She Speaks We Hear

Bringing women's voices together, unaltered, unadulterated


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The Brett Kavanaugh case shows why women must be believed and not blamed

Today (27 September 2018), around the world, women will be calling for action in support of survivors like Dr Christine Blasey Ford, who have been silenced. Women’s March movements across the globe will hold a minutes silence in solidarity with Dr Ford, wear black and white, and write “I BELIEVE” on their hands to highlight the routine silencing of female victim survivors of sexual violence.

Dr Ford’s allegations against Brett Kavanaugh have garnered global attention with President Trump himself tweeting about the allegations. As to be expected, Trump’s controversial intervention was at best biased towards Kavanaugh, whom he tweeted was a “fine man” however in reality it constituted the worst form of victim blaming, casting doubt over Dr Ford’s allegations. Trump went onto write further tweets stating that “if the attack on Dr. Ford was as bad as she says,” charges would have been filed. In a later tweet, Trump said, “Why didn’t someone call the FBI 36 years ago?”

With these tweets Trump did not only attack Dr Ford, he also cast doubt on the credibility of the thousands of women who report historical sexual violence and abuse, each year.

There are many varied and complex reasons why a victim survivor may not report the sexual harassment, violence, abuse or rape that they suffered, till years or decades later. At the heart of these reasons are twofold central themes, the first being that women are often too traumatised from their experiences and are in a process (if they’re fortunate enough to receive help and support) of dealing with the aftermath on a continuous journey of recovery. Women who have been sexually assaulted report suffering from PTSD, suicidal ideation, severe mental health illnesses such as clinical depression or bipolar disorder, weight loss or gain, and in some cases it severely impacts on their life expectancy. The aftermath also includes the incredibly challenging impact the sexual violence will have on the relationships of the women with those around them such as partners, parents and families. A revelation of historic sexual abuse or rape, can destroy families.

The other central reason is fear of being disbelieved and vilified. The appalling victim blaming, reaction to the allegations against Kavanaugh, whereby the lives of his accusers have been scrutinised, shamed and the women themselves smeared, has shown exactly why women are reluctant to come forward and report their perpetrators of sexual assault. Dr Ford has said that since going public with her testimony, she has received death threats, her email has been hacked and she was told to leave her home.

Harassment and targeting of women and girls who speak up about their experiences of sexual assault is very common. A member of the She Speaks We Hear team who wrote about the sexual abuse she suffered as a child by someone close to her family, has recently been subjected to a targeted campaign of harassment. Messages on social media platforms have circulated questioning her narrative, shaming her and her mother, as well blaming them for the abuse she endured.

Under no circumstances is it ok for a woman to be targeted in this way. It is an attempt to silence her. Shut her down and stop her from speaking up and standing up to the person who abused her. More often than not this form of silencing is conducted by people close to the perpetrators or in high profile cases by their supporters. Often women will withdraw their complaints against perpetrators, as a result of the harassment which, let’s be clear on this, is another form of violence they have had to endure.

Women I have worked with very rarely report their experiences to authorities or even to their families, they stay silence because ultimately speaking up can be just as traumatic as experiencing the sexual violence in the first instance. There are cases of young girls and women who have taken their own lives after disclosing sexual abuse or assault, as a result of being disbelieved.

We live in a society in which women are less likely to be believed, rape prosecutions and then convictions are disproportionately low compared to the number of women reporting rape. Myths about the number of fake reports of sexual violence are regularly circulated to perpetuate a culture of rape denial, when in reality statistics show these are very few and far between.

Questioning victim survivors narratives, poking holes in their stories, pointing out inconsistencies, and labelling them as women who desire attention or having some ulterior political agenda, is potentially fatal.

Victim blaming is still very much the default position when a woman reports sexual assault or historic abuse. That is why women across the globe today are coming together to say “I BELIEVE” and stand in solidarity with the hundreds and thousands of women and girls that suffer sexual violence year on year.

To all women victim survivors, I believe you, stand by you and will not tolerate those who wish to silence you. To those who perpetuate a culture of rape denial and victim blaming, your targeting and harassment will not be tolerated, you will be called out on it.

By Akeela Ahmed MBE

Akeela Ahmed has been an equalities activist and campaigner for nearly nearly 20 years. On Muslim Women’s Day, she was listed in Nylon magazine as an activist that is ‘making a difference’. In 2014 she founded ‘She Speaks We Hear’ which gives unfiltered women’s voice a platform. Akeela advises and works with government in tackling anti-Muslim hatred, sitting on the Anti-Muslim Hatred Working Group. She is also a social entrepreneur within the social housing sector. Akeela is co-organiser of the Women’s March on London and in January 2017, she spoke to over one hundred thousand people at the Women’s March on London. For her work with WML she was listed as one of Stylist’s Women of the Year 2017.

