Sensitive content – the following story contains references to: forced marriage; abuse (including domestic, sexual, psychological and honour-based); post-traumatic stress disorder; rape; violence against women and coercive control.

Photo posed by model, from iStock. A silhouette of a woman (back to camera) sitting on the edge of a bed.After being forced to marry at a young age by her family and abandon her plans to study law, Farah* successfully gained an Open University (OU) undergraduate degree and now intends to study for a postgraduate law qualification with the OU. She is focused on supporting women who have suffered abuse. 

Farah shares: “I was supposed to study law from the age of 17. After my parents’ divorce, my mum decided that we must be independent strong-minded young people. Education was important in that it gave us more options to better our lives. Unfortunately, despite my mother’s efforts, I was quickly married after an unexpected pregnancy - told I’d brought shame on my father’s family. Therefore, marriage was the only option.”

Once her children were older, she returned to education. However, Farah says: “I was only able to study a subject suitable to the men in my family. I agreed to study beauty therapies in a class of only females, in the hope I could become self-employed and independent.”

Pursuing a dream

She later separated from her husband and decided it was the right time to pursue her dream of studying law and applied to study for a BA/BSc (Honours) Open degree, focused on law, with the OU in Scotland.

I believe everything happens for a reason and anything is possible if you’re passionate about it. It’s just meant to happen at the right time.

“I believe everything happens for a reason and anything is possible if you’re passionate about it. It’s just meant to happen at the right time,” she reflects. 

Along with wanting to fulfil her academic potential, she was inspired by her mother’s own journey of developing a career later in life.

She explains: “It was my mum who told me that there are online universities like the OU who can support me.”

Farah used credit transfer from previous studies to join her OU degree course halfway through, having previously had to withdraw from a degree course due to ill health and relocating.

Farah was also supported through the Part-Time Fee Grant. She highlights: “Self-payment for the degree wouldn’t have been an option for me. Unfortunately, due to my health conditions, I had to give up working for a while.”

Now a single mum, managing multiple health conditions and disabilities, Farah found that online studying was the best way to achieve her educational goals.

Support for disability needs

She says the OU also gave her “immense support and understanding, particularly for both my physical and mental disability needs.”

[The OU gave me] immense support and understanding, particularly for both my physical and mental disability needs.

Disabilities services’ support accessed through the OU helped Farah cope with physical disabilities and a rare medical condition. This has included an ergonomic chair and computer-adapted programmes. 

“These conditions combined can flare up without notice,” she explains. “The adjustments made for my studies meant I could manage and cope easier throughout the course.”

She also received mentoring support from someone who was trauma trained to help her manage complex post-traumatic stress disorder.  

The OU also supported Farah when she became very unwell and ended up in hospital. 

Contributing to legal changes

Since completing her undergraduate degree, Farah has been asked to input her own life experiences and academic knowledge to inform important changes in legislation concerning rape, violence against women and domestic abuse, including coercive control and psychological abuse. 

“My degree gave me the ability to understand the laws within the UK and research into what changes could be made alongside my own experiences,” she comments. 

Postgraduate studies

She also intends to continue her OU studies at postgraduate level, with a Master of Laws. She plans to carry out in-depth research to improve legal help for victims of domestic, sexual and honour-based abuse. 

Now she has her undergraduate qualification, Farah concludes: “The OU made my passion and dream of becoming a legal research student real – empowering me to further enhance my academic skills and continue my legal research.

“To complete my degree is an absolute dream come true.”

*Due to sensitivities, we have used only a forename. Photo from iStock, posed by model.