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October 9, 2014

We need to talk about Honor Diaries

by Jess Guth

Yesterday evening the Student Law Society at the University of Bradford in conjunction with Karma Nirvana showed the documentary film Honor Diaries. The documentary, which takes as its focus the idea/concept of Honor (I know I know, I want to slip the u in too but I’m sticking with the spelling in the title of the film!) and the harm that this does to women and children across the world. The idea that honor of the entire family is vested in the women of that family, what they do, say, wear and how they behave is a complex one to get your head round but an important one if you want to understand the issues raised. I found it a difficult film to watch. I had tears rolling down my face several times during the film and I think it is an incredibly powerful film which people should watch, talk about, think about and then watch again.

The screening was followed by some input from various people and then a panel discussion. Here it became apparent to me how difficult it is to talk about these issues in genuine dialogue, without agendas, without getting defensive. I’m a feminist, there were so many issues in that film to follow up on, so many questions, concerns, issues about women’s rights, patriarchy, misogyny. So the first input immediately after the film was to tell us about services in Bradford that had been set up for men. We were told that these issues also impact on men and they also need help. I get it, I do. It’s an important issue. We’re not going to solve questions around honor killings, forced marriages, abuse etc if we don’t also look at men. But it grated. Every feminist fibre of me bristled. We went on to hear about the White Ribbon Campaign – men standing up to end violence and abuse against women. Great idea, valuable message but here we were again with the men. What about the stories of the women we had just heard in the film? Why weren’t we talking about them? Why weren’t we giving the young women in the audience a voice? Why did we have to let the men speak first? I was actually angry.

I was over-reacting. I do that. I was being overly sensitive. The message was one of solidarity and all I heard was here’s a campaign that will make men feel better about being men. Lovely. Patriarchy alive and well – albeit a bit less violent towards women. Anyway, we moved on to the panel. The first question was about whether it was really fair to blame the men given that many of the perpetrators of Female Genital Mutilation and other forms of violence against women are women. So, back to men again then. Come on women, we’re more creative than this, surely?

I wasn’t the only one being overly sensitive though. The questions fairly quickly turned to that of religion. Is this idea of honor a Muslim problem? Was the film we had just seen islamophobic. The University of Bradford Student Union Women’s Officer thought it was. She based her thoughts on the film’s production team’s previous work as well as snippets of the film. A student nurse from the audience responded that she, as a mother, christian and student nurse watched that film and it hadn’t occurred to her that it was anti-islam or about religion. Some people in the audience were overly sensitive to the points about religion. I see nothing in that film that is anti-islamic. I see lots that highlights that religious and cultural communities have difficult questions to ask themselves; that they need to claim back their faith and culture and that they need to stop accepting the unacceptable (a line I am fairly sure I have picked up from the film). Now, I say ‘they’ but I guess I mean ‘we’. The questions are for all of us.

So, having slept on it, I am still irritated that we couldn’t have an event where we talk about women, just women, not women framed by a ‘this impacts on men too’. I’m not angry about it anymore though, I get it. I understand that the message is important. I think the evening achieved its purpose. We’re talking about it, we need to and we need to understand that we all have things we get defensive about, that’s ok but we cannot let that stop us from talking. Dialogue is powerful – so let’s keep talking about honor, let’s acknowledge the human rights violations committed in its name and let’s try and find a way of reclaiming it.

So, the next post – hopefully in the next day or two will be my reflections on the film itself – rather than the event.

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