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Mar 8, 2020

In Episode 2 of Series 5, we mark International Women’s Day 2020. Todd is joined by Helen McCabe based at The Rights Lab at Nottingham University and Karen Sherman author of Brick By Brick - Building Hope and Opportunity for Women Survivors Everywhere. They discuss the connections between the United Nations’ Sustainable Goals 5 on achieving gender equality and 8.7 ending modern slavery.

Helen is an assistant professor of political theory and leads the work of the Rights Lab on forced marriage.

Karen is a renowned author and speaker on global women’s issues. She was formerly a senior executive at Women for Women International and is currently President of the Akilah Institute, Rwanda’s only women’s college, leading its strategy, growth, and partnerships. Her main focus is on the role that education and economic participation can play in transforming the lives of women their families and communities.

00 – 4.00

Todd introduces both guests and comments on the connections between the work of both speakers

Karen reflects on her work over 30 years and the precarity of women in terms of their rights. (legalised marriage, inheritance, property)

Karen refers to her work in Rwanda where men typically resist engaging in legalised marriage preferring traditional marriage, which gives freedom to have multiple wives and which doesn’t place financial obligations on the man.

This is in contrast to women who view legalised marriage as a means to safeguard their rights. In attempting to convince men of the value of legalised marriage she found that the protection of children’s rights was seen by men to be more important than women’s rights.

Whilst traditional marriage is still the norm in many countries in others legalised marriage and associated rights are in place but not enforced or women are unaware of them.

4.00 – 8.21

Helen sees the parallels with her current research on child marriage and forced marriage.

  • Forced marriage  and early age  marriage hard to prove in the absence of legal documents, hence the need to ensure full legal documentation of marriage.
  • Legalised marriage confers rights but can also create issues re; access to divorce, custody of children and property rights.

Todd suggests that legalising marriage can  empower women but as Karen comments, there is a dichotomy between legalisation of marriage which confers rights,  and the large numbers of young women and children in Africa and Asia who forced into marriage and have no access to their rights. The key factor is whether women want to be married legally or not. Forced marriage has parallels with slavery because women do not choose to become the property of men.

8.21 – 10.50

The conversation returns to the situation in Rwanda where significant numbers of women are in positions of influence and power. Post war more women comprised 70% of the active population Significant numbers became active politically, entered government and supported pro – women legislation. This gave women the opportunity to renegotiate their rights in terms of marriage and beyond.

10.50 -  15.23

The links between education, access to employment and positive outcomes for women are explored. Education gives women voice but income gives women choice. The kind of education is important It must equip women with the necessary skills for the workplace.

In terms of forced marriage girls stay in school marry later, are more likely to go into more options and choice over who they marry. But there are cultural tensions. Worthwhile employment options need to be available post school/college otherwise education loses its usefulness for women.

Women (in forced marriages) need more education on;

  • Their rights
  • Their options
  • Support available

In Helen’s view a key issue is the resistance men have towards greater equality for women.

15.23 – 20.29

The issues related to women’s rights are global issues. Karen comments on the situation in the USA where;

  • 1 in 16 American women raped as first sexual encounter
  • 1 in 5 women in college experienced sexual assault
  • These figures may be “tip of the iceberg” reference  MeToo movement

Women are seen as survivors. 

There are regions where there is greater prevalence but forced marriage occurs everywhere. Helen is working with Karma Nirvana a UK  agency working in the area of forced marriage She hopes to be identify communities where forced marriage takes place and the underlying factors which promote forced marriage. Proving coercion under present law, however, is proving to be a problem.

20.29 – 25.27

Todd comments on the disproportionate proportion of young women being trafficked and asks how effective the language of modern slavery,  anti-trafficking and the focus on SDG 8.7 can be in changing the situation for women.

Karen sees a greater awareness  of trafficking  but feels the  key factors  which make women vulnerable needs more work; eg the role of;

  • Poverty
  • Lack of opportunity

She also suggests that whilst related trafficking for sex and trafficking for work may have different root causes, which makes intervention problematic.

Helen points out that the UN Special Rapporteur on forced marriage argues that linking the issue to modern slavery is an effective way of leveraging action against forced marriage and trafficking. A link is perceived between servile marriage and modern slavery and the global commitment to ending it.  The rapporteur sees this as a way to leverage action on  gender equality.

Helen adds that initial research shows links between forced marriage trafficking and modern slavery. It suggests that forced marriage also has different root causes which leave people vulnerable to trafficking and modern slavery.

25.27 -  end

Karen says that helping women move from victims to survivors and finally to become active members of society offers hope for the future. Giving women the opportunity to rebuild their lives through education and employment gives them and their families a stake in society and is a hopeful message

Links and references

1.  Universal declaration of human rights article 16

2.  SDG 5.3