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Forced marriage research leads to new teaching for UCL medical students

22 September 2016

The Grand Challenge of Cultural Understanding forced marriage project began as a July 2015 workshop convened by Asma Ashraf, Research Nurse, UCL Grand Challenge of Global Health and Professor Nora Groce (Division of Epidemiology and Public Health and Chair, UCL Grand Challenge of Global Health).

Though an illegal activity, forced marriage still happens in the UK. The Forced Marriage Unit- a Government led department set up in 2005- recorded over 1200 cases in 2015 alone. Some of the calls it responds to are from professionals who support victims and survivors of forced marriage, including health care workers. 

Though forced marriage has a huge impact on the lives of the people it affects, little is known about it. Asma Ashraf and Nora Groce initially ran a one day workshop at UCL to set the scene and explore some of the key questions about forced marriage in regards to culture and honour, the law and police, education and health services. 

The workshop gave an overview of forced marriage in the UK; developed understanding on how forced marriage affects both men and women, clarified the gender disparity between males and females; discussed the issues of forced marriage and so called ‘honour based’ violence and the impact on culture and religion; discussed the support services available to victims and survivors including law and police; examined the impacts of forced marriage from a health perspective and discussed the interventions that can take place within health services; and explored scope for academic research. 

The project led to the creation of lectures to all Year 5 UCL Medical Students on gender-based violence and forced marriage. Since then, there have been monthly seminars as part of the Women’s Health and Men’s Health Module. These raise awareness of forced marriage and encourage dialogue on this difficult and misunderstood practice. Students learned how to recognise the signs of forced marriage, how to address these with patients, and how to support those facing or in a forced marriage.

In March 2016 UCL Medical School was featured on BBC News for this training of future doctors to recognise the signs of forced marriage as part of the core curriculum. Asma Ashraf has also since worked with the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham on a tackling violence against women & girls forum. She has also been approached by a third sector organisation to train staff and students on forced marriage and honour-based violence.