Trans-national arranged marriage has been in the news this week with debate over immigration policy and recent comments from New Zealand First MP Shane Jones.
Many community leaders have defended the cultural practice but others believe it is time to scrutinise how these marriages can increase women's vulnerability to abuse.
Farida Sultana is the founder of the New Zealand branch of Shakti which provides "culturally appropriate domestic violence intervention services to women of Asian, African and Middle Eastern origin".
Around half of the marriages in the world are arranged. It’s a figure Sultana hopes will reduce with time. She’s against the practice and says women are often emotionally coerced or forced to accept the marriage.
“My personal reservation is that choosing a life partner should be an individual choice.”
From a Muslim Bangladeshi background she had help from Shakti Women’s Aid in Scotland to leave an emotionally abusive arranged marriage herself.
She says that while arranged marriages might make sense in home countries where the spouses have their parents and their communities around them, they can leave women isolated and dependent in immigration settings.
Sultana says almost all of the women that come to Shakti are from arranged marriages.
“If they lived in their own countries, they would have another house or live with their in-laws, live close by their parents… there would be others supporting them. But the girls who get married and migrate through marriage, she loses that entire support system.”
She says that if women could go back to their home countries for support, it would be better. But going home after a marriage breakdown is seen as a failure in many of the countries these women are from.
“It’s not just marriage breakdown; she went to live in New Zealand or Australia or UK, now she’s back home because her husband didn’t want her anymore. That’s huge for the family, that’s huge for her, losing all her status.”
Sultana says the practice of arranged marriage is a continuation of a patriarchal system that doesn’t have our children’s best interest at heart. Her own children have been free to, and have, married whoever they please, she says.
She denies that there is a cultural element to arranged marriage.
“It’s not culture, it’s bad practice. Nobody should be proud of something which is a violation of human rights, violation of individual rights.”
If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence and is of Asian, Middle Eastern or African descent, call 0800 SHAKTI (742584)