Britain’s lost women: Cosmopolitan launch memorial day campaign for ‘honour killing’ victims

Manchester is in the top-five worst-affected areas for honour crimes in the UK – and Cosmopolitan are tackling the issue with a proposed day of memory for victims.

A 2011 report by the Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation named Manchester as a hot spot for the issue and the women’s magazine have teamed up with support charity Karma Nirvana to launch a petition today for Prime Minister David Cameron to recognise the potential memorial day.

The city has also seen a number of high-profile honour killing cases, such as Uzma Arshad was brutally murdered by her husband in Cheadle Hulme in a case that appalled the nation.

Uzma and her three young children were beaten to death in 2006 because her husband believed she had dishonoured him by wearing western-style clothes as well as having an affair.  The case was given prominence in a 2007 BBC documentary Honour Kills.

It is cases like these that bring honour-based violence to national attention and highlight the need for further action to protect vulnerable women.

Forced marriage was specifically criminalized in March this year and is now punishable by up to seven years in prison under the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014.

This was introduced as part of the Prime Minister’s 2012 pledge to take ‘decisive action’ against forced marriage.

At the time, Cameron said: “Forced marriage is abhorrent and little more than slavery.”

The government’s own Forced Marriage unit dealt with 1,302 possible cases of forced marriage last year – more than 80% of them involving female victims.

For Cosmopolitan and Karma Nirvana this is not enough, they want recognition for the “thousands of women who are still being beaten, abused and raped via honour-based violence – for some, on a daily basis.”

Karma Nirvana, a charity that supports victims of honour crimes and forced marriage, have seen calls on their own helpline soar with an average of 700 calls every month – a 21% increase from last year when the average was 550.

And because of the hidden and secretive nature of forced marriage, these figures may merely be the tip of the iceberg.

The day of memory being proposed is July 14, the birthday of Warrington schoolgirl Shafilea Ahmed who was murdered by her parents in 2003 after she resisted their attempts to force her to marry.

Shafilea suffered years of horrific honour-based violence at the hands of her parents.

Despite them initially being arrested after her death, it took nine years for them to be found guilty and sentenced. 

Chief Executive of Karma Nirvana Jasvinder Sanghera said: “We passionately believe that this day could have a huge impact in terms of encouraging girls and women to come forward and report the abuse they’re experiencing at the hands of their families.”

A survivor of forced marriage herself, Jasvinder added: “It’s simply not right that British women and girls are still being punished for embracing freedom, independence and democracy.

“These women and girls are prevented from being normal teenagers.”

Cosmopolitan and Karma Nirvana are encouraging people to sign their petition to pledge their support and lobby Cameron for change.

Leading the petition is Pav Ahmed, who was just seven when her mother, Surjit Athwal, was killed while on holiday in India.

Pav’s father and grandmother were found guilty of conspiracy to murder but the killer was never found. Pav, 23, is now calling for a day to remember victims like her mother: 

“With honour-based violence, the families want to wipe out any trace of the victim – my grandma and my dad said my mum had run off with another man.

“I believe this day is really important – these women deserve to be remembered, and we need to send out the message that this is still a problem, and encourage victims to come forward and get help.”

Editor-in-Chief of Cosmopolitan Louise Court explained why they are championing the petition:

“No one should be subjected to honour-based violence or forced marriage and this kind of abuse needs to end now.

“We want this day to ensure that the victims of honour killings are not wiped from history – their lives and deaths matter and we must use them to empower women and girls suffering this abuse to speak out and seek the help they so desperately need.” 

Chief Prosecutor of the Crown Prosecution Service for North West England and the man responsible for jailing the Rochdale grooming ring Nazir Afzal, agrees:

“When families try to erase a woman from existence, all of us have a duty to make sure that her life and death are marked.

“That’s what this day of memory is about – to remind people that this person lived, what this person died for, how ridiculous what they died for is and how we can protect others who might suffer significant harm for the same reasons.

Nazir is Britain’s most senior Muslim lawyer and has pioneered work to tackle honour-based violence and forced marriage. He believes the proposed day is also about encouraging victims to report honour-based crimes.

“We want people to realise that we do take this seriously, and we want to help.

“Nobody should have to suffer alone or in silence.” 

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Image courtesy of BBC via YouTube, with thanks.

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