this arrangement (MM14).
However, the marriage did not take place as they both found it too difficult and painful.
7.1.5 Asylum and Immigration
Forced marriage experiences linked to asylum and immigration can be broadly divided in two categories. The first were foreign nationals who were forced to marry either to improve their own career and life chances (BRM3); or alternatively where UK nationals were under obligation to improve the life chances of relatives from outside the EU (THW5, BRM4). Also one woman (BRW7), a UK national, was forced to marry and live abroad. The second category concerned women who were forced into marriage in their countries of origin (outside the EU) and who had claimed or were claiming asylum in the UK on the basis of gender persecution (MW1, MW19, MW20).
Improving life chances as highlighted above may also be linked to poverty, and poverty and hardship were explicitly mentioned by two African women as a route into forced marriage. Both instances were linked to bride price (MW19 and MW20) (see also Ooto-Oyertey and Pobi, 2003). Choice and consent were therefore not available in these situations and crucially women were used as commodities to alleviate poverty:
For one of the women (MW19), the extreme poverty of her family (exacerbated by her father’s death) was a key factor (together with issues of sexuality) initiating her forced marriage:
Poverty is the major thing…if she [prospective in-laws] gives money, the family won’t ask [for the young woman’s consent]…the money will buy rice for them. …. Because of money, they will send their kids [for marriage] (MW19).
In the other participant’s account (MW20), bride price was also a central feature of reducing family poverty and locked the woman further into the marriage:
the majority of the marriage you have to do…your father cannot afford to look after you…you have to get married because you are forced you have to please your family, to please society…your father is charging such substantial amounts for you to get married… I can’t afford to pay the money [back] to them [in-laws] so you have to stay there [in the marriage]. (MW20)
Women are thus structurally located as the conduit to family survival and women’s own aspirations are subordinated within patriarchal structures:
Your father possesses you then your husband possesses you there is nowhere to go…Women are money….they say the more girls you have the more you will get richer… (MW20)