I’m back(ish)!

Ummmm how the hell is it March 2019? I went to get a glass of wine and three years passed?? Joke, I just got a job in international development and can now barely remember my own name, never mind string a coherent sentence together. It has been a crazy couple of years that broke me down more than a few times, but finally, thankfully, I’m arriving at a place where I can honestly say I’m starting to thrive.

My work has taken me to some amazing places: Jordan, Senegal, Indonesia, Malaysia. In the next few months I’m off to Kenya and Canada. I’m learning the terminology of development that allows me to speak about my experiences in a way that the people who can actually do something about it will understand, and I’ve done so alongside others from around the world who have also been affected by forced marriage. Basically I’m seeing places and doing things I never thought I’d be capable of seeing or doing. And I’ll never be one of those smug fools who take it for granted and act nonchalant about travelling, even though the work can be stressful at times. And friends, the stress is no joke. You know I used to train regularly in kickboxing, BJJ, and MMA. I used to cook. I took care of my appearance. All that changed with the new line of work – I had no time to get to the gym, was living on ready meals and takeaways, and my home turned into a shitpile. I lost friends who simply didn’t believe that work could take up so much of my time. I know many of you can relate. We’re all busier, more stressed and trying desperately to find some balance, and in the meantime it feels like the world is burning. But that’s a whole other therapy session.

I’m just glad to be back writing even a tiny bit, and I’ve got some incredible projects on the go. I started doing a bit of campaigning again towards the end of last year, around the bill to increase the minimum age of marriage in the UK from 16 to 18 years. Here I am on Buzzfeed and LBC, speaking about why the move is so important and how it could have made a difference in my own family. Disappointed that the second reading keeps getting postponed, but it’s currently scheduled for 22 March – fingers crossed. Next week I’ll be attending IKWRO’s annual True Honour Awards, a celebration of the outstanding individuals and organisations working to combat honour based violence, forced marriage, and FGM. In April I’ll be speaking at the Honour Abuse Research Matrix (HARM) Network’s first annual conference, which I’m really excited about because although multi-sectoral approaches to ending forced marriage might not sound like the sexiest topic in the world, it gets me going at least 😀 Then there’s the Project That Shall Not Be Named for fear of jinxing it, and it won’t really come to fruition until at least the end of 2020, BUT if it plays out the way it should I will just die.

The book has not been progressing much, I’ll be honest. Partly because of everything else that’s going on, yes, but I also think that now is simply not the right time complete it. There are a few things I have to see through to the end before I can do that. But I’m excited to see how this chapter of the story ends, and you might well see some new opinion pieces from me in the meantime, from around April.

I know I’ve been horrible at responding to your lovely messages, and for that I’m so sorry. I will try to do better.

More info

FUUSE Forum, November 2015: Forced Marriage

Shaheen Fuuse 1A few months ago I was asked by the wonderful Deeyah Khan if I would speak about my perspective on forced marriage at the second event in a series produced by FUUSE Forum, a platform dedicated to discussion of harmful practices and radicalisation. It was so refreshing for me to able to approach the topic from an angle of my own choosing, as most often I’m asked by the press to relate my dramatic story of escape from the threat of forced marriage when I was 12 years old. Although it’s clear that I do need to keep telling that story to reach those who are simply unaware of the very real threat to victims’ safety at the hands of their own families, I really wanted people to know that the story doesn’t just end with escape, and that it’s not a case of living happily after, basking in freedoms previously unknown. The psychological impact of sudden estrangement, suicidal depression, and continued vulnerability due to a lack of awareness in asserting personal boundaries are all very real concerns for anyone who has been ‘lucky’ enough to escape a forced marriage situation. Here is the link to my talk – I hope you find it useful.

Sex Selective Abortion and Honour Based Violence

Over the last few months, the topic of sex selective abortion has become an increasingly worrying issue for campaigners, providers and policy-makers alike. On 23rd February 2015, MPs will vote on an amendment to the Serious Crime Bill that explicitly criminalises sex selective abortion. The move has been driven by the well known pro-life MP Fiona Bruce, and is strongly supported by some charities that work specifically with victims of honour abuse and forced marriage.

