Their home or ours, we need to speak louder for victims of honour-based killing
The birth of a daughter is a blessing and a gift for many, but in some homes, it marks the beginning of a life set to be overshadowed by family honour.
The last five years alone have seen an increase in honour-based abuse (HBA) across the country, with a rise of 81% and a reported 15 honour killings taking place in the UK each year. However, the grim reality is that this figure is likely far greater than what we are presented with, as so many offences remain hidden.
Across South Asian and MENA communities, potential harm lies in wait for women who seek a life different than the one their parents and community deem honourable. This is a practice built upon culture, and not religion.
Yet it is a harsh reality that has been accepted in silence for decades, and it has come at a great cost. Women have existed as a vessel for harmful aspects of culture to be projected onto for far too long, and those with the courage to break out of its constraints often become disposable.
"Cultural society tells us that we shouldn’t dream up our lives so large that it will no longer fit into a man’s vision of a future, and so girls are raised to only see what they can give and not what they themselves would want"
For many women, we are taught from the beginning that our world should be smaller. Each want or desire whittled down until it fits under a father’s roof and then for many, a husband’s. Cultural society tells us that we shouldn’t dream up our lives so large that it will no longer fit into a man’s vision of a future, and so girls are raised to only see what they can give and not what they themselves would want.
Of course, when these same girls grow to understand their life trajectory as separate from their family identity, they are presented with a challenge. Some resort to living ‘double lives’; existing between the two, all too aware of what could happen if they chose the option that amounts to freedom.
Those who challenge misogynistic mindsets remain to be vilified within their communities, working to keep others fearful of their own ostracization should they seek a similar path. It is one reason it would be so trivialising to label an entire community as complicit, given that the impact of HBA extends far beyond a victim. It overlaps onto other dependents within these household frameworks who worry of a similar retaliation if they choose to speak out.
In a moment guided by fierce bravery, many of these women run in the night, giving up a home and a family in the process. However, this doesn’t always result in a chance at freedom. Last month, we witnessed the brutal killing of Sania Khan, a survivor of domestic abuse who made TikTok videos documenting her journey as a divorced woman in the South Asian community.
She wished to reclaim her life whilst advocating for others trapped in abusive marriages to do the same. Tragically, Khan was found and "fatally shot by her estranged husband" just a few months later.
The act of running from a family home in order to escape a predetermined life is sadly something we have witnessed one too many times. Over the last decade many followed the developing story of Princess Latifa, the ‘hostage’ daughter of the Ruler of Dubai. She had been attempting to flee from the age of sixteen, but each time was recaptured at the command of her father and taken back to Dubai.
Fortunately after much speculation, Latifa was found alive and well in Paris earlier this year. Of course, her release was largely down to the continuous work of the United Nations who fought for her release, a level of support most victims of honour-based abuse could only dream of accessing.
"For many of us, we are still grasping for answers at how centuries worth of female shame and stigma can be undone, while our homes are still heavy with the grief and trauma of femicide. This can make it difficult to fight for ourselves, yet alone others"
The princess’ life demonstrates the brutal reality of a woman being seen as property; a commodity to be kept by, passed on to, or returned to a male figure at all points in her life. For women within South Asian, Middle Eastern, and North African communities, the grip of age-old culture can be disastrous, its hold so tight that honour is placed before a woman’s chance at happiness. Or in some cases, her survival.
Many of the cases to make international headlines all follow a similar and deadly cycle. She makes a bid for freedom, receives immense backlash from within her own community, and is then hunted down in an attempt to preserve family dignity.
This was the unfortunate reality for Qandeel Baloch (born Fouzia Azeem), a Pakistani social media star whose career was seen to have 'brought dishonour' onto her family. After moving to Karachi for a few years, Baloch returned home wishing to spend Eid with her parents.
At the age of just 26 she was found strangled to death by her brother in their family home of Multan, Punjab. As mourners and onlookers gathered, her death marked a similar territory of words uttered by Mia Khalifa, "the same men who click on me are the ones who hate me."
The cases of Sania Khan, Qandeel Baloch, and Princess Latifa may have received widespread anger at the time, but the issue of honour-based abuse itself continues to face limited confrontation at the core of our communities.
For many of us, we are still grasping for answers at how centuries worth of female shame and stigma can be undone, while our homes are still heavy with the grief and trauma of femicide. This can make it difficult to fight for ourselves, yet alone others, but it has also become the silence we lose women in.
In the moments we do find ourselves privileged to protest, outside of or within our own homes, we must fight for those whose story will never become a headline, or be backed by public protest. Many of us challenge these misogynistic landscapes daily, and while we may grow tired, we must not grow silent.
All in the hope that one day our own women will no longer have to disappear in order to survive.
Anisha Mansuri is a recent MA Creative Writing graduate from the University of Birmingham, a poet, writer, and freelance journalist who writes on issues surrounding the experience of the South Asian diaspora, as well as the silencing of women in the current political climate.
Follow her on Twitter: @AnishaMansuri
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