Every aspect of her life was policed

Shaheen Hashmat won a True Honour award from IKWRO, the Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation, last week.

LONDON, March 11 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – At 12 years old, Shaheen Hashmat left her family home in Scotland to escape the threat of forced marriage to a stranger in Pakistan. At 13, she attempted suicide.

Hashmat, who now campaigns against forced marriage and “honour based” violence, says Britain urgently needs better mental health services for girls and women escaping these situations.

“There needs to be far more training about the increased risk of suicide and the impact of family estrangement,” said Hashmat, who won the True Honour 2016 award on Thursday for her bravery in standing up to honour abuse.

She talks about it in this stunning video from Deeyah Khan’s Fuuse. Be prepared to be shaken like a rag doll when you watch it.

Hashmat, now 33, grew up in a strict Pakistani family in which every aspect of her life was policed from the TV she watched to the people she spoke to and even the way she sat.

She was beaten and saw others in her family beaten too. Her two older sisters were forced into marriage as teenagers after being sent “on holiday” to Pakistan.

As she grew up she started to challenge what was happening around her. “If I had stayed the physical abuse would have increased because I was seen as being out of control and becoming too westernised,” she told Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“Forced marriage is a way of disciplining a woman who wants to make her own life choices. I was seen as having an attitude problem so I’m sure I would have been put on a plane, like my sisters were, and made to marry a stranger.”

Her sisters and the police and social services helped her escape, but once she did it wasn’t all rainbows and rejoicing – it was estrangement and heartbreak.

But the shock and difficulty of adjusting to her new life and the estrangement from her family took its toll. One year later she took an overdose and ended up in hospital for a week.

“The suicidal feelings have been a regular experience throughout my life, and that’s a huge part of the reason why I’ve started doing the work I’m doing now,” said Hashmat who now lives in London.

She cites a survey which indicates Asian women are more than twice as likely to commit suicide as women from other backgrounds in Britain, with family violence seen as a key factor.

It would be surprising if it were otherwise, wouldn’t it. Girls must end up feeling like worms.

Hashmat has since written about her experiences in a blog, challenging the taboos around mental health which are particularly strong in Asian communities.

Her dream is to set up a mental health service for women who have fled forced marriage and honour abuse.

“Estrangement from the people with whom you have created many of your most important memories – wonderful as well as awful – can be overwhelming,” she said.

“You are also often leaving behind a whole community and trying to make a new life in a completely new culture. That’s incredibly difficult.”

She’s a hero.

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