Saturday 14 July marked the National Day of Remembrance for the Victims of Honour Based Violence, a day established to commemorate the birthday of Bradford-born Shafilea Ahmed, murdered by her parents in a so-called honour killing in 2003. It took nine years to bring her killers to justice. And today marks the second anniversary of the brutal rape and murder of my constituent Samia Shahid (Top Photo). Another senseless death, another “honour killing” and another woman denied justice. Looking at these and other recent cases, it’s hard to imagine that in this modern world, women and girls still suffer such appalling violence based solely on the outdated notion of “honour.” Despite the global media coverage, education and campaigning around Shafilea’s murder, Samia was still killed. We must address what this tells us. If there’s one thing that more than 25 years of involvement in campaigns to end violence against women has taught me, it is this: the chain of violence can only be broken when survivors are empowered to break their silence, and communities accept their responsibility to address difficult truths and make changes to the dynamics within them.
The World Health Organization estimates that 35% of women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual violence in their lifetime. In the UK, a quarter of women will experience violence over the course of their life. At least 200 million women and girls alive today have undergone female genital mutilation and about 250 million women and girls alive today were married before their 15th birthday. My childhood and adolescence were dominated by the normalised violence of men in the home, and later, at 15 years of age, the experience of my own forced marriage. So this is something that is very close to my heart as I begin my role as the shadow women and equalities minister. I am also proud to have joined many others as an ambassador for Islamic Relief UK’s Honour Her campaign – the first of its kind from a major Muslim NGO. The campaign strives to draw attention to the staggering levels of violence experienced by women and girls in the UK and around the world. It strives to stimulate debate, raise awareness, and root out traditional practices such as early and forced marriage and FGM, and all other forms of violence against women and girls, including “honour-based” crimes.
Nothing can bring any of the victims back, but there has to be a legacy. A legacy that doesn’t allow us to forget the Samia Shahids of this world. A legacy that gives some consolation to those left grieving – that not only will the murder of their loved-one not be forgotten, but it will be used to educate and eradicate so-called honour abuse. I remember having a conversation with the Academy award-winning film director Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy and former co-chair of the Conservative party Sayeeda Warsi in the week Samia was murdered. Warsi asked: “Why is it that men bask in honour while women carry the burden of shame?” These words epitomise what we need to change. There is no honour in murder; these are crimes driven by shame, the shame of the man. His shame, not hers. This is why we all must Honour Her because if there’s any honour, it belongs to the Samias of this world, not the men who get their warped sense of worth and belonging through having power and control over a woman, even if it results in her death.
Credit: Naz Shah for The Guardian, 20 July 2018. Naz Shah is a Labour Member of Parliament for Bradford West in the UK.