Education Through Film
“Honor killings are acts of vengeance, usually death, committed by male family members against female family members, who are held to have brought dishonor upon the family. A woman can be targeted by (individuals within) her family for a variety of reasons, including: refusing to enter into an arranged marriage, being the victim of a sexual assault, seeking a divorce—even from an abusive husband—or (allegedly) committing adultery. The mere perception that a woman has behaved in a way that “dishonors” her family is sufficient to trigger an attack on her life.” – Human Rights Watch
TRADITIONAL VIEWS IN MODERN SOCIETY
In some societies, following your beliefs, living out your passions, and, ultimately, being who you wish to be, is encouraged. The fear of scrutiny by those around you is present to some extent, but life paths are freely chosen. In other societies, commonly characterized as traditional, bonds of loyalty are questioned when an individual is perceived as stepping out of bounds. In most Muslim societies, a woman’s value is dependent upon her purity and virginity at the time of marriage; not maintaining this state creates the opportunity to bring so-called “shame” upon her lineage. The expected standards that are to be upheld by Muslim women expose an ongoing oppression. The excessive attention placed on a woman’s purity by her religious-cultural community, oftentimes, does not align with the practices and customs of modern democratic societies, creating a gap that leaves room for the atrocities of honor crimes.
The United Nations estimates that approximately 5,000 honor killings occur across the Global North and South each year; this statistic is likely far below reality. Those who specialize in women’s issues and gender violence contend that this number is almost certainly four to five times lower than the actual figure, with almost 1,000 women victims of honor killings, per year, in Pakistan alone. These numbers effectively show the intensity of the issue, and highlight one form of human rights abuse against women.
On July 16, 2014, BBC News introduced the world to Saba Maqsood—a young Pakistani girl, granted a second chance at life after surviving an attempted murder by her father and uncle. Now happily married to the love of her life, Saba is the prime example of a survivor whose love story did not start off so easily.
And she has the scars to prove it.
Her survival gives us firsthand insight into the horrifying details of honor killings within a Muslim-majority society. When recollecting the fateful night that almost marked her last day, Saba remembers:
“It was a dark and moonless night. When they stopped the car by the canal, I asked them, ‘What are you going to do?’ They slapped me and fired at me—they wanted to kill me. And when one bullet passed through my hand, they fired again. This time it grazed my cheek and that’s when I fainted. They threw me into the canal. It was only when I hit the water that I came around. I grabbed a hold of some weeds and pulled myself out.”
That night’s events resulted in Saba’s father and uncle facing charges of murder and kidnapping. In the eyes of these patriarchal elders in Saba’s life, they were merely trying to teach her that no girl should ever elope. According to her father, the male members of his family committed no crime.
Despite the pressure from her in-laws and elders to forgive her father and uncle, Saba has no intentions of rekindling a relationship with anyone in her family. Just like her scars, the memories will heal but never fade.
Stories such as Saba’s give audiences perspective, allowing them to directly see the realities associated with honor killings—the traumatization of the victim, along with the mindset of the accused. The story of the honor crime survivor has an impact that is unparalleled, though unfortunately, we hear more often than not the stories of those who have lost their lives rather than those who have lived to tell their stories.
EDUCATION THROUGH FILM
In North America, being so far removed from a situation makes it hard to comprehend honor killings to the fullest, despite the fact that increased diversity makes honor killings more prominent in our society today. One of the most effective ways to inform and educate in Canada and the United States is through the media, positioning film as a leading outlet to make social, cultural, political, religious, and economic issues more globally known. In a global society obsessed with mass media, films are one of the most highly discussed topics of our generation. Through this outlet, the unknown can be made known immediately.
The art of film also grants writers, directors, and all creative types associated with film a fundamental way of expressing themselves, providing the ability to both educate and entertain. Documentary film permits creativity and truth, creating pieces of art that depict reality. Social, cultural, political, religious, and economic trends are often their main focus. The documentary film Honor Diaries is the perfect example of this, as it “features nine courageous women’s rights advocates with connections to Muslim-majority societies who are engaged in a dialogue about gender inequality.” Hearing from those closely associated with honor crimes gives a voice to all women who have been paralyzed by their social, cultural, political, and familial positions.
Narrative features also have the ability to give a voice to the women oppressed within society. This can be seen through 108 Media’s recently released film, Honour, featuring a young Muslim girl who has a similar story to Saba, as described above.
On July 11, 2014, Shan Khan’s debut feature Honour was released in the United States, giving North American audiences the eye-opening opportunity to reflect on an occurrence that seems distant. Honour offers a fictional story that expands the individual’s awareness, teaching the realities of honor killings in a less overtly instructive way. Honour acts as a catalyst that showcases women’s rights, morals, equality, and religious fundamentalism—on a cross-cultural level.
The film follows the story of a young Muslim girl, Mona, whose family portrays the paradigm of traditional values in conflict with modern society. After her family forbids her from seeing Tanvir, the man she loves who is of Punjabi descent, Mona must make the decision to either remain loyal to her family or to Tanvir. Choosing to follow her heart, Mona quickly becomes the target for an honor killing. After a failed murder attempt by her family, Mona’s mother hires an ex-con bounty hunter to get the job done. Mona is now on the run from her brothers, Kasim and Adel, and a bounty hunter hired by her mother. Her compromised future creates a narrative that amplifies the frightening truth behind honor killings: Those bound by tradition are often betrayed by blood.
Since the release of this film last month, reviewers have already noted the educational value of Honour. Susan Wloszczyna, from Roger Ebert Film Reviews, stated that she “was not aware of the existence of ‘honor killings,’” before seeing this film. Movie review blogger Chad R. Schulz has made it known to his self-titled blog readers that, “the harsh truths [Honour] uncovers are disturbing and by the film’s end I was appreciative of the education.”
These two brief examples make apparent the informative nature of film, even as a narrative feature, as it still tells the truths of honor crimes faced by women in Muslim-majority societies.
Honor killings are a primarily unknown issue in North America, but they are on the rise. Providing knowledge of their occurrence through our current digital lifestyle is the first step to spreading awareness in an effort to promote resolution. The art of film provides a prime outlet for education. Tackling the issue of honor killings and the coinciding oppression of women through film will help global and local communities be well advised and informed, and better equipped to eradicate these violations of women’s human rights.
Start now! Educate yourself through art, film, and online communities:
To read more about honor killings, visit the Honour Based Awareness Network. Educate yourself on a topic that needs to be given more voice.
To get a perspective on honor killings through narrative film, Honour is AVAILABLE NOW on iTunes and all other VOD platforms.