Inspirational Woman Of The Day

Woman of the Week: Jasvinder Sanghera


Jasvinder Sanghera cut ties with her family to fight against forced marriage.

By Anna Louie Sussman

NEW YORK — What would it take to make you say goodbye to your family? To make you leave home, leave school, and sleep in parks and hostels?

For Jasvinder Sanghera, 45, it was the prospect of a forced marriage at age 14 to a stranger waiting for her in India. The sixth of seven daughters growing up in Derby, England, Sanghera had been promised to him since she was 8. Her family locked in her room when she refused to marry him. She knew she had to leave.

Today, her family refuses to speak to her.

“Even today, if I see my sisters, my family, they will cross the road and refuse to acknowledge me,” she told Newsweek & The Daily Beast’s Michelle Goldberg. “All of a sudden, I had become the perpetrator. I was the one who had dishonored and betrayed them, and I had no family.”

But Sanghera has found a new community in Karma Nirvana, a non-profit service and advocacy organization she founded in 1994. After her sister Robina committed suicide to escape her abusive husband whom she had been forced to marry, Sanghera made ending this practice her life’s work.

Karma Nirvana offers an “Honor Network” helpline that potential victims or those in their community can call. Sanghera encourages teachers, social workers, and law enforcement officials to report when they suspect a minor is at risk of forced marriage, but she has told the Guardian newspaper that 42% of the 500 or so calls they receive a month are from minors themselves. With her urging, the United Kingdom’s Home Office and Foreign Office launched a Forced Marriage Unit in 2005. In 2010, it handled 1,700 cases, 86% of which involved females. She also lobbied hard for the 2007 Forced Marriage Act, which prevents families from confiscating their children’s passports, intimidating them into marriage, or taking them abroad for a forced marriage.

Sanghera has also written two novels, “Shame” and “Daughters of Shame,” both of which were bestsellers in the U.K., and expanded Karma Nirvana’s work to include victims of domestic violence, female genital mutilation, and sexual abuse. Her caseworkers are trained to handle these issues and connect callers to the appropriate agencies. But her work is hardly done: forced marriage has recently been recognized as a growing issue in the United States, according to a new report from the Tahirih Justice Center, and Sanghera has been looking for ways to collaborate with groups in the U.S.

In 2009, she told the Guardian that though she misses her family, she wouldn’t have followed any other path.

“I feel lonely at birthdays, but I’d do it all again.”

Anna Louie Sussman is writer and editor for Women in the World Foundation, and a frequent contributor to major U.S. magazines and newspapers.


  1. I have a poem I would like to share – It fits so well with this story of courage and pain.


    Now when the heavens cry
    I cry with them;

    When the sun shines
    I fly;

    Now when the songs
    Are heard
    I smile;

    And in the silence
    I think;

    Now when the music plays
    I dance;
    And the freedom envelops me.

    Since losing you
    I have found me.

    I detest the trade
    That was made,

    Yet I soar higher
    Every day.

    And every day…
    And every day…

    I am sadder by the day.

    Happy Birthday Karma Nirvana (whenever it is)

  2. Pleasure is mine – thanks 🙂

  3. This is really powerful. Thank you for writing about this and her story.

  4. That’s a brave woman who risk even family ties to make the world a better place for all. God bless her work with MUCH success. Peace.

  5. Amazing story. It is so sad to hear that families going to extreme lengths. Wonderful post, thank you.


  6. Such an awesome post! I’m glad to see there are orginizations to help with women who are ostracized like this.

  7. Thank you for sharing Sanghera’s story. A civilization is measured by how it treats its women and children. I hate it that this is becoming a growing trend in the West. I know that Western civilizations are not perfect in their treatment of women and children, but such abuse as forced marriages and domestic violence are not condoned at law here, while in many countries, they are the cornerstones of society. That is a crucial difference, and women like Sanghera who are brave enough to leave their families and say “this is wrong” deserve all of our admiration and support.

  8. It is so sad to see that even in this “advanced” age, so many people still have such a narrow backward thinking. It infuriates me no end when I see people act so stupidly and blindly. Steeped in their wrong believes, they just refuse to accept they are wrong. Who are they to take anyone’s life decisions? Who are they to ignore and disown the girl? I know it sounds very harsh, but it would be much better to have no family than have a family like that.

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