Creating champions for change
Anti-Slavery Australia plans to harness local community support to change attitudes to forced marriage and sexual violence.
Anti-Slavery Australia (ASA) is embarking on an ambitious project to combat forced marriage with a range of initiatives including enlisting the help of those in the communities where it occurs.
The project is funded by a generous 400-thousand-dollar grant from the Federal Department of Social Services as part of the National Initiatives program to achieve positive outcomes for families, women and their children.
Forced marriage occurs when a person gets married because of coercion, threats or deception and has not given their full consent to the union.
The practice became a crime in Australia under Commonwealth law more than seven years ago but despite increasing referrals to the Federal Police, to date there have been no successful convictions.
ASA Director, Professor Jennifer Burn says on top of these referrals, crime statistics indicate many more cases go unreported and this is largely because of the hidden nature of the crime:
Typically, forced marriage occurs in closed and conservative communities where tradition is paramount. Young women in these communities are less likely to challenge traditions or establish any independence outside the family. Even if it means a lifetime of disadvantage, they will prioritise their family over themselves.
There’s also the problem that many in these closed communities don’t know about the laws against forced marriage and don’t step forward for help and assistance.
The ASA project is focussing on changing the culture from within by encouraging key leaders and others with community influence to be advocates and champion the cause.
Through a combination of education, training and support, ASA aims to increase awareness of the difference between consent and coercion in relationships.
It hopes to gain the support of young people as ‘champions’ who will challenge gender stereotypes and encourage non-violent attitudes towards women, children and youth by using social channels and other online platforms.
Professor Burn says there are plans for an online youth forum to be run by the young ‘champions’ with assistance from ASA and other selected professionals:
The forum will provide an anonymous and safe way for people at risk to explore strategies for preventing forced marriage and sexual violence without relying on the criminal justice system or disclosing information about their families.
As well as working against forced marriage, the project aims to combat other forms of modern slavery in the home including sexual violence and domestic servitude which affect female family members as well as women brought into homes from outside the family.
Crucially, ASA recognises there’s no one-size-fits all solution so the focus is on communication and co-design to ensure effective strategies are developed in collaboration with each different community:
It’s about empowering people with the support and skills they need to start their own initiatives to engage with local media, schools and community organisations.