Women Speak Out Against Honor Violence
Is Rise in Extremism Linked to Violence Against Women? TOM FUDGE: You are listening to Midday Edition. I am Tom Fudge. Preserving the honor of family in some Muslim societies is not considered very honorable by many people who have turned away from that culture. In fact, in the documentary called Honor Diaries, one woman calls it systematic, institutionalized misogyny. There are known cases for families beating and threatening a teenage daughter with a knife for talking to a boy. In another case, a girl was killed for refusing an arranged marriage. These incidents by the way happened in the United States. During this part of Midday, we are going to be talking with two people who will be part of the Women Peacemaker's Conference at the Joan Kroc Institute of Peace and Justice at the University of San Diego. They join me in studio. Raheel Raza who is an expert on honor violence committed against girls and women. She is author of a book called, ''Their Jihad...not my Jihad.'' And thank you for coming in. RAHEEL RAZA: Thank you for having us. TOM FUDGE: And Jasvinder Sanghera is a woman who fled force-marriage when she was younger. She is founder and CEO of Karma Nirvana, a UK based group that helps women impacted by force and honor-based violence. And Jasvinder, thank you very much. JASVINDER SANGHERA: Thank you. TOM FUDGE: Well, Raheel, what is honor violence? What do we mean when we use that expression? RAHEEL RAZA: Well, honor violence is a tribal custom that sort of predates all faiths and cultures. And it exist across the globe in many different societies. Ad it is this idea that the honor of a family, the honor of a tribe, the honor of a village is vested in the behavior of the women of the family. And the women are entirely responsible for whatever honor or dishonor comes to that family. And the violence that is perpetuated against these women if they are deemed to do something outside the norms of that culture is that they are put to death to preserve the honor of that family. TOM FUDGE: And this is different from domestic violence. HALLA RAZAK: It is totally different from domestic violence. If you go to the website of Honor Diaries, you will read what honor-based violence is actually about. And domestic violence, the statistics and the description is very different because honor-based violence, the intention is always to preserve the honor of the family. And it is perpetuated 99% of the time by members of the family against a family member. TOM FUDGE: And typically by men. RAHEEL RAZA: Typically by men, but there are also men who have been victims of honor violence. So historically not such a high percentage as the women. But men and women both have been victims of honor-based violence. TOM FUDGE: Jasvinder, you have a personal experience when it comes to family honor. This happened I guess with you at the age of 14. Why don't you tell us your story. JASVINDER SANGHERA: Sure. I was born in Britain. I am one of seven sisters. I watched the majority of my sisters being taken out of British schools when they were 15 years old to marry men they only ever met in photographs. This was 35 years ago. I was 14 years old when I came home from school. And my mother sat me down and presented me with a photograph of the man I was to learn I was promised to from the age of eight. And I was the one that said no. I was born in the UK. I want to go to school, dare I say have an education. Because when you grow up in a family that operates in honor system, you cannot have thoughts of freedom and independence. Saying no meant my family took me out of education. I was held a prisoner in my own home for a number of weeks until I planned an escape. I ran away from home at the age of 16 to make the point, I am not marrying a stranger. I wanted the right to choose who I wanted to marry. I just want to make the point, the perpetrators are not just men, they are also women. The key perpetrators in my life were women. It was my mother and other female people. TOM FUDGE: And who was this man that you were supposed to marry? JASVINDER SANGHERA: I have no idea who he was. It was a photograph. Somebody in India. My parents were from rural Punjab in India. As my sisters, we had no idea who the person was. We would have met them on our wedding day. I didn't go back home. I was given the choice to go back home to marry who they had promised me to. Or my mother said from this day forward, you are now dead in our eyes. And subsequently, I chose that path. And I have been disowned for 35 years. TOM FUDGE: So since then you haven't spoken to any members of your family? JASVINDER SANGHERA: None of my family talk to me today. Over the years, I have tried to reconcile. Because you miss your family. You love your family. But it wasn't enough for me to go back and marry a stranger. TOM FUDGE: And this was dishonorable why? Because your father made a promise that you didn't want to keep? JASVINDER SANGHERA: It was dishonorable because my parents practiced a tradition. And it is a tradition of an arranged marriage. Nothing wrong with that, whereby a consent of two people. And to contain that tradition, and I said no, I was forced. And then that is duress. You are being forced to do it. And that is wrong. And in UK it is actually against the law now. So tradition, no tradition should be abusive. I was taught that I had to go through this because it was part of my tradition and religion. And my parents were Sikh. So this is happening amongst many communities, from Sikh, Hindu background, not just Muslim communities. TOM FUDGE: And I am glad you brought up that subject because so many of the stories of honor violence seem to happen in the Muslim community. Now there are many Muslims in San Diego. They live in my neighborhood. I guess I am wondering if we are risking painting all Muslims with the same brush, Raza when we talk about this. RAHEEL RAZA: Well, yes, because it does exist across may societies. But what my part is in this because I am an observant Muslim I wish to speak out about the atrocities being perpetuated against my sisters in Muslim land. Similarly Jasvinder is from a Sikh family. So she speaks out about her own story. But definitely we don't need to paint this with just religion brush because remember that honor-based