December 2nd, 2009 – International Day for the Abolition of Slavery
Upper class men are no more likely to be shaken in their positions as heads of families then they are to be shaken in their positions as heads of today seconomic positions.
Susan Ostrander, 1991
As part of the 16 days International campaign toward the Elimination of Violence Against Women, Rutger’s Center for Women’s Leadership (CWGL) has provided a link to the Shirkat Gah Women ’s Resource Center in Pakistan.
Active for sixteen years, among the list of activities in which Shirkat Gah is engaged, as part of the 16 days campaign, was a conference held today, Dec 2nd in Lahore. They say:
[…The conference will highlight women’s issue(s) and in collaboration with National Commission on the Status of Women, Shirkat Gah is arranging a colloquium on forced marriages in Lahore on 2nd December. A panel of distinguished speakers will highlight the issues of women’s rights in the light of the Quran and Hadith, rights perspective in health and education, and the legal rights of women in Pakistan…]
For more information, go to their name link above. Forced marriage is a kind of slavery. While we in the West have reduced the number of forced marriages, we still smirk about the idea of “shotgun marriages” in which traditionally a man is forced to marry a woman who has become pregnant by him. That we think it is funny implies we still don’t understand that bottom line.
Shotgun marriages were used to force a man into support of the child he helped to produce, or forced into being by rape. Such marriages were also an attempt to recoup value from the damage to the woman. They reiterate the historic bottom line of marriage, which is, that it is first and foremost an economic pact. Because economics still help to determine the class of people in this country, the reproductive value and wealth inheritance value of marriage is often considered foremost. Men, who have escaped shotgun marriages in our culture, therefore, still find admiration for avoiding the responsibility of an “asset” that would, under other circumstances, require them to be human partners. Men who escape assign zero value to the asset, i.e. women and children.
Families who have raised these pregnant women also determine asset value. They may determine the woman now has reduced, or no future asset value, since in a patriarchal society another man is unlikely to be interested in her use as a reproductive asset for his genetic line and wealth building future. A woman’s future in this situation is uncertain, but likely to be difficult or worse, as is the child’s.
Forced marriage reinforces the idea of women and children as chattel. They are assets to be traded. Pakistan, while it denounces forced marriage as illegal, acknowledges that women are still sometimes used in settling intertribal disputes. Since women are chattel in this trade, it is up to the new owner to decide what to do with their new asset. This is bought and sold slavery at its fundamental base. Agencies like Shirkat Gah have a lot of work to do.
Yet, our patriarchal society still thinks forced marriage is funny. We assign shotgun marriages to rubes and hicks. Not only that, we opine that marriage for, especially poor, women is the way to fix their economic problems – a kind of sell-yourself-into-bondage solution. In this scenario it really doesn’t matter other reasons there might be for marriage. Those of us who grew up in the velvet cage however, know arranged marriages are not just the province of rubes and hicks. Pakistan acknowledges their efforts to change mindset and action. Are we better? Have we improved our lot? Or, are we still the house N**ger? When do we stop laughing?