Honour and Shame within South Asian communities

By Aalia Khan

Honour, shame and embarrassment – what do these words mean to you?

These words hold a heavy meaning in many South Asian households across Britain. The idea of dishonouring your family and bringing shame to them is a huge worry that many parents hold, and they will do anything to maintain their ‘Izat’ (honour).

Honor Diaries; a film featuring a group of women’s rights advocates fighting for the rights and freedom of women, was screened at Bradford University last week. Jasvinder Sanghera, Co-founder of the Karma Nirvana charity was one of the women featured in the film. Jasvinder was also a victim to the evilness of forced marriage; she appeared at the screening as a guest speaker. Jasvinder said “This is a very real issue here, a huge issue.” When she was asked about the reasons why people do not wish to speak about the issues of forced marriage and honour killings she responded, “I think it is a lack of understanding and awareness and the fear of speaking about this, or the fear of offending.”

UOB law society with Jasvinder Sanghera

UOB law society with Jasvinder Sanghera

The film Honor Diaries touched upon many subjects such as forced marriages, honour killings, female genital mutilation, freedom of movement and the right to education.

Forced marriages became a criminal offence in England and Wales on June 16th 2014, and two weeks ago it was also criminalised in Scotland. Jasvinder says that the change in law is a huge factor in helping to eliminate forced marriages.  “As it is a criminal offence people don’t want to be locked up. Young people can speak up now and say it’s against the law. Families will receive pressures from within their communities and abroad so they may be able to use that as a compromise and say we can’t do that because it’s against the law in this country. They don’t want to be locked up for seven years” she says.

At the screening the factor that the issue of forced marriages and honour killings is seen mainly as a Muslim problem was discussed. The panel, which also included Ikram Butt from the White Ribbon Campaign, Samayya Afzal women’s and liberations officer at the UoB and Kathryn Dutton from the UoB Law school, made it clear that it was not only an issue that happened within the Muslim communities. Jasvinder stated that “The facts are facts” and it is clear that these problems are incurred mainly within the Muslim communities.

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Samayya Afzal believed that the film should not have focused on the issue only within Muslim communities, “Some of the themes that came through from that film; such as the association of subjugation of women to the veil, the association of religion with oppression; things like that is something that needs to be thought about, as when you do want to speak out you are attacked by everyone. That’s one of the reasons why there’s so much underreporting of forced marriages etc.”

In her view “If we as a community want to stand up and tackle problems that are happening within our communities we first need to not be portrayed in ways that are not completely racist.”

Jasvinder believed that faith played a major part in causing issues such as forced marriages and honour killings, she says that the many calls they receive at Karma Nirvana always relate to what is being portrayed as wrong in a particular religion “As a young person you learn your rights and wrongs from your family, so faith can be used to oppress people.”

Ikram Butt from the White Ribbon Campaign explained how there are men out there wanting to help women and tackle these issues. The White Ribbon Campaign is set up and run by men to stop the violence against women. The campaign helps men who have been violent and want to change to better themselves. He says there has been an increase in Asian men wanting to help out with the campaign so it is clear that awareness is being raised and the idea of change is spreading.

Jasvinder explained that victims going through these issues may not always want to speak to somebody from their ethnic background as there is the fear that they may know somebody from their family, so it is important for people from different ethnic backgrounds to get involved.

The other problem that needs to be acknowledged is that is it not always the men within families who are the perpetrators of these crimes as the women in some families also play a heavy role. Jasvinder says “The key perpetrators in my life were not the men but the women, and I’m ashamed to say that as a woman.”

If you are somebody facing such problems or know of somebody going through these issues you can get in contact with Karma Nirvana on 0800 5999247. Or get involved with the White Ribbon Campaign at: http://www.whiteribboncampaign.co.uk/

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