violence spreads across ethnicity, race, color, creed. It existed 150 years in western society. But through education, enlightenment they have been able to put it aside. We still need to go through those kinds of educational reform in third world countries where this originally comes from and where it exists. TOM FUDGE: And when you talk about honor violence there has been a lot of talk about female genital mutilation. What they call I think -- what is it? HALLA RAZAK: FJM. TOM FUDGE: Okay. I wanted to say female circumcision is an expression that is used quite a bit. Do you consider this to be part of this thing we call honor violence? JASVINDER SANGHERA: You cannot compare circumcision to the cutting of females to basically to control their female sexuality. The way they are cut, they are sewn up so they have no feeling down there. You can't compare it to circumcision. Yes, it is honor-based violence, because what the family are doing is controlling their sexuality. And the whole point of honor based is I was taught a set of rules from the age of eight which I understood by conditioning my behavior. I was allowed to do certain things but what I wasn't allowed to do was deem to be dishonorable. Things like cutting your hair, wearing makeup, integrating, talking to boys. All of these things were deemed dishonorable. Now if I did them I put myself at risk of physical abuse, at risk of being forced into a marriage sooner than what I was expected to because it was deemed shameful. My sister Rabina, she was forced to marry at 15 years. She had a horrific marriage. She told my family she has been abused on a regular basis. And my family sent her back as did the community because it was dishonorable to leave your husband. In the end, my sister set herself on fire and she committed suicide at the age of 24. That was deemed more honorable than for you to leave your husband. TOM FUDGE: Jasvinder, you said something about some practice that is outlawed in the UK. What were you talking about? JASVINDER SANGHERA: Yes, forced marriage became a criminal offense on June 16th, this year, in the UK. David Cameron the Prime Minister was clear that for far too long we have been thinking about these practice as being cultural. They are not. His quote is a modern form of slavery. And we have to outlaw it. TOM FUDGE: And is that also illegal in the United States? I don't know. JASVINDER SANGHERA: No. No, it is not. The United States is so far behind on these issues, I have to say. You need to shine a light on these issue. Your victims are hidden. Nobody is talking about it. And government is turning a blind eye. TOM FUDGE: My guests are Raheel Raza and Jasvinder Sanghera. We're talking about honor violence and the oppression of women. Jasvinder Sanghera is a woman who fled a forced marriage. She is now founder and CEO of a group called Karma Nirvana. Raheel Raza is an expert on honor violence committed against girls and women. And she is author of the book ''Their Jihad....not my Jihad.'' And Raheel, let's talk about the title of the book because I think you made the point, well both of you made the point we are not just talking about Muslims here. JASVINDER SANGHERA: No. TOM FUDGE: And yet I think you believe that Islamic extremism has made this a great problem. HALLA RAZAK: Yes, it has. When you look at world events all the way from Boko Haram to the Taliban, to what ISIS is doing now, there is definitely a connection between the rise of radical Islam and I say we call it political Islam and the atrocities committed against women. And those two are definitely correlated not just in Islam but as we have been on this conference call defying extremism. We are hearing testimonies from women of many different faiths saying that there is a connection between religious extremism and oppression of women. TOM FUDGE: And what does the community need to do to turn this around? I think you have some ideas. RAHEEL RAZA: Yes. We need to expose the problems and talk about them. Not push them under the carpet. We need to stop being politically correct and call it what it is. And we need to understand what honor-based violence is all about which is why the film Honor Diaries is such an important documentary because it speaks about these issues with no hesitation honestly and with justice to the women who are in the film. TOM FUDGE: You know, I quoted a line from that film in my introduction. One woman called this thing that we're talking about systematic institutionalized misogyny. And Jasvinder, do you agree with that? JASVINDER SANGHERA: I do actually, because when someone becomes institutionalized, myself once a victim and now a survivor becomes a norm. Within a family dynamic when you are a victim within that family, your belief and value systems are created by your family. You think it is normal not to integrate in White or British society or American society. These norms become a part of you. There is no counter message within the family or within the community. There has to be a level of honesty within the community that this is happening instead of the deep shear denial that we see. TOM FUDGE: And Jasvinder when you grew up, you grew up I assume in a Sikh community in Britain. JASVINDER SANGHERA: Sure. TOM FUDGE: Were you ghetto-ized. Do you feel you just associated with people who were like you? JASVINDER SANGHERA: We were not allowed to socialize with anybody other than people from our own community. My mother said to me as a young girl and my sister from the age of eight years old, the worse insult I can bring to her front door is that I am behaving like a White woman. We had been taught that. Integration is a threat to an honor system. So there is a them-and-us culture that exists. And we were segregated. TOM FUDGE: And Raheel is that common? RAHEEL RAZA: It is common absolutely. TOM FUDGE: Among immigrant communities? RAHEEL RAZA: Yes. You see, when you look at the cases of honor-based violence, and there have been 22 in Canada since 1999. The lack of integration assimilation into mainstream western society definitely plays into this. TOM FUDGE: You know, Jasvinder it is interesting you said you feel that the United States is behind when it comes to looking at these kinds of things. I think there is a sense among a lot of people that I know in the United