Culture is No Excuse for Abuse

LINDA SARSOUR TRIES TO SILENCE WOMEN (LIKE ME)

by Jasvinder Sanghera CBE   January 26, 2017   Up until last week, I had never heard of Linda Sarsour, the controversial co-chair of the global women’s march. But then supporters of my charity (Karma Nirvana) shared their shock and outrage over Ms. Sarsour’s attacks on the film Honor Diaries, a film in which I feature and support wholeheartedly. When Honor Diaries was released in March 2014, Ms. Sarsour worked to discredit the film. She disseminated the hashtag #DisHonorDiaries and made disparaging comments about the film. Why would a women’s rights activist work to silence a film on women’s rights?   I took part in Honor Diaries to break the silence of “honor abuse” I endured. I was born in Britain and my life experiences were rooted in an honor system which subjugated women, deemed us less than men, and justified why we were not allowed freedom, independence and democracy. A woman was to be seen and not heard; a woman was not to bring shame on her family; a woman did not have the right to an education, or the right to choose her spouse.

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In my family, this led to forced marriages that were consummated in rape. The scale of domestic violence was horrific and yet family and community members turned a blind eye. My dear sister Robina, taken from education at 15 to marry a stranger, later set herself on fire after being encouraged to stay in an abusive relationship for the sake of honor. As a woman, she was told it was her duty to make the marriage work. It was deemed "more honorable" for her to take her own life than to leave the relationship.

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As one of seven sisters, I regard myself as one of the lucky ones. I ran away from a forced marriage at the age of 16.  My family's response will live with my children and with me for the rest of our lives.   Thirty-five years later I remain disowned by my family.

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The need for unified voices exposing these abuses is critical. It will take people from all backgrounds to join forces in the fight against honor crimes. Upon the release of Honor Diaries, Linda Sarsour tweeted: “How many times do we have to tell White women that we do not need to be saved by them? Is there code language I need to use to get thru?” I find this comment – and her subsequent criticisms of the film – deeply offensive and divisive in a struggle that requires unity.   As a fellow racial justice and civil rights activist, I welcome the support of all women, even if they were never personally affected by these horrific abuses.  Their race, religions and backgrounds are irrelevant to me, and they should be saluted for standing up for women and helping give us a voice.

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Honor Diaries rightly exposes the brutal realities suffered by women from all faiths and races. My own heritage is Indian and my parents were Sikh. The film goes beyond the experiences of Muslim women and unites us in our experiences of what is right and wrong, pure and simple. We will continue to support the film Honor Diaries and producer Paula Kweskin’s bravery.  She had the courage to speak for us when many remain silent and when others, like Linda Sarsour, were attacking her.   Those who try to silence Honor Diaries deny me and thousands of others the humanity and right to exist equally as women. Linda Sarsour, I invite you to join us and meet women who suffer the abuse of the honor system every day. Honor Diaries speaks truths which need to be heard.   Ms. Sarsour: why did you try to silence us?