A call to arms on International Women’s Day

12:55 am - March 8th 2013

by Huma Munshi    

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I am not often filled with rage but earlier this week I attended a screening of ‘Banaz: a Love Story‘ directed by the Human Rights activist, Deeyah, and I felt such frustration and anger.

We hear statistics about the numbers of young people, mainly women, experiencing so-called ‘honour’ based violence and oppression but watching this young woman, who was eventually murdered by her family members, gave a stark insight into the horror of what these young people, mainly women, are enduring on a daily basis.

The figures for domestic violence in the UK are harsh, make no mistake. The Home Office reported that in the UK 1 in 4 women will suffer domestic violence in their lifetimes and the Home Office reported that in 2010/11, 21 men and 93 women were killed by a partner, ex-partner or lover in the UK.

The Forced Marriage Unit published its figures this week indicating that they gave advice or support related to a possible forced marriage in 1485 cases involving 60 different countries across Asia, the Middle East, Africa, Europe and North America last year. Of the 744 cases where the age was known, over 600 of those involved were young people under the age of 26.

What I saw on screen a young woman fighting for her life. She fought time and time again. Her father sought to break her will and her spirit. This is exactly what this hate crime – because it is a hate crime – seeks to achieve. There is an intense hatred and fear of women: their autonomy, their sexuality, their intellect, their very essence.

She was mutilated at a young age so she would derive no pleasure from sexual activity; as she grew older she was not allowed friends as they would be a negative influence on her; when she turned 17, her father and uncle arranged her married to a much older man from Iraq who spoke no English and abused her in every way imaginable: sexually, physically and mentally.

When asked why he raped her repeatedly, he had responded, “well I only do it when she does not want to have sex.” When she left him, the men in her family forced her to return to retain the honour of the family within he community.

It is the very people that should be your support and provide you with love and care that sometimes put you in harms way. A form of collective madness overtakes a community and their traditions, culture and social mores provide moral legitimacy for their actions.

Banaz was savagely raped and murdered by her cousins, as planned by her uncle and father. Like in other cases we are only too familiar with – Shafilea Ahmed, for example – no one in this community provided protection for these young women. The silence of the community leaders in these horrific cases is deafening.

In Banaz’s case, the report from the initial interview did not even get written up until three months later. She approached the police time and time again and at one point left a note with the names of the people that would kill her; tracking those individuals helped them to eventually find her body.

We need a call to arms on International Women’s Day. We will fail time and time again if we don’t get this right.

The End Violence Against Coalition is proposing to make Sex and Relationships Education statutory to deal with this problem because schools have a vital role to play in helping young people develop healthy attitudes and behaviours, as well as supporting young people experiencing abuse.

Karma Nivarna have tried countless times to go into schools and raise awareness about forced marriage and honour based violence but are turned away because schools want to bury their heads in the sand.

During this month of activity to celebrate women, we have must show dogged determination and be resolute to stop violence again women and girls.

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About the author
Huma Munshi is a feminist, trade unionist and occasional writer.
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,Equality ,Feminism

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