States that somehow we are different. In other words, our Muslim community is different. They are better educated, more integrated into society. And well, we just don't have these problems here. It sounds like you disagree with that. JASVINDER SANGHERA: No -- well, the reason I shook my head is because honor abuse cuts across all classes uneducated and educated families. People are abusing people regardless of what their profession is. We see that all the time. I believe there are like-minded people out there that want to talk about this. And we've got to find them. You have survivor out here in San Diego. I know you do. They contact us at our charity in the UK. These are people who fled from the UK and have settled here in hiding and starting to rebuild their lives. So there has to be the will. I have been campaigning for 22 years. Back in 1993 when I set up the charity in my front room, nobody wanted to hear about this issue. It's taken a long time. It is a journey. I believe you are where we were back in 1993. TOM FUDGE: Raheel, one thing you will be discussing at tomorrow's workshop is the rise of extremism. And I think maybe you have spoken about this already that this has resulted in greater violence against women. RAHEEL RAZA: It has. But what we are speaking about is how women can be in the forefront defying these issues and making sure that change happens. As Jasvinder said, the change will only happen when we look upon this as a problem that involves all of us. In America you have to address it as an American problem. Honor-based violence in Canada was addressed as a Canadian problem. And three weeks ago, we also had a bill passed in Canada against barbaric practices. So you guys are really behind. TOM FUDGE: Well, but also, maybe I am being defensive here, but in United States religious freedom is guaranteed by the Constitution. What would you say to somebody who claims this honor system is protected by our Bill of Rights in some way? RAHEEL RAZA: How can murdering a human being be honored by any Bill of Rights. I mean you have to be realistic and logical about looking at this. And let me also point out to you that all cultures are not equal. A culture that does not respect its women and lives in an honor-base system is not the same as the culture that I came to this country for which is individual freedom, liberty, equality. So religious laws and religious freedoms have nothing to do with the fact that various cultures perpetuate honor-base violence. And as the tagline of the film Honor Diary says, culture is no excuse for abuse. JASVINDER SANGHERA: May I just come in on that. Nowhere in religion does it say it is acceptable to force one to marry or honor abuse. I speak now to the religious leaders who are listening to this program. And I ask you as good compassionate religious leaders, take a stand with us and speak out against this, and use your faith to empower victims. TOM FUDGE: Raheel, do you feel that extremism has somehow perverted the Islamic faith? RAHEEL RAZAK: Well, yes. That is a whole other dialogue, but yes, I believe that my faith has been stolen and repackaged and presented as an ideology that is full of hate and violence especially against women. And I am in the battle to get back the soul of my faith. TOM FUDGE: Well, are things changing? When you watch the news, you do see rallies involving women in majority Muslim countries. Is there some hope out there? RAHEEL RAZAK: Well, I am an eternal optimist and I always live on hope. And I've been an activist for human rights for the last 35 years. And yes, there is change. And it's coming from the women. When you look at the Arab Spring, yes, it did not end the way it did, but it was the women who started the movement. And there are grassroots, women movements across the world. Again you will see this in Honor Diaries. These are women who are speaking about change and taking action. TOM FUDGE: What can happen in the home to I guess indoctrinate boys in a different way? RAHEEL RAZAK: Everything can happen in the home. It's the dialogue around the dining table. Mothers are the nurturers. They are the ones who start the conversation. And if the conversation is centered around hate for the other, which we don't really accept, then it becomes a different dialogue. So the dialogue has to be one of equal respect, gender equality just like I brought up my boys. And the dialogue and education has to be both for males and females. TOM FUDGE: Well, I've been speaking with two people who are going to be part of the Women Peacemaker Conference at the Joan Croc Institute for Peace and Justice at the University of San Diego. Raheel Raza is an expert on honor violence committed against girls and women. She is author of the book, ''Their Jihad....not my Jihad.'' Thank you for coming in. And Jasvinder Sanghera is a woman who fled a forced marriage when she is younger. She is now founder and CEO of Karma nirvana a UK based group that helps women impacted by forced and honor-based violence. Jasvinder, thank you. JASVINDER SANGHERA: Thank you.
Preserving the "honor" of families in some Muslim societies is not considered very honorable by many people who turned away from that culture. In fact, in the documentary called "Honor Diaries," one woman calls it "systematic, institutionalized misogyny."
There are known cases of families beating and threatening a teenage daughter for talking to a boy. In another case a girl was killed for refusing an arranged marriage.
These incidents happened in the U.S.
One of those women is Jasvinder Sanghera, founder of an honor-based violence helpline.
"I wanted to go to school, educate myself and have aspirations and have the right to choose who I wanted to marry," she said. "It was deemed dishonorable to say no to that [arranged] marriage. I was taught it was part of my religion."
Sanghera explained, "You are fearful for your life sometimes. So you stay as opposed to having to face dishonor and living life looking over your shoulder."
Raheel Raza, president of the Council for Muslims Facing Tomorrow, said, "This violence is perpetuated against them in the name of culture, in the name of fate. But we say that no religion allows the killing of another human being, no culture allows abuse of another human being."
The PeaceMaker's conference ends Friday.