Ariadna Vilà: "The new protocol will help to emerge more cases of forced marriages"

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Alba Marino
  • Ariadna Vilà, coordinator and psychologist at Valentes i Acompanyades.
    Ariadna Vilà, coordinator and psychologist at Valentes i Acompanyades. Source: Valentes i Acompanyades.

A new protocol to prevent and approach forced marriages in Catalonia attempts to eradicate this type of male violence. The organization Valentes i Acompanyades approves the Generalitat's covenant.

Fourteen cases of forced marriages were detected during 2019 in Catalonia. Even though this practice is common in sub-Saharan Africa, the Maghrib and South Asia, it is also present in our country. In the last 10 years, 153 girls and women have been assisted by forced marriage or for being at risk of suffering it. 

Since 2008, forced marriage is considered a type of male violence because the union is made without the woman's full and free consent and because it involves physical, sexual and psychological violence perpetrated by her family and environment.

Currently, the Generalitat has created a new protocol to prevent and approach forced marriages to eradicate this male violence. It has the support of 20 coordination boards beside the 72 already existing ones, comprised by academic, medical, police and social services agents.

The project has counted on experts in the field, such as Valentes i Acompanyades (Brave and Accompanied), an organization created in 2014 to work on the prevention of forced marriages. Xarxanet has talked to Ariadna Vilà, coordinator and psychologist of the project, to understand how they are providing support to women.

How was the new protocol activated?

The protocol is divided into four stages. Firstly, prevention, which requires a great deal of awareness and training of all of our agents in the territory. This facilitates the detection of cases and any structure that detects a sensitive case sets in motion the mechanisms to intervene. Once a case has been detected, it is necessary to evaluate which type of intervention is needed differentiating between minors and non-minors. Later there is labour, economical and health accompaniment and also psychological and emotional care, which is crucial.

And then the last stage.

The recovery stage: when they already feel accompanied, empowered and strengthened to keep on their project of free individuals.

Is the reinforcement of the protocol by the Department of Labour, Social Affairs and Family important?

The protocol is the first step - and the most important one - to raise awareness among all the territory. The Generalitat and the Department recognize this community violence and differentiate it from male violence because of one singularity. Families do not pretend to hurt their daughters, they believe it is for their own sake because it is a traditional patriarchal practice. We are always late regarding violence matters, but this represents an entrance door and now there is a protocol behind it.

What does Valentes i Acompanyades think of the protocol?

It is a very positive will for two main reasons. Firstly, the protocol will help to emerge more cases of forced marriages that exist but they still have not come out. And secondly, it will make it easier for all the agents in the territory to become aware of this invisible phenomenon. It will make everyone look towards eradication.

In 2019, 14 cases were detected in Catalonia.

This figure is the tip of the iceberg. In the end, many women have gone through it and do not say so.

A group of professionals with language skills has also been incorporated to come into contact with the populations of origin.

This is very necessary. We have to work with the community and cultural group that practices this type of violence. It is difficult because there is a culture shock but these figures facilitate this step. It is not a religious issue, it is a traditional patriarchal cultural practice. And these resources make it easier for us to understand how it works, what they think and what family relationships there are...

Why do families lose contact with women who report?

There are all sorts of cases. There are cases in which women have been able to regain her family relationships, but there are others that have not. Some women do not even want to try it because it is too hard. "Do I choose freedom or rejection by my social environment?".

What work do you do to eradicate forced marriages?

At Valentes i Acompanyades we have different lines of action. The first one focuses on prevention and detection. We work with a group of young girls who are at risk. We also raise awareness and give talks to high schools, care centres, teachers, the third sector, doctors... to inform and explain what forced marriages are. Besides, we have models, women who have gone through this process but, fortunately, they have achieved to be free. They end up being an example and take part in our talks with their testimony.

How do you intervene?

If we have to intervene, we can do so as of the age of 18. If we need to take any action for minors, security services need to be involved. As of the age of 18, we provide an integral accompaniment where the model and the woman make their project. At the same time, we offer personalised psychological attention.

And what about the minors?

We detect the minors and work directly with social services. We also do a follow-up with the agents who join from high schools and schools. We work on how to approach the case jointly. We have to assess the risk and if the risk is higher and the prosecutor has to intervene, we will step aside.

Do women openly explain their case?

It is difficult for women to verbalize that they want them to marry. They typically keep quiet. But the bond with some tutor, monitor or model is important. With this bond, they can begin to let themselves go stepwise. If we detect any change in their behaviour or their school performance we intervene in a very delicate way. Girls need to feel protected and loved.

What's the profile of the women you help?

The girls in the prevention phase are from 12 to 18 years old and those in the intervention phase are from 18 to 24 years old. And some of those who have already been married and have been mothers are about 27. And we work with women from Senegal, Gambia, Morocco, India and Pakistan.

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