Disclaimer: the opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the website.


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A note from the Editor on Child Sexual Abuse

Following the publication of Tameena Hussain’s post on her experience of child sexual abuse, we have decided to write a short note on the issue of sexual violence within Muslim and South Asian communities, in the UK.

Our heartfelt thanks to Tameena for writing this post on her experiences of childhood sexual abuse, and raising much needed awareness of a very difficult issue. Talking about sex is still very much taboo within most parts of the South Asian Muslim communities, and very little is done to raise awareness of sexual abuse and violence. Child sexual abuse has affected many of the women, we have had the privilege of working with at SSWH. These women are more than victim survivors, they are amazingly resilient and strong women who have had their lives forever impacted by sexual violence, some of them often dealing with lifelong consequences on their health and relationships.

Unfortunately for various complex reasons such as stigma, shame, and lack of education, despite this prevalence,  we rarely hear the words “sexual violence” or “sexual abuse”, within community settings and spaces. More often than not victim survivors are victim blamed by family, friends or community members. To compound this victim blaming, with recent high profile child sexual exploitation cases, the discourse on sexual violence has become so toxic that many Muslim women feel scared to reveal or speak up about their experiences, for fear that their experiences and stories will be hijacked.  And used as a tool to further demonise Muslims.

This fear arises from mainstream public discourse within media which portrays sexual violence as a phenomenon that is conducted mostly by Muslim men of South Asian or Pakistani heritage, against young white women and children. The experiences of young South Asian and/or Muslim girls and children is completely erased. As are the violent sexual crimes of perpetrators who are white or European. This perception also exists within political circles and Westminster, as one former government official relayed to us.

So not only are Muslim women being silenced by specific harmful cultural practices within their own communities, they are also being systematically silenced by pervasive public discourse which dehumanises Muslims, and paints them as perpetrators only. This discourse leaks into the psyche of teachers, social workers and mental health practitioners, albeit mostly unconsciously, creating  a bias  that impacts in the way they detect, and respond to victim survivors who are from a Muslim and/or South Asian background. Meaning Muslim girls and young women victims,  remain largely undetected.  And Muslim women who experience PTSD as a result of sexual violence, are often misdiagnosed, with a psychotic disorder or personality disorder.

We all need to do more to break down the taboo around talking  about sex and relationships, and raise awareness of the prevalence of sexual abuse violence within minority and faith communities. Despite the #MeToo and #TimesUP campaigns, media organisations and politicians still have a greater responsibility to discuss this specific type of sexual violence, responsibly, without demonising entire faith/minority groups. Practitioners need to be mindful of stereotypes whilst dealing with South Asian and Muslim communities. A first step to doing this is to step back and listen meaningfully to the stories and experiences of young women like Tameena. Muslim women’s voices should be put at heart and forefront of discussions and debates on sexual violence within Muslim communities.

If you or anyone you know, has experienced or been impacted by any of the issues identified in this blog post please get help by contacting any of the organisations below.

Childline: 0800 1111
Women’s Aid: 0808 2000 247


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I am who I am because I was abused

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(Content warning: this post contains content which some may find triggering)

My labels: troublemaker, Paki-basher, coconut, besharam and the list goes on – all for speaking up against injustice and cultural issues but I am who I am today because I was sexually abused and I now simply refuse to comply with a culture that is complicit.

The first time, you always think, it’s an accident. Then it all changes when you realise what is happening. I remember the first time like it was yesterday. Our house newly decorated, the cricket on and the men of the family all congregated. I was coming down the stairs and there it happened. I brushed it off but that was the start of it all.

Now if you were like me back then, quiet, scared and lacking confidence you were stuck. Who can you speak to? If I speak to my mum, I will be at fault but I’m too ashamed to speak to anyone else about it. So it becomes your secret. The problem with secrets, that it causes long-term pain.

The abuse carried on for years, and although school life wasn’t kind to me it was an escape and I seeked refuge from people I came to trust. As Asian mothers do in their gangs, this gave my abuser the perfect oppportunity to pop round and do what he did. Things went as far coming through the (unfortunately) unlocked garage, coming in through the back garden through the conservatory to upstairs. These are the lengths abusers go to, they don’t care who you are, they have one sick goal in mind.

