Friday 22nd of July 6.11pm the text I received read….”don’t know if you’ve heard of the recent death of a Bradford girl… murdered just because she married a Shia… these so called honour killings are becoming frequent and it needs to be addressed… if you can’t get involved then point me to the people who can..”
Samia Shahid was murdered in cold blood. There is no honour involved. If we are to understand the drivers of this type of crime, a crime which is all about control, then we need to understand that these crimes are driven by the shame felt, more than likely by a man, because of the behaviour of a woman.
Whilst the father of this Bradford girl and her ex husband are now in custody, the focus for this article is not the criminal case as that is going through the legal process. However, what we can’t and must not do is not have the wider discussions because they are subjects which are taboo and off limits.
For me this tragedy raises many concerns on many different levels, which I’m hoping to explain the best I can.
We have pockets of patriarchy in all communities. We have violence against women in all communities and fundamentally we must accept that the umbrella under which they all fall is that of power and control of women. And let us also be clear it is not confined to any particular race, religious affiliation or class. It has zero boundaries. The desire of control and power transcends them all.
The tapestry of each community is unique. Communities are fluid as are cultures and at any one time we can, as individuals, belong to more than one community and more than one culture. As a British Muslim woman, a feminist, a mother and an MP of Pakistani heritage, I enjoy so many different experiences and cultures which is such a huge blessing for me. Our shared values transcend any differences. I’m equally comfortable in the chamber in Parliament doing what I do weekdays as I am on a Sunday afternoon cooking a bunch of ‘prathay’ with chicken curry and ‘achar’ for my kids.
But the journey to be who I am today hasn’t always been so comfortable. Coming from a community where the concept of ‘izzat’ or ‘honour’ is used as the measuring yard stick of all things acceptable, especially when it comes to women, can be at the best of times challenging and in the worst cases life threatening. It can be a huge hindrance to the progression of communities… particularly women.
This is against a backdrop of having multiple identities and cultures which can also be conflicting.
And here lies the difference. Whatever we do, should be about our happiness, to live our lives to our full potential. However, when a woman’s happiness and choices are not in line with those conducts which are governed by the concept of ‘izzat’ and expected behaviours within patriarchal structures, we then come across crimes of control.
As with all tragedies, lessons are learnt and people’s thinking is influenced and developed through discussion and challenge. This case is no different. Whilst I hope there will never be another Samia, I’m afraid the reality is I do not have that level of confidence, not yet anyway. But what I do know is that the community is talking about these issues. When I scroll down comments on many social media platforms and papers comments sections, it gives me some hope. People are challenging each other and in the process educating others.
But we need more, much more if we are to shift thinking to a place where we as communities are empowering our women and girls to be the best they can be, how they choose to be. Because by empowering women we are building our whole community, and until we don’t value the role that women play, we will not thrive as people and as communities.
It takes an inclusive approach to build resilient and progressive communities and that’s what must happen.
We must allow people to self define who and what they are or want to become and support each other to reach for our own stars.
And for those who are at risk, we must make sure we do our best so they can access the right support, should they ever need it.
Beyond our immediate communities, we have the wider issue of leadership and government. Community organisations must also play their part and create dialogue and space for people to explore the issues that matter to them and for my part I will lobby for more awareness and potential changes within the law following the learning from this most recent loss of life.
For the meantime, what I would say is that communities have their own solutions and we have it within us to change our narratives and own our issues and to this end I need your support. The Samia’s of this world need your support to ensure we don’t have more Samia’s. I would ask that readers discuss this issue with at least one more person and share this article because the information around support is crucial for people who may be at risk.
How you can help:
If you know someone who might be at risk encourage them to seek support.
If you or a friend do travel then make sure you let others know about your fears and as many details about your travel and living arrangements when abroad.
Make sure that you have with you important details such as passport numbers and consular details before travelling.
If a member of the public want to alert the foreign office, that they have concerns that something untoward may have happened to a family member or friend, believe that they me be in danger or are simply concerned for their welfare, they can call the FCO 24 hours a day on 0207 008 1500.
If a member of the public wishes to contact the Forced Marriage Unit (FMU) direct during normal working hours they can do so by calling 0207 008 0151. FMU are also contactable on their team email address at firstname.lastname@example.org or via their Facebook page at www.facebook.com/forcedmarriage
Below are the links on GOV.UK to the Forced Marriage Unit guidance, our “guide for bereaved families” and our “death overseas” guide.
Forced Marriage: www.gov.uk/forced-marriage
Guide for Bereaved Families: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/35526/bereaved-families.pdf
Death Overseas guide: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/193657/Death_Overseas_web_13.pdf
And finally, the safeguarding of our community is everyone’s business and responsibility so let’s work together to build tolerance and trust because our futures depend on it.
Member of Parliament