Jasvinder Sanghera

Writer: Jenny McNicholas

CBE, Honorand and the Guardian's Inspirational Woman of the Year, are just some of the accolades Jasvinder Sanghera has reaped, since setting up Karma Nirvana – a charity which supports victims of honour crimes and forced marriages.

Established in 1993, Karma Nirvana has been instrumental in developing refuge centres across the UK. More recently it's been turning heads in parliament – for all the right reasons.

The charity has been working with the government to implement the creation of the new forced marriage criminal offence, whereby the Prime Minister stated how Jasvinder 'turned his head' on the issue. The charity has also worked closely with the government to introduce 'The Day of Memory for Britain's Lost Women', a national day which will take place annually on July 14. The day will remember the lives of an estimated 5,000 women across the world killed each year for bringing 'shame' upon their families.

"Women can be murdered for the most basic rights – the right to independence, integration, having relationships and even education. This day will honour these women and dishonour the crime, whilst also raising awareness and in turn, I hope, saving lives," explains Jasvinder.

Born in Derby, Jasvinder has first-hand experience of some of the fears facing these women, having survived escaping her own forced marriage. "I thought there was no point in going to school as my life, as was my sisters, was mapped out before us. I became withdrawn and took an overdose at the age of 15 as I saw no way out. I felt alone and afraid to tell anyone due to the fear of repercussions, and extremely isolated as there was no one I could turn to.

"It was the most harrowing and fearful time of my life but within me I knew that I did not want to marry a stranger.

"When I ran away it was only to make a point and I'd hoped my family would accept my decision, but I never imagined their response would be that I either came home and married or I would be dead in their eyes. The first few years were extremely depressing and the turning point for me was when my sister Robina committed suicide."

‌‌"I don't think one documentary or magazine cover will make that change by tomorrow, but step-by-step we can, and we will, put a stop to honour crimes and forced marriages."

It would have been far easier for her to have walked away, starting afresh with a different career, but Jasvinder has dedicated her life to supporting others in the hope that she can make a difference.

An unstoppable force in her efforts to raise awareness, she recently worked in partnership with well-known women's magazine Cosmopolitan to devise a powerful cover, conveying the horror of honour killing for the February 2015 edition. The cover, displaying a woman looking trapped, unsettled and in despair, was presented to parliament during a lobbying event hosted by Cosmopolitan and Karma Nirvana. The woman featured represents teen Shafilea Ahmed who was suffocated to death by her parents in front of her siblings for refusing an arranged marriage.

'The Day of Memory for Britain's Lost Women' will be held on Shafilea’s birthday (July 14). This joint campaign gained cross governmental support generating over 110,000 signatures through the Change.org petition.

You don't have to spend long with Jasvinder to see just how passionate she is about making a change.

"I'm enormously grateful to everyone who has supported me and Karma Nirvana. It's overwhelming how many opportunities have been presented since I started my journey and it's fantastic to see The Honor Diaries, a documentary tackling issues facing Muslim majority societies, becoming internationally recognised, providing a global platform for us to raise awareness about these issues.

"Don't get me wrong, I don't think one documentary or magazine cover will make that change by tomorrow, but step-by-step we can, and we will, put a stop to honour crimes and forced marriages."

www.karmanirvana.org.uk


Jasvinder studied Sociology and was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of the University of Derby for her contribution to knowledge in the field of forced marriages and honour based violence.

Her achievements include:

  • A Sunday Times bestselling author for the 'Shame' biographies 2007
  • CBE in 2013 for services to victims of forced marriages and honour based violence
  • Guardian Inspirational Woman of the Year 2011
  • Pride of Britain Award 2009
  • Global Punjabi Society Award 2012
  • Woman of Year Award 2007
  • Asian Woman’s Achievement Award 2007
  • Ambassador for Peace Award 2008

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