I will fight like hell to challenge patriarchy, to continue speaking up to help others and to fight for a much needed change.

Fast forward a few years, I begin to rebel. I begin to challenge and I finally refuse to come home from Margaret Thatcher’s funeral in London until my mum tells my brother and my dad. Few days, few weeks pass and my uncles rock up. They cry, they apologise, I’m asked to forget and then they leave. Few more days pass and it’s suggested I travel to Pakistan to get married. Have these people lost their minds? Marriage does not solve the mental torture a survivor goes through. Marriage is not the answer.

Today in 2018, I am married – two and half years at the time of writing this but I’m a staunch feminist. I refuse to be dictated to, I refuse to be told what I can and can’t do and I refuse to participate in culture. I am this person because my culture made me one. I refuse to be a woman who should agree with everything a man says, I refuse to see Mosques as community providers as they’re just as complicit, I refuse to be told I can’t take part in sport because I am a woman, I refuse to be a ‘housewife’ because it’s what is expected, I refuse to sit in silence in shame because I’m not ashamed. Not anymore. I am who I am because I was abused and because my culture failed to protect me. So if speaking out against culture makes me a besharam, a coconut, a Paki-basher then ladies and gentlemen, carry on calling me those names but I did nothing wrong. And I will fight like hell to challenge patriarchy, to continue speaking up to help others and to fight for a much needed change.

By Tameena Hussain
Tameena is an IT engineer by profession but her passion lies in advocating for gender equality and  human rights all whilst being actively involved in her community, having sat on the TVP Independent Advisory Group and the One Borough Council Panel to campaigning on local issues that affect residents. A Pakistani Muslim who is breaking cultural barriers by playing amateur cricket and going against cultural norms to speak out on a number of issues that affect British Pakistanis. She has encountered her fair share of challenges along the way, and as a survivor of child sexual abuse, her experiences have made her determined to challenge the patriarchy and injustice faced by females, particularly within the Pakistani community.
Disclaimer: the opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the website.


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He said, she said: why are the Nouman Ali Khan allegations of impropriety, so difficult to believe?

“I will never engage in victim blaming.”

My heart feels so heavy at the news of the Nouman Ali Khan scandal. It leaves me disappointed, angry, but not surprised or shocked. We live in a patriarchal world, and the status quo supports the oppression and misuse of women, so it comes as no surprise that a man in a position of considerable amount of power (fame, money, influence) has been accused of inappropriate behaviour. I have such a low level of trust of men (especially men of religion) that I am not shocked nor do I want to jump to blindly defending Khan nor is it something that seems far-fetched or impossible, is a testament to my lived experience as a woman and the saddest part of this ordeal.

I should be livid, but ironically I’m not; as I’ve come to expect very little of men in our society.

My stance on this on this scandal is that:

