An Award in St. Louis and Tough Questions

By Paula Kweskin

We are back from the St. Louis International Film Festival! The Honor Diaries team was proud to be a part of the opening weekend of the festival, in the Human Rights spotlight.

St Louis International Film Festival

We were excited to be featured along with stellar films focused on a variety of human rights issues. Reception for ‘Honor Diaries’ was great – this is a picture of me with a few students from the University of Missouri – St. Louis who told me that they were very pleased to see Muslim women represented in a strong and positive way.

Paula Kweskin at the St. Louis International Film Festival

Paula Kweskin at the St. Louis International Film Festival

We also received the tremendous honor of winning the Interfaith Award for Best Documentary at the festival! We hope this amazing accolade will draw attention to the important issues we are dealing with and the powerful women who are fighting to overcome them.

Our screening was paired with ‘Hole in the Sky’, a visually stunning short film that focused on one African girl’s preparation to have her female genital mutilation (FGM) ceremony performed. ‘Hole in the Sky’ highlighted the interesting and sometimes dichotomous relationship between the desire to celebrate culture and the necessity of protecting human rights.

It raised the questions – where do we draw the line on imbuing beauty and meaning in cultural practice and protecting women’s rights? How can we advocate for women in a culturally sensitive way? After the screening, a thoughtful young man asked me if we had received criticism of being “colonialist” and if we were being culturally imperialistic.

I just started my LLM in human rights and international law, and everyday I’m reading fascinating articles about balancing culture with human rights; about law finding the balance between the individual and the group. These are tricky questions – but at the end of the day, I try to use a moral compass composed of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and a focus on human dignity and human rights for all, regardless of race, religion, culture and tradition.

The questions surrounding putting an end to harmful cultural practices and upholding the rights of women and children are not simple – and there are no simple answers.

I hope that ‘Honor Diaries’ provokes debate that allows us to deeply question our beliefs and find the best path toward universal human rights for all.