As you may know, I’m a survivor of honour abuse and I escaped the threat of forced marriage at the age of twelve. I have been writing for several years to raise awareness of these issues, and up until recently have been a member of the Survivors’ Advisory Panel for one of the UK’s main charities providing support to victims of such abuses. This organisation has been a key stakeholder in the campaign to criminalise sex selective abortion. I also work full time as Executive Assistant to the CEO of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, one of the UK’s main abortion providers. I have a unique perspective on the issue, and am deeply worried that we are not only sleepwalking into a large scale attack on reproductive rights in general, but that vulnerable women in abusive situations will be victimised further as a result. Continue reading

Charities and Survivor Engagement

It’s hard work running a charity. Not only do you have to make sure that day-to-day operations run with maximum impact on a shoestring budget to fully support those in need of your service, you have to justify your strategy to your Board of Trustees; spend hours and weeks filling out reams of forms for funding bids; contribute to government consultations, and on top of it all report on the measurable impact of your work constantly in order to secure future funding. One of the most powerful tools any charity CEO has to raise awareness of their cause to potential donors and policy makers is survivor voice.

As someone with personal experience of honour abuse who wants to highlight the suffering of others in my situation, I too have often taken the opportunity to speak out publicly about what happened to me. For about one and a half years I was a member of the Survivors’ Advisory Panel at one of the UK’s main charities providing support to victims of honour abuse and forced marriage. When I first took on the role, I was incredibly happy that painful experiences could be made meaningful and used to help others. Unfortunately, the reality was very different. Continue reading

Scottish Sunday Mail, November 30 2014

This is the transcript of an article by journalist Jenny Morrison featuring the most in-depth interview about my experiences that I’ve done to date. It took me a while to agree to do this, as it would a mean a lot more detailed exposure closer to home and my fear of a backlash was greater. But the imbalance of efforts to raise awareness and provide support throughout the UK is too significant to dismiss an opportunity to at least try and address this. Please note the minor clarifications I’ve included below the transcript.

Continue reading

BBC Asian Network: Honour Abuse, Forced Marriage and Estrangement

Here is my discussion with Nihal on the BBC Asian Network, where I talk about how I escaped from abuse and came to be estranged from almost my entire family. Becca Bland, the CEO of Stand Alone, a wonderful charity that provides support to people who are estranged, was also interviewed with me. Although at the time I found the experience of speaking live on national radio completely terrifying, I’m now extremely proud of myself for having done it at all. My confidence and determination to continue reaching those who can identify with my experiences has increased massively. It took enormous effort to keep myself from disassociating when asked about the specifics of my story, while simultaneously articulating and defending my views about honour abuse and forced marriage. This is of course aside from my main priority of protecting the identities as much as possible of those who were also involved in my story.

In short, this was really fucking hard, but it turned out alright – enjoy 🙂

Dance of Honour

I remember how excited I was about this wedding. I loved her so much; her kind face, her arms always open for a hug, and an ear to listen when I was hurting. It was she who compiled the mix-tape I listened to over and over as I lay in hospital after I’d tried to kill myself. It was she who offered me a place to live in London when the aftermath of escaping abuse proved too much for me to stay in Scotland where I’d grown up. She helped me believe in myself; told me I could be and do anything I wanted; that I was beautiful and that I deserved the world. I wanted to make her proud with everything I did.

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The Good Patient

The last eight months have taught me that sometimes, it doesn’t matter one tiny bit how ‘good’ a patient I am when it comes to mental health treatment – I can still be plunged into the deepest of crises and left gasping in panic at the seemingly inevitable truth that I just cannot not bear to be alive for one more minute. It doesn’t matter how good my attitude is, or how hard I work to remain positive. It doesn’t matter how much I bust a gut to work through frustration and despair to keep up open and honest communication with doctors, employers and therapists, or how often I practice my tightly-honed coping techniques – at times I am just a slave to circumstances and/or brain chemistry. And I’m tired of seeing other people with mental health issues being vilified for apparently not doing enough to control their symptoms. Continue reading