  1. I will never engage in victim blaming.
  2. There is sufficient evidence leaked against him yet his die-hard fans still continue to defend his alleged behaviour. In fact, they are unwilling to even accept that such a thing could have happened. This evidence could very well have been doctored, but let’s not be 100% positive that such abuse could not have occurred.
  3. Many are shutting the conversation down by claiming that this is slander. Let’s be clear, that this is NOT slander, especially if true. Slander would be that it was just a false case built against him.  Our religion asks us to be just, even if it is against our kin. Our religion also teaches us to search for the truth and hold those in places of power accountable. Khan being a public figure and a religious teacher/leader, is prone to more scrutiny than an ordinary person. If he is being framed as he claims; a due course of the law must be followed and insha Allah truth shall prevail. I do not say that we presume guilt before proof, but what we need is to be open to the possibility that he too could have fallen, as after all he is human and prone to flaws.
  4. This is not backbiting. Our religion teaches us to stand for the oppressed and to always stand up for justice. Many argue that this is an act between two consenting adults and that it may be immoral behaviour, but it isn’t a crime, nor are the women involved, victims. We must recognize why this is problematic. He is a teacher and in a place and position of power, he had a greater onus of responsibility than his students who might be adults but there is a power differential between him and the women involved. There is a reason why there are strict rules of conduct between therapists and their clients, doctors and their patients, professors and students, coaches and athletes etc. The same also applies to clergy such as Priests and Imams.
  5. If the relationships were consensual and the two were in a legitimate Nikah (muslim marriage), then the marriages didn’t need to be secret. They needed to be publicly declared because the very act of Nikah safeguards the right of a woman to be publicly known as the legitimate wife of an individual. Allah is aware of our fitrah, He knows, a woman wrongfully attached to a man, will be slaughtered by our tongues and hands.
  6. There is also the issue of there being multiple marriages. Some argue this may not be islamically immoral, (although there are near impossible criteria around polygamy); however, it is legally prohibited in the country of his residence. We need to adhere to the lawsof our adopted homelands. A man, who is a man of religion and owns a public platform accessible to everyone, has a greater responsibility to lead by example to not break the law of the country. Yes, the law of Allah trumps the law of the country, but the law of Allah also prescribes us to follow the law of the land. If we all decided to not follow the law of the land we live in, the world would be in absolute chaos and there would be no checks and balances in place.
  7. I don’t believe the story because other so called reputable and religious men are sharing it. I believe it, because in cases of abuse, I choose to believe the victims. I recognise this is my bias, but the statistics suggest that very rarely do people lie about being victims of abuse. It is a difficult task to come out and speak about being a victim and the repercussions are usually for the victims as our patriarchal culture will place more trust in the oppressor than on the victim.
  8. We need to accept that no one is above inappropriate behaviour. You could have the book of Allah in your heart and still fall from grace (how else do you explain imams involved in child abuse)? The whispers of shaytaan and the tug of our nafs, makes us prone to sin. None of us can claim perfection, nor can we claim to be without sin. Let’s at least accept the premise that the allegations being a reality is a possibility before jumping to an absolute defence of Khan.
  9. We should make 70 excuses and verify the accusations against someone before believing them to be the absolute truth. The die-hard fans have refused to extend that courtesy to the victims of this ordeal. It seems the 70 excuses are only for the accused (man) here.
  10. We need better checks and balances within our systems. We need equal spaces for women with qualified religious and social counsellors where women can go and discuss their personal difficult circumstances.
  11. Personally, I do not need to know the victims’ names to believe the truth, anyone demanding to know the victims are purely doing this to satiate their own curiosity. The way the blind herd is following Khan, no amount of proof will convince them otherwise. Exposing the names of the victims will only vilify and further victimise them. We can already see that the response from members of our community is not only vile, but often violent. Imagine the risk to the safety associated with disclosing the identity of the women.
  12. The biggest issue in my opinion has been the way this was disclosed by reputable members of our community. The allegations are vague, with enough being said indirectly on the topic (without naming Khan) by other religious figures such as Navaid Aziz, Yasir Qadhi and Omer Suleiman, leading us all to the worst possible conclusions. This is not a sign of wisdom, or good for community cohesion or development. The silence since last Friday from our leaders is deafening. If anything is slanderous, it is this behaviour. It does little to protect the victims or increase our understanding of abuse.

I pray that Allah protect us all. There is a lot we need to do as a community. This is a difficult conversation to have, but a conversation that is a MUST. We are supposed to be the best of examples, and to follow the footsteps of the best of Creations, Muhammed (SAW).

In order to do that, we need to be balanced in our approach especially when searching for the truth. Let us weigh what has been presented without making judgements either way. Let’s demand the leaders to be more transparent, and forthcoming than they have.  The evidence needs to be presented without the need for exposure of the victims. If this is a matter that cannot be dealt within the confines of our community, we must follow the process of law of the country.

“We also need to learn and understand abuse, grooming, harassment and how power dynamics play a role in that as a community.”

The leaders have a public responsibility to squash these rumours and be clear in their allegations. Khan, has every right to defend himself and to offer his narrative. But, we as a community also need to learn that if this can be an elaborate plan to trap/defame Khan, that it is an equal probability (if not more) that the allegations against him are true and that there are victims. We need to afford that same level of opportunity to speak their side of the story to those he allegedly has wronged. We also need to learn and understand abuse, grooming, harassment and how power dynamics play a role in that as a community. We need to actively engage in learning, and teaching this cycle, if we want to protect and safeguard those who are vulnerable in our society before perpetuating the cycle of abuse through blind following. The biggest lesson from this scandal is that we must not place any human being on a pedestal nor should we idolise them to the point where we assume no fault on their part. Idol worship comes in many forms, and this falls under that category. The word of Allah is true and perfect, but the vessel through which it is delivered can be imperfect and be full of flaws. This is a reality we must thoroughly accept.

Most of all, in our defence for Nouman Ali Khan, let us not engage in victim blaming and shaming. How we behave tells other victims (of physical, sexual, mental and emotional violence), that it is better to stay silent if ever abused. Through our actions, we also signal that we side with oppressors and abusers. This would be the biggest irony given that it is the month of Muharram-a month that commemorates the greatest injustice of our Islamic history. We have a choice to make, are we with the oppressor or will we be a voice for those who are wronged in our society and I choose to be the latter.

