‘Honour’-Based Violence: Why Have a Day of Memory?

This Saturday, 14th July 2018, marks the fourth annual Day of Memory for victims of ‘honour’-based violence (HBV). In this short post, Becki explains how the day came to be, why we need it, and what is being done to ensure that those who have lost their lives to so-called honour are never forgotten.

This coming Saturday, Shafilea Ahmed would turn 32. If her aspirations at school were anything to go by, she would now be enjoying life as an established barrister. However, Shafilea never made it this far; in fact, she never made it past 17. In 2003, she was brutally murdered by her parents at home in Warrington, Cheshire. Concerned that Shafilea was becoming too ‘westernised’ and bringing shame on the family, her mother and father suffocated her in front of her four younger siblings by forcing a plastic bag down her throat.

Although harrowing, and likely unbelievable to some, Shafilea’s case is far from unique. Every year, thousands of individuals across the world are victims of so-called ‘honour killings’ – murdered, by the very people who claim to love them, because they are believed to have brought their family or community into disrepute. You’ll often see the figure of 5,000 ‘honour killings’ globally per year bandied about, which includes 12 in the UK, but the truth is we don’t know how extensive the problem is. These statistics are of questionable empirical origin, and they don’t account for murders which go unreported, or which are disguised as accidents or suicides.

Shafilea’s story, like those of countless other victims of ‘honour killing’ is one of a life curtailed way before its time. Tragic though this is, there are those committed to ensuring that Shafilea’s memory does not get forgotten. Shafilea was the inspiration behind the Day of Memory for victims of HBV, which was established in 2015 through a collaborative campaign between UK-based HBV charity Karma Nirvana and Cosmopolitan magazine. It is celebrated every year on 14 July – Shafilea’s birthday.

gallery_nrm_1421447370-karma_nirvana_coverjpgcroppromovar-mediumlargeSource: Cosmopolitan UK

The campaign for the Day of Memory – entitled ‘Britain’s Lost Women’ – was brave and unambiguous in its message. Limited-edition covers of Cosmopolitan magazine depicting a young woman suffocating behind the magazine’s outer plastic wrap were produced and handed out in Parliament. Although this was probably very difficult to look at, there can be little doubt that the controversial cover was successful in conveying the heinous nature of these acts.

The Day of Memory has proven an invaluable tool in the continued endeavour to rupture the silence that has long-surrounded HBV and ‘honour killings’. Since its inception four years ago, it has encouraged individuals and organisations to take part in conversations about this form of abuse, whether this is through hosting national conferences or something smaller, like releasing balloons in memory of the victims. This year, there are a series of awareness-raising activities going on throughout this week – you can keep up with the latest news via Twitter using the hashtags #weremember and #stirringuptheconversation.

Open dialogue is the greatest ally in combating HBV and ‘honour killings’, and the Day of Memory ensures that this prevails. Whatever you are doing this Saturday, please take a moment to remember Shafilea and all the others whose lives have been cut short because of a misinterpreted notion of honour.

 

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