Saeed spoke about forced marriages during meet-the-author sessions at John Champe and Park View high schools. Her book “Written in the Stars” focuses on Naila, a girl of Pakistani origins who is forced to return to Pakistan to take part in a forced marriage.
Saeed, a Pakistani American who grew up in the Miami area, stressed that forced marriages are not a problem limited to Third World cultures. “It spans the globe. It spans religions too.”
Saeed is married to a man she met through an arranged marriage. She stressed that she had the final say on whether she would marry her husband, although they didn’t date in the traditional sense.
Saeed said many of her friends in Miami found out that they were to be part of a forced marriage when they became engaged at 14 years old. These marriages usually involved older men who were living in Pakistan. “They thought if they didn’t go through with it, their family would disown them.” Of the 15 or 16 friends that went through this process only one is still married.
Her friends who went through with arranged marriages are one of the reasons she wrote “Written in the Stars,” Saeed said.
In England there are Forced Marriage Units that help young women escape arranged marriages, Saeed said. In America, organizations that perform similar services are just becoming active after first documenting the scope of the problem.
One method young women trying to escape arranged marriages in America use is hiding a metal spoon in their purse as they are about to go through security for an overseas flight. This triggers a metal detector. When a TSA officer pulls the woman aside, she relates what is happening to her and seeks asylum.
Saeed also spoke about her writing process with the students. She said she first came up with the concept for “Written in the Stars” while she was earning a teaching degree (she later earned a law degree). Saeed put the novel aside for a time and read it after an interval to see if it was as good as she thought it was (it wasn’t). After rewrites and delays caused by twice becoming a mother, Saeed found a publisher after 29 rejections.
She encouraged the students to pursue their dreams, even if they ultimately fail. Looking back at least they can say they tried and not be haunted by the nagging doubt created by not pursuing a dream.
As part of the One to the World (OTTW) initiative, high school English classes are studying the subject of forced marriages. They will then work with Interact Clubs to come up with an action plan.
Students from Briar Woods, Freedom and Rock Ridge high schools also attended the presentation at John Champe.