By Maheen Nusrat

Maheen Nusrat is a Pakistani born Canadian currently residing in the UK. She has also lived in Bahrain and in New York. She has a degree in Communications. Her portfolio includes working in politics, print and broadcast media, life sciences and the public sector. Maheen is the co-founder of Uplift Connections-a platform for women from all faiths and ethnicity to come together, and to help them succeed in business. Follow them @Uplift_connect.  Maheen has a real passion for social justice, equality and believes that our talents are meant to be shared with the world. Follow her @fireyfury1 

Image credit: https://www.pinterest.fr/pin/99994054199930669/
Disclaimer: the opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the websbite


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Religion and Faith: Important Allies in the fight against Gender- Based Violence?

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UK Faith leaders call for Istanbul Convention

“You cannot be a feminist and believe in religion”, a respected colleague who works with women from Middle Eastern and Afghani backgrounds, declared to me two weeks ago, a statement that hurt me a little but wasn’t surprised by as I have often heard it before. The following week I chaired a conference on intersectionality as part of the Strategic Partnership between the boroughs of Westminster, Kensington & Chelsea and Hammersmith & Fulham to tackle Violence Against Women and Girls. The conference discussed the importance of taking account of the differing facets of our identities, and where they intersect as a starting point of the support and service survivors of domestic and other forms of gendered abuse, receive from specialist organisations and charities.

“You cannot be a feminist and believe in religion”

It therefore follows that tackling any form of violence and abuse requires a nuanced and holistic approach that should be led by the needs and safety of survivors. Many of whom identify and align themselves with faith and spirituality.

Historically the women’s sector and those who work in supporting victims and survivors of domestic abuse or so called honour-based violence have been, at best and with good reason, ambivalent to engaging with religious and faith actors and or institutions that are part of a survivor’s social network and form and support a component of their sense of self. This failure, I believe, is leaving an unmet or misunderstood gap in supporting women who may view their faith or spirituality as a source of empowerment.

Conversely there is a sense of confusion and a real lack of awareness about the forms of support and practical help available to women experiencing domestic abuse and other forms of gender based violence, which can lead to suspicion and mistrust from community groups, community advocates and faith leaders that women turn to for help and advice. Often these women come from ‘hard to hear’ communities that experience multiple barriers such as gender and or racial discrimination, disability, poverty and ill health. Therefore, their local Imam or Pastor is the only source of support, who are unlikely to be the most qualified or knowledgeable about risk or appropriate and safe support for women and their children. On many occasions religious and faith leaders can knowingly or inadvertently collude with the abuse or abuser(s) and provide the veneer of religious justification for abuse.

“…those advocating for equality and an end to gender based violence can make faith and religious institutions relevant and important allies in the fight against violence against women and girls. “

It was therefore a welcome and important step for the campaign group ICChange to host ( along with Faith Action and Restored) and secure the support of UK Faith leaders in the call for the ratification of the Istanbul Convention which was launched at the House of Lords on 5 December. It brought together Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Sikh and Hindu faith leaders to call on the UK government to ratify the Convention on violence against women and for MPs to support the Private Member’s Bill by voting for it on 16 December. The launch is a great example of how those advocating for equality and an end to gender based violence can make faith and religious institutions relevant and important allies in the fight against violence against women and girls.

The Istanbul Convention, described as ‘the best thing you’ve never heard of’ is a set of life-saving minimum standards on tacking violence against women and girls that states should ensure when tackling this widespread phenomenon. If the UK government ratifies the convention it will enable a root and branch change in its response to support and protect women suffering violence and abuse. It will also be duty bound to prevent and tackle the root causes of violence as well as hold perpetrators to account through the criminal justice system. Four and a half years on from the government’s promise to make the Convention law we are still waiting for this to be realised.

Here at Standing Together Against Domestic Violence, we have long advocated for a more coordinated community response to gender based violence and domestic abuse in particular. The most effective and lasting solution is one that brings together as many agencies, services and civil society groups including community and the family to support the needs of survivors; puts them at the centre of the response to abuse and holds perpetrators to account.

Through our Safety Across Faith and Ethnic Communities programme (SAFE) we aim to address a gap in the response to domestic abuse. We know that most survivors of abuse will likely reach out to friends, family and community networks for help in the earliest stages of abuse.  The SAFE Communities project will ensure that domestic abuse and violence against women and girls are tackled holistically by targeting support to those who will be most likely to be the first approached by survivors for help. We believe that working with and empowering communities to understand, recognise and address domestic abuse is essential. Grassroots communities and faith groups have the power and potential to make a real difference in the lives of survivors and hold perpetrators to account.

