Muslim Women Break Their Silence On Life Under Honour Culture In Hard-Hitting Documentary

30/09/2014 14:23 | Updated 01 October 2014

Every day, women around the world are at risk of female genital mutilation, forced marriage and violence, all in the name of "honour".

But now, grassroots documentary 'Honor Diaries' aims to shatter the silence surrounding these sexist practices by exposing the truth about honour-based societies.

"In many honour-based societies women are not viewed as equal to men," Paula Kweskin, the film's producer, tells HuffPost UK Lifestyle. "Their voices, bodies and lives are not seen to be as valuable."

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'Honor Diaries'

The documentary follows the lives of nine brave women who have been affected by honour-based practices.

"I grew up in a country where women are meant to be seen and not heard – it truly is a patriarchal society," says Raheel Raza, one of the film's stars.

Raheel is a Muslim journalist who was born in Pakistan, but now lives in Canada. The 64-year-old has dedicated her entire adult life to campaigning for women's rights because of what she witnessed as a child.

Although Raheel says she didn't suffer any direct abuse and describes her father as a feminist, she admits to being treated differently to her brother - he was sent to school in America on a scholarship, but the same education was denied of her.

"There are double standards for boys and girls in honour cultures - they are not given the same opportunities," she says.

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Raheel Raza (far left) in 'Honor Diaries'

Some of the women in the film were victims of honour culture themselves, having been forced into marriage at a young age or denied education. Others witnessed friends and family suffering from oppressive practices, and now campaign for change.

Both Paula and Raheel are hoping the film will raise awareness about the inequality women face in honour cultures. They believe the silence surrounding honour crimes has enabled them to be committed without consequence for so long.

The UK Government reports estimate that approximately 60,000 girls aged 0 to 14 years old were born in England and Wales to mothers who had undergone FGM. In 2013, the Home Office Forced Marriage Unit found 1,302 cases in the UK, although many others almost certainly went undetected.

"I feel that the reason the statistics are so high for forced marriage, FGM and violence is because we do not speak about them – these issues have been around for a long time but they’ve always been off limits to talk about," Raheel says. "If there isn’t awareness, we cannot begin to work towards a solution."

Paula adds: "Unfortunately these issues are so entrenched in society that they’re not spoken about enough.

"The film is all about shattering the silence so people feel comfortable speaking about these issues – then hopefully we’ll see further action taking place."

Paula's passion for women's rights stems from her full time occupation as a human rights lawyer. 'Honor Diaries' is the her first film, she decided to create the documentary after researching women's movements during the Arab Spring uprising.

The work has steadily received acclaim and praise from international media and has recently been made available to view on Netflix.

Those involved with making the film are hoping more people in the Western world will now watch it since it's now available to Netflix's 13.8 million subscribers. The hope is that women who are "free" will feel compelled to help those in honour cultures while recognising that violence against women is not restricted to the Middle East.

Although we still have a long way to go, there does seem to be some movement towards tackling these crimes already.

With Egypt and Kenya increasing the amount of FGM trials they hold and David Cameron holding the UK's first Girl Summit in March, it seems the world may finally be starting to pay attention to violence against women.

"The issues have been buried because it’s considered taboo to even talk about these things - those who think it’s taboo have managed to hide behind the message that ‘this is culture , this is tradition’ – but it’s not in anyone’s culture to be abused.

"But the conversation has flourished over the last couple of years, and I think that's because of social media.

"Women in Kenya and women in the UK are able to connect and draw strength from each other, which empowers them and enables then to speak up," Paula says.


'Honor Diaries' aims to keep this burgeoning conversation alive and inspire change, so what can viewers in the West do to help women in honour cultures?

Paula says helping to promote the film and its message is a start.

"People in the UK can tell their friends to watch it, tweet it, put it on their Facebook page or even host a screening," she says.

"We also have a global coalition of women’s rights activists that are listed on our website, so anyone who feels moved by the film can check those out and maybe volunteer."

And Raheel echoes Emma Watson's UN speech by saying that it's not just women who need to speak up for women's rights - but men as well.

"This is not a anti-men movement, it is very a pro-men movement," she says. "We need to involve the men to move towards change. Men are an essential component when it comes to woman’s rights in the Muslim world."

'Honor Diaries' is now available to view on Netflix.

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