The Truth about Honor Based Violence in Australia

By Karen Brittain, Executive Officer, 100 Women

A nine year old girl – forced to marry a man in his 30’s here in Perth.

Read that again.

This is the end of her childhood. This is forced marriage. And it’s happening here on Australian soil.

Recently I had the opportunity to meet and listen to an incredible and heart wrenching presentation by Dr Carol Kaplanian, CF at Ishar Multicultural Women’s Health Services “Talking Culture” event, where I learned about the cold, harsh reality of this crisis.

Dr Kaplanian is an honor based violence expert with a PhD in honour killings, a Churchill Fellow on FDV in the CaLD communities and a subject matter expert for the Australian Federal Police. She is also one of the only experts in Australia on honor based violence. Being a refugee herself, she brings a depth of knowledge around the challenges and opportunities that come from integrating cultures that is raw and real.

She explained how Family and Domestic Violence is very different to honor based violence. Honor based violence involves a pre-meditated act designed to restore a societal construction of honour due to norm or tradition . It’s formed and bound within the collective framework of a family structure; and involves men’s putative right to control women’s sexual and social choices. Where men view women as their property.

The hardest thing to acknowledge in this space, is that forced marriage is the largest form of honour based violence in the world.

So what is Forced Marriage?

“A forced marriage is when someone gets married without freely and fully consenting to it. This means they do not have a real choice about whether they get married or not. The person may be pressured by their family or tricked into marrying someone. They may be afraid of someone getting hurt if they say no to the marriage” Dr Kaplanian explained.

The Grim Global Statistics

  • 13.5 million girls are married before 18.
  • 1 out of 9 girls will marry before they turn 15.
  • If parents were forced into marriage there is a 70% chance that their daughters will also be forced into marriage.

A recent article from Women’s Agenda shone a light on the subtle changes happening in our legal system. A quiet but significant move toward positive change.

In June 2024, Sakina Muhammad Jan was found guilty of coercing her daughter Ruqia Haidari into marrying a Perth man in November 2019. This is the first conviction since forced marriage was criminalised in 2013 under the Commonwealth Criminal Code (1995).

We have a long way to go as this issue is steeped in rich historical, religious and cultural nuances. For so many victims, they will not act legally against their own family.

Together I hope we can find a way to work with CaLD and Australian communities to address the wide array of cultural norms that are not complying with the most basic of human rights laws – the right to safety and to own your own body.

I wanted to acknowledge the incredible work that Dr Kaplanian is sharing in this space, and the support that our 2018 Grant Recipient Ishar Multicultural Women’s Health Services is providing to hundreds of women and children facing this form of abuse in Western Australia.

If you would like to learn more, My Blue Sky is a website dedicated to providing information to frontline workers, the public and victim/survivors about the very complex nature of this topic.

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