Looking at the wider context, the current political climate promises long and protracted negotiations over our divorce from Europe and the rise of nationalist right wing politics across Western nations in America and Europe, the Private Members Bill which calls for the ratification of the Istanbul Convention, presents an important and narrow window of opportunity to safeguard more than thirty- years’ worth of advocacy, activism and hard fought battles to get us to the very lacking and imperfect state we are in today.

It is precisely when the perfect storm of fear, economic and social instability, and the rise in regressive politics that the threat of hijacking faith for intolerant or oppressive rhetoric and purposes must be repelled by all people of faith and non.

*If you would like to see the U.K. government ratify the Istanbul Convention, then contact your MP now and ask them to support it by attending the debate on Friday 16 December, and voting for it – details here. And you can sign this petition.*

By Huda Jawad

Huda has worked for over 21 years in the Third Sector. She has held various positions in local government, national and international NGOs and charities tackling a wide range of issues relating to social exclusion, justice, equality and conflict resolution.  Huda currently works as a Domestic Violence Housing Coordinator at Standing Together Against Domestic Violence. Read more about her work and achievements on her website.

Image courtesy of IC Change
Disclaimer: the opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the website.


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Qandeel Baloch: an outspoken feminist in a man’s world

“As a woman we must stand up for ourselves.. As a woman we must stand up for each other… As a women we must stand…“

— Qandeel Baloch

feminism cross-stitch

The tragic murder of the social media celebrity, Qandeel Baloch, is an eye-opener to societal attitudes towards women in Pakistan. This is a case which has divided the nation and exposed the contradictory and hypocritical attitudes towards women.

It is Baloch’s social media profile which divides people and emboldens the haters. While some commenters go far as saying her murder was justified, others act as nothing less than apologists. Many argue that “Oh yes, she should not have been murdered, of course…”, but then go on to shame her by commenting on her lifestyle and public profile.

There is no but. Qandeel Baloch was brutally murdered and yet still, all the focus is on what the victim did. The focus should be on the patriarchal structure of Pakistan’s society, where women are seen as the property of fathers, brothers and husbands.

The truth is, Qandeel Baloch wasn’t murdered for being provocative. She was murdered because she challenged Pakistan’s religious establishment, making a mockery of the mullahs and exposing their double standards.

Sections of the media have called Baloch “Pakistan’s Kim Kardashian” but she was so much more than that. It is disingenuous to compare her to Kardashian, who grew up in relatively affluent circumstances. Unlike social media celebrities in the West, Fouzia Azeem was born into poverty with few options in life.

“I want to give those girls a positive message who have been forcefully married, who continue to sacrifice.”

Raised in one of the poorest areas of Pakistan, she was forced to marry a much older man, who then beat her. It’s the same old story across Pakistan where girls are forced into marriage and then expected to live a life of hell where they are abused daily.

But Qandeel Baloch chose to take a stand and escaped. With little education and no support from her family, she took matters into her own hands and took to social media to make a name for herself. Her father called her “my son” because she alone supported the family.

In short, she learnt that in life, you have to depend on yourself.

“No matter how many times I will be pushed down under but I am a fighter I will bounce back. Qandeel Baloch is ‘One Women Army’.”

The videos are grainy and she wears the same outfits over and over again. There’s no sign of the privilege given to wealthy middle-class women like Kardashian. To compare her to similar social media darlings in the West totally ignores her back story and trivialises Baloch’s personal circumstances. It is not difficult to see why she went down the path she did.

People are free to ignore the content if they are offended. But both men and women comment on social media, calling Baloch a shameless slut, immoral, cheap, while at the same time, watching her videos and checking out her pictures for titillation.

You could question how a girl like Baloch could make a name for herself in an Islamic country. Pakistan calls itself an Islamic country, but I for one sometimes find it difficult to see Islam in Pakistan. This is a country where a qawwali singer is brutally murdered for simply singing about his passion for family of the Holy Prophet (PBUH). A country where minorities are slaughtered on a daily basis. A country where one of the world’s greatest humanitarians, Abdul Sattar Edhi, is condemned as an infidel by Pakistan’s mullahs. Where Malala is dismissed as a Western stooge, and where a Nobel prize winner cannot even rest in peace long after his death.

