Growing up in Pakistan, I was a rule breaker. I got in trouble for speaking my mind and making my own choices, two things good Pakistani women were not supposed to do. Until I broke a rule that could not be fixed or overlooked, falling in love with a Shia man, though I came from a Sunni home. In Pakistan, our families were at war, so we went to Canada. North America was my safe haven, a place I could make my life choices without fearing shame and violence.
America afforded me an escape from the fear of honor violence, the abuse thousands of women around the world experience for bringing dishonor to their families. This violence can take the form of physical, emotional or sexual assault, female genital mutilation and forced marriage.
America was my safe haven, but, unbeknownst to many, it is not safe for everyone. Honor violence is not a problem relegated to countries like Pakistan; every year, thousands of girls in North America experience honor violence and even lose their lives to honor killings. Families – mothers, fathers and siblings – abuse, assault and even strangle, stab or shoot their daughters, wives and sisters for being too “Western” or “promiscuous,” refusing an arranged marriage or even just looking at a boy.
Many decades may have passed since I made trouble in Pakistan, but I remain a woman known for speaking her mind. And in my mind, this situation is intolerable and it must be stopped. There is no place in the United States and Canada for shaming and abusing women into submission, forcing them to marry men they do not want and live lives they do not choose. In 2014, I stood up, with eight other women, and we made the world listen with the award-winning documentary Honor Diaries, drawing attention to issues of honor violence in western cultures. Other films and movements have joined us and we have made incredible gains in policy and awareness. Task forces have been formed, data is being collected and, most importantly, paid attention to.
Unfortunately, there is still much more work to do. Forcing a woman into marriage remains legal in 43 states. Women are beaten and even burned with acid, but the nature of what they are experiencing all too often goes unnoticed. Honor violence is a hidden crime that is overlooked more than is conscionable.
Honor Diaries was one stepping stone towards justice and what is right, but now, we need your help to lay the next brick. We want to wake up the US and create a national day of memory for the victims of honor – those who have lost their lives in the name of “honor.” We have teamed up with Jasvinder Sanghera CBE from Karma Nirvana UK, who has succeeded in creating a national day of memory in the UK. We hope to create a national day of memory in the US on the same date, July 14th, uniting women and men across the globe in solidarity.
We can stand up and declare that enough is enough, this will not go on in my backyard. Shame and abuse in the name of culture and religion are not condonable, and we will not sit idly while they are wielded as weapons to destroy the independence and fierce inner beauty of these young American women. Because when we do nothing, they lose more than their independence. They lose their lives. Join us in creating change. Click here and petition US policymakers to institute a national day of memory.
The author, Raheel Raza, is an author, diversity consultant and activist for cultural diversity and interfaith harmony. Her mandate is “there is unity in diversity.”