From forced marriage to frontline activist: Payzee Mahmod's story

From forced marriage to frontline activist: Payzee Mahmod’s story

  • Published on
    April 8, 2024
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  • Category:
    Forced Marriage, Survivor Stories
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In April 2022, Freedom United celebrated as the U.K. caved to our pressure, passing the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Minimum Age) Bill, better protecting children from forced marriage.

Our lead campaigner on this initiative, Payzee Mahmod, is a survivor advocate who sat down with Metro UK to share her experience and why raising the minimum marriage age was so important.

“Every day I woke up wishing my life was different.”

Payzee grew up in a conservative Kurdish family in South London. When she was forced to marry a 30-year-old man at age 16, getting married at her age was still legal with parental consent. After meeting once briefly, her wedding day was decided upon by her parents and husband-to-be. Even though she reached out to friends and teachers, nobody intervened.

The first thing I noticed was that he was old; he had a receding hairline and he dressed like one of my uncles. I remember feeling scared about not knowing what my life was going to be like with this man.

After she was married, her husband prohibited her from attending college, sometimes for weeks on end. She was expected to clean, cook, and act as his wife in front of his friends. A few months into her marriage, she found out she was pregnant with a child only her husband wanted. Despite her family’s outrage, she got an abortion.

It was only when she turned 18, that Payzee could get divorced. Her two years of married life were spent in fear after her sister, Banaz, who had also been forced into a marriage which was abusive, filed a police report and moved back in with her parents. Banaz went missing. Her body was later found in a suitcase, murdered by her father, uncle, and cousin in an ‘honor’ killing.

I finally got a divorce when my sister Banaz was murdered in a so-called ‘honour’ killing. When I lost my sister, my husband would make threats that the same thing would happen to me. I knew then that I had to get out.

Fast forward to today

A lot has changed since Payzee’s forced marriage. Marriage in the U.K. is now illegal under the age of 18 – thanks to Payzee’s hard work. We are so proud to call her a colleague and partner!

Payzee is doing her best to turn her pain into activism every day and advocates so that experiences like hers and her sisters’ will not happen to other girls. Still, forced marriages remain a common problem around the world.

Raising the minimum legal age to get married to 18 is one crucial way to prevent forced child marriages. That is why we are working in the United States to urge policymakers to change their laws. Sign our petition today!

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