Imagine if one day your parents told you that you could no-longer see your friends. That you had to stop dressing the way you wanted. That you had to abandon all plans to go to school or university. What about if they said you had to drop everything and get married to a man you hardly know? Every year, this happens to thousands of women around the UK in the name of ‘honor’.
Honour based abuse takes place in communities where tradition and expectation on women to behave in a certain way can sometimes become a matter of life and death. Typically when these women become too Westernised, want to marry someone 'unsuitable' or to have a divorce, they are met with violence and abuse from their own families.
You might think that we live in a country where freedom is a given, but statistics announced at last week's Girl Summit suggest that cases of forced child marriage, FGM and honour based abuse are much more common than you might think. This is why Cosmopolitan UK and Karma Nirvana, an organisation set up to support victims of honour based abuse, have started a campaign to remember those affected.
Louise Court, Editor-in-Chief of Cosmopolitan says: "A lot of these women are trapped between two worlds and are just trying to do the normal things that you and I take for granted. It’s really important to have a day of memory for these women because a lot of the time the reason they have been killed is because their families have wanted them to be silenced or forgotten about. I don’t think we can let that happen.”
So here's what you need to know:
There are around 5000 honour killings globally every year. Of these 5000 reported crimes, 12 are thought to happen in the UK. Shockingly between 2008 and 2013, Karma Nirvana received 30,000 calls to their helpline in the UK and today they deal with over 750 calls a month relating to honour based abuse.
As you might imagine, these numbers are only the tip of a very chilling iceberg. The reality is that the true number of women intimidated, attacked, forced into marriages or even killed for bringing shame on the family is not known and as such, honour based abuse is an incredibly difficult crime to tackle. Often attacks happen behind closed doors between family members, making reporting cases of abuse much more complicated. The nature of secrecy and shame that surround these crimes often means communities are silenced and families broken; women just 'disappear' without question.
One such story that the campaign highlights is the recent widely reported case of Shafilea Ahmed. Shafilea was brutally murdered by both her parents in 2003 at their family home in front of her siblings, all because she had become too 'Westernised'. In the years before her death, she faced regular abuse just for being what we would consider a normal British teenager. In the end it took a nine years for them to be found guilty and sentenced.
But it's not a lost cause. Jazminda, founder of Karma Nirvana, and her sister experienced the horrors of honour based abuse and managed to come out the other side. Louise says that although it wasn't easy for Jasvinda, her story should be seen as an inspiration for other women and that there is a way out.
"I think that Jasvinda's story is incredibly optimistic." says Louise. "She made the decision to run away from home and to fight to live the life that she wanted to. It’s not been easy for her but when you meet her, she such a strong inspiring, extraordinary, person."
So what can be done?
In a situation where silence is the goal, conversation is the greatest weapon to tackle it. So supporting the #britainslostwomen campaign, signing the petition and promoting awareness by opening up dialogue is key.
The main point is that honour killings and murder are NOT two different things. They are the same unacceptable act committed by unacceptable motives and it is up to everyone to make sure that distinction is followed up in our society.
Louise says: "It’s just not thinking that it’s just happening to a woman in another community. Instead of us thinking well that’s what some people do, it’s acknowledging it’s a crime; it’s as simple as that. You can’t think its OK to kill somebody because they’re not behaving how you’d like them to."
Help raise awareness of honour based abuse and help stamp it out for good. Sign the petition here and share with your friends.
Tweet us at @sofeminineUK using the hashtag #britainslostwomen to show your support.
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