“At least international media can see how I am trying to change the typical orthodox mindset of people who don’t want to come out of their shells of false beliefs and old practices.”

But people tolerated Qandeel Baloch up to the point when all she did was post racy pictures of herself. It was when she started to speak out about women’s rights in Pakistan and when she sought to expose the double standards of Pakistan’s religious clergy that society decided enough was enough.

Qandeel Baloch’s murder is more than a so-called honour killing by an enraged brother. It is a direct reflection of Pakistani society, where women are still expected to silently submit. Qandeel Baloch, fearless, outspoken and brave, took life into her own hands and challenged the patriarchy. For that, she paid the ultimate price.

Image credit: Cross-stitch ninja via Flickr
Disclaimer: the opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the website.


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An Open Letter to British Asians From Survivor Sara Karim

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Shafilea Ahmed, murdered by her parents

Trigger warning: This letter contains information about sexual assault and violence which may trigger a level of distress.

Dear Community,

My catalogue of transgressions began at the age of 14 when I was raped by a group of older teenage boys who had lured me away from the local youth centre for a game of hide ‘n’ seek in the stairwell of a local tower block. Here I was pinned up against a wall, before they took turns to rape me, running away when they heard my brother’s voice in the distance calling out my name in a bid to find me. As my brother entered the stairwell, he found me propped against the concrete wall dazed and in a state of undress. All I recall next are his vicious blows raining down on my head and face, whilst I was dragged home by my hair. Due to the extent of my injuries, which I found out at a much later date, included a fractured nose and cheekbone, I was absent from school for a fortnight. To this day, I have never spoken out about what happened to me.

“I was now damaged goods and I needed to be disposed of to the nearest taker, quick sharp.”

How could I? I had besmirched the honour (izzat) of my family; the very thing which I was indoctrinated to believe must be upheld at any cost.

My wanton behaviour needed to be curbed in order to repair the damaged honour (izzat) of our wider communal family. I was now damaged goods and I needed to be disposed of to the nearest taker, quick sharp. In my case, I was taken overseas under the pretence of a holiday (yes, that old chestnut) to attend a family wedding, only to find I had been promised to my maternal cousin, the eldest child of ten children, and 15 years my senior.

My only means of survival was to comply with the suffocating demands placed upon me as a newlywed bride, as I was fully aware that any further misdemeanours on my part could potentially lead to being abandoned, with very little chance of returning home – like so many others, I didn’t want to be another number missing off the school roll. Only when they thought my fate (kismet) had been sealed with the announcement of the impeding birth of my first child (only still a child myself at 16) was I allowed to fly home to begin the process of applying for a spousal visa for my cousin come-husband-come-rapist, to join me in the UK.

Only, being married and with child at 16 was not my fate (kismet), no, it was a well-orchestrated operation in reining me in. I was perceived as too great of a threat to their well-polished community image as a feisty, free spirited, and vociferous teenager. For many, like myself, our lives were severed at the artery the very moment we were deemed too much of a risk of tainting the good name of our family. But how? By simply stepping outside the realms of conformity. The women and girls who do challenge these age old draconian practices, despite the consequences, are either often subtly shut down through a convoluted process of being ostracised en masse by the community at large, or at the very worst, killed.

As my pleas for a divorce were rapidly dismissed, and further measures were sanctioned to restrict my movements outside the family home, I was left with no other option but to run away. Little did I know at the time that this would trigger a mass search initiated by my family, which would be led by the police, local councillors, and community leaders, all of whom colluded in perpetuating the cycle of abuse within which I had become entrapped. My family had gone as far hiring a team of bounty hunters to recover me from the safe house where I had been placed, whilst the Police Liaison Officer, who acted as the conduit between myself and my family, urged me to return home on the basis of the high volume of calls he had received from various members of the community, allegedly concerned for my wellbeing.

“I sit here quietly mourning my premature death at the tender age of 14, along with the deaths of thousands of other young women just like me – our lives brutally cut short.”

I returned home on the Officer’s assurances that no further harm would come to me. Within weeks of returning home, I was being coerced to remain in the marriage, to begin the process of having my husband join me in the UK, and to retract the police statement I had made against my brother for assaulting me. As their unrelenting pleas to comply with their demands mounted, I again felt I had no other option but to escape by running away again. Only this time finding myself completely homeless and living in a derelict property in a notorious part of town.

