Its wedding season! Throughout the many ceremonies and parties I’ve been attending, people have asked me a lot of questions about arranged marriages. Some of the brides and grooms were Canadian born and raised, and it stunned many people that they would agree to such a custom. How could they? Why?
I didn’t share their surprise. After all, generations of my own family had undergone arranged marriages as well. But I could understand their interest in the practice. I thought this post would be a great way to address and explain this traditional cultural practice, and provide some perspectives for discussion!
First of all, historically speaking, arranged marriages were the norm in societies all around the world. The concept of marriage being a personal choice, where individuals could choose their spouses based on love and affection actually developed very recently. Marriage was traditionally an alliance between two families to solidify wealth and resources. Since then, marriage has evolved and changed at varying rates within different societies. Arranged marriage is still considered the norm in South Asia, as well as many parts of the Middle East and Africa. In certain cultures, marriage between people who are first and second cousins is also common and even encouraged. This contrasts with the culture of Western society, which doesn’t readily accept these unions.
People have undergone arranged marriages for generations and in many cases they work very well. Families often look for qualities their children may overlook when considering a spouse, like financial stability and family background. When families are well acquainted with each other, it leads to additional closeness and familiarity. Arranged marriages now often include a short courtship period where the couple can get to know each other and make the final decision themselves. My parents’ marriage was arranged (although they weren’t related!). My parents Netflix together, go on walks together, and are each others #1 fans.
My favorite story of theirs was when my mom was coming to Canada for the first time after her marriage, to meet my dad who had always lived and worked there. Her flight got delayed in Toronto and as a new immigrant she was confused and scared. Suddenly she heard someone call her name, and it was my dad! He had been tracking the flight since it had left India and had flown to Toronto to meet her when he found out it got delayed! If that isn’t love, I don’t know what is!
Now there is arranged marriage and then there is forced marriage. Although forced marriage has been internationally condemned as a violation on human rights, the practice is rarely studied as it is considered taboo. Forced marriages happen in many different cultures and faiths, including Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Sikhism, Hinduism etc. It is important to recognize that forced marriage is a cultural practice, not a religious one. All religions require the consent of both spouses before marriage. Forced marriages often occur due to poverty, to obtain a load, dowry, or erase a debt. They lack free informed consent from the bride and groom, who are often economically and emotionally blackmailed by their families into agreeing to the marriage.
Forced marriage doesn’t just happen in immigrant communities. LGBTQ youth are also forced into heterosexual marriages and relationships. Mormon communities have also had cases for forced marriage. The practice occurs in communities all over the world, including Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, and Eastern Europe, and some common factors were economic, social and ideological reasons, as well as the need to control the sexuality of girls and women. Quickly marrying off a rebellious daughter is a way for parents to make sure she does not dishonor their family. They often look for a man from their country of origin, who can “control her” and teach her how to be a “proper wife”. Sometimes these marriages are of convenience, where the reason is to sponsor the non-Canadian spouse and their family.
The victims of forced marriages face devastating consequences. Many have compared their wedding nights to a rape, and continued relations with their spouses as repeated rape. The inequality in their relationships denies their freedom of choice in a number of other areas. Their education and careers are put to an end, and they are vulnerable to domestic violence. As divorce is often considered a dishonor to the family, especially when put forward by the wife, many women resign themselves to their fate. Some are driven to commit suicide to escape their conditions, and others bravely attempt to separate, though they may face horrific consequences like honor based violence.
Awareness of these issues is so important and the Indo-Canadian Womens Association has been working on many initiatives to prevent forced marriages and provide assistance to victims. What do you think about arranged marriages? Do you think they still have a place within modern society? Would you ever consider one? How can we educate people on valid consent to marriage? Let me know your thoughts!