Last weekend the hashtag #WhyIstayed dominated Twitter. It was a response to the awful footage of American football player Ray Rice punching his then fiancé, now wife Janay. Instead of sympathising with Janay, the press asked why she stayed with him and went on to marry him. Victim-blaming in action. As a response, those who understood that there are often very complex reasons as to why a person stays in an abusive, love-less marriage tweeted.
I feel I have to add my voice to this powerful collective testimony. While it’s not news that countless South Asian women stay in unhappy marriages, it doesn’t get talked about enough. Women all over the world in Asian communities simply ‘get on with it’ because that’s what they have to do.
Once the hue of being a newly-wed has dimmed: the bridal mehndi has long faded, the many wedding outfits packed away and the community moves onto the next wedding hoopla, the new Asian bride starts to feel it. They don’t talk that much- there isn’t actually that much in common. Sex becomes more duty than passion. They sleep with their backs to each other. Children kind of glue things together a bit, while the ever-present in-laws often drive them further apart. They start to become cold towards each other, distant. He seems to resent her. He starts to yell at her, humiliates her in front of their children, their friends. He calls her names and talks to her like she’s a child.
And because she’s moved away from her community or country she’s desperately lonely and isolated, away from her people. She has no one to talk to so she calls her sisters. She cries down the phone and they tell her, “You have to just work things out. This is it now, you’re married. That’s what married life is about.”
When I was about 11, I remember my mum saying she was going to leave, go back to her country, back to her mother and sisters. “I have a house there you know” she used to say to me. Ironically, it’s the house that was given as part of her dowry.
But of course she never left- which I am eternally grateful for.
Why did she stay? Yes for her children but also because that’s what you do when you have an arranged marriage. It was all arranged for you. Packaged. The right guy, from the right profession, in the right family. Oh yes on paper you are so right for each other. But in real life….
The sad thing is I know there are other British Asian women reading this right now and thinking uneasily that it was written about them. Well it was, because so many, too many women stay.
And there’s always the fear that one day he’ll get so angry that he’ll hit her.
Thousands of South Asian women live with domestic abuse. Some sections of our community condone it. Consider the ruling in the UAE about three or four years ago that said it was ok if a man hit his wife, as long as “he didn’t leave a mark.”
WHY doesn’t she leave? She has to be fool for staying! She’s got a brain, she can think for herself, of course she can just leave. Besides, today there a loads of organisations that actually help Asian women, they even offer language services if she can’t speak English. So there’s no excuse. It’s her own fault for staying.
She stays because of what the family would say if she left. Turned up on their doorstep with her children. And what then- live there forever? Who in the Asian community would want her and her children now?
She stays because….
If she leaves she will be considered damaged goods by her own community.
If she leaves she risks being ostracised for the rest of her life.
If she leaves she’ll be the one that everyone talks about at the mosque, gurdwara or wherever.
If she leaves she’ll be branded as having ‘Western’ ideas and being selfish.
If she leaves they’ll say “who’ll want her now?”
So before we judge her for not leaving, perhaps we should check our own attitudes. It’s often because of us that she stays- her community and the shame and victim blaming that we will heap on her. So next time, before you say “why did she stay?” ask yourself first what will your reaction be to her, when you know she left.
If you are in an abusive or unhappy marriage, please please seek help. If you cannot speak to your family, please call one of the numbers below, if only to have someone else to talk to.
And remember, emotional blackmail and mental torment of any kind is NOT acceptable and NOT your fault. You deserve to be treated with respect, even if you don’t love each other. Please reach out to someone- you are not weak for doing so.
The Sharan Project
UK only: 0844 504 3231
The SHARAN Project aims to support vulnerable women who have had to leave home either forcefully or voluntarily. Run by South Asian experts they provide assistance on key life skills as well as information and advice on a range of issues including health, housing, employment, education, and financial, legal and personal development.
PO Box 148
Honour Network Helpline: UK Only: 0800 5999 247
Supporting victims of honour crimes and forced marriages. They provide three key areas of service: a telephone helpline for those in danger; advocacy work; education & training for victims, and partners seeking to work in this area. They have also recently worked with Cosmopolitan magazine petitioning for a day to remember victims of honour killings called “Who are Britain’s Lost Women?”
Asian Family Counselling
Suite 51, Windmill Place
2-4 Windmill Lane
Tel 020 8571 3933 or 020 8813 9714
Gopi Aswani (Senior Counsellor): firstname.lastname@example.org
A confidential counselling service for individuals, couples and families of Asian communities. All counsellors are fully trained and supervised. Counsellors are recruited from the Muslim, Hindu, Sikh communities, and provide counselling with a full understanding of the different cultural customs and religions.