I sit here quietly mourning my premature death at the tender age of 14, along with the deaths of thousands of other young women just like me – our lives brutally cut short. I have since, like so many others before me been left languishing in the bowels of hell. 
The autopsies reveal a community complicit in these deaths, a community that chooses to remain silent in order to uphold the so-called honour (izzat) of its members. A community that turns a blind eye to the mass suffering among its women and girl folk. The very people it sets out to protect reflect the bizarre paradox, which besets the context of our very being, as British-Asian women living in Britain today.

Undoubtedly, there are those who are quick to retort back (as is often the case) with an air of McCarthyism, at how ‘our women’ are no longer downtrodden, women who cannot step foot over the threshold of their own front doorstep without explicit permission from their kith and kin. Don’t I know there are British-Asian women who can now speak several languages, who hold down high-powered careers with a string of letters after their name, along with neat six figure salaries, and a weekend cottage in the Cotswolds to boot – as somehow these caricatures of women are immune from male (and sometimes female) violence and abuse!

Yet, never questioning why for a number of decades’ schoolgirls, some as young as 11 or 12 years of age, have been systematically sexually exploited during the course of their school lives. Whether it was during the Bhangra ‘day-time raves’ during the mid 80’s and 90’s, or on their way to a local takeaway during their lunchbreak, or as they exited the school gates where they were targeted as sexual prey.

Rather than reporting the matter to the authorities to tackle the perpetrators at large, over recent years, some parents’ disquiet has led to policing the movements of their daughters through hiring private minibuses to ferry girls to and from school. Once again, perpetuating the damaging message that we as women must take responsibility for curbing the sexual predatory behaviour of men, which ultimately restricts our movements, as well as our right to feel safe in the wider world. A message we all too frequently communicate to our daughters. Since 2010, over 12’000 honour based crimes, including violence, abduction, and harassment have been reported to the police across the UK. It is believed these figures are not reflective of the true proportion of these crimes, as women and girls are often too frightened to come forward and disclose information.

Ten years on, and I have managed to carve a life out for myself; I have acquired a professional diploma and a 1st class degree, quite a feat for someone who had left school with a handful of mediocre exam results and for someone who many believed wouldn’t be destined for much more than a life of servitude. Over time, I have made numerous attempts to reconcile the differences with my family, however, each time I choose to live a life which is not governed by their prescribed set of codes, the process of elimination begins: invitations to family gatherings, community and religious celebrations slowly cease. So do the occasional social phone calls, text messages, and social media exchanges – I’m either unfriended or blocked. My presence is far too much of a burden upon their respectability, with my absence confirming their quiet disapproval.

“British Asian women are three times more likely to attempt or commit actual suicide compared to other women.”

A decade has passed, yet a quick search reveals 3 cases of forced marriage alone are being reported to the authorities every day in the UK, with the Governments Forced Marriage Unit having received over 12,000 enquiries about forced marriage in the last twelve months. Despite the consequences, I continue to strive to live a life that is authentic, unlike other women from the British-Asian community whose only means of survival is to live a life often dictated by family and the wider community, whilst choosing to assert their autonomy outside the glare of judgement. I do not wish to be viewed as a victim of my circumstance, but rather as a woman who continues to survive despite the odds. Unfortunately, Rukshana Naz, Shafilea Ahmed, and Sahjdar Bibi, were all killed for dishonouring (bezhti) their families. According to the UN, 5,000 honour killings take place around the world each year.

Those of us who are not killed are often driven to take our own lives – British Asian women are three times more likely to attempt or commit actual suicide compared to other women. Something I myself have not been immune to – I’m all too aware of other women in my community who have tried to take their own lives.

As a community, it is our moral duty to begin the process of openly bringing some of these issues to the fore by raising awareness through dialogue and debate. This is the elephant in the room that we simply cannot continue to ignore any longer. The recent BBC drama ‘Murdered by My Father’ was able to draw on the complexities of honour (izzat) and the way in which it is woven into the fabric of family dynamics through a father’s compelling need to control his daughter’s increasing rebelliousness.

The drama is a starting point; what is needed is a much more robust support system in place, that is able to combat the diverse and multifaceted nature of the issues at hand, which are often inextricably linked with other forms of violence and abuse. This includes a country wide centralised monitoring system to be in place to comprehensively record incidents of forced marriages and honour based violence in order to develop a clearer understanding of the depth and nature of the problem across the UK. Bolstered by a cross-sector support response to create a raft of provisions, including public awareness raising campaigns, specialist refuges, alongside increased resources to specialist grassroots community-based women’s services.

I am hopeful the next decade will bring real change.

Yours faithfully,

Sara Karim
,
A Survivor

Image of Shafilea Ahmed courtesy of Asian Media
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