Culture of honor


Foto Elisabet Omsén
Foto Elisabet Omsén

Freedom, what does it really mean? Is it to be able to take a walk on the streets whenever one wants to do so? Perhaps being able to dress as you prefer yourself? Or to be able to speak your thoughts? What does one think about when one hears the words human rights? Being able to vote, to choose your own philosophy or something else? Whatever it may be, this is something we need to put more focus on and it is how many women suffer living in cultures of honor. It is of course all but honor, it is the worst form of oppression and the world needs to understand to be able to help.

Name: Maria Rashidi

Age: 64

Occupation: Chair person Kvinnors Rätt (Women's rights)

Family: Three children

Lives in: Stockholm, Sweden

Women's rights issues is something you care for deeply and 2001 you started an organization with the name Kvinnors Rätt (Women's rights). Would you like to tell about it?

In November that year I sat in the parliament listening to a young woman, Fadime Sahindal, who unfortunately was murdered by her own father only a couple of months later. She was a kurd, born in Turkey who came to Sweden as a child. She spoke about honor violence and how important it is to take it seriously and how she hoped that the politicians shouldn't turn their backs to the immigrant girls.

There and then I thought to myself that I should start an organization for women and help them who were exposed to this kind of violence. It was a lot of work, but except for me, three other women were involved and finally we managed. First years were tough since we had no financial contribution, but further on, Stockholm's town helped us. Although it wasn't big money it was a great help for us. Also we were on the local radio and had contact with women who spoke different languages.

Some additional years later we rented a room at what is called Women's forum. 2010 we had our own local. We could even hire personnel.

What makes us unique is that we know several languages and are known within different ethnic groups. Also we understand what it means to live in a culture of honor. We speak about this and we perform social work. We meet girls who need help. Furthermore we arrange children's groups with different activities. Myself I grew up in Iran and I lecture a lot about my own story, because even I have been affected very hard.

The problem is that it is hard to seek help and one hesitates until it is the only way out. You are bound to your husband through the culture. A lot of guilt is involved and one feels ashamed. Therefore it often ends in tragedy. There's also a risk that one loses contact with the children if one manages to get a divorce.

The idea of Women's Rights came when you yourself had to process a horrible abuse connected to the honor culture, something which affects many women all over the world. How did you find the strength to even take the lead towards a change?

My mother was a fantastic and strong woman with courage. She is my role model and I'm convinced that has made me strong. What happened to me was that my husband hired a man to throw acid in my face as revenge as I had filed for divorce. It was a horrible experience which ruined my life. So at first I could do nothing due to the way I felt and all the operations. Later when I started to get my energy back I wanted revenge. Some years further on I realized that even if I did have my revenge, I wouldn't feel better.

Now I use all my time and energy to reveal the oppression which is out there. Women have through laws, religions and culture no values in some civilizations.

For people living in this context, honor is something good, which can be very hard for others to understand. The reason these men commit bearish abuse depends on that they, according to the culture, have failed. He has to put things right again. What is used here to describe a bad wife or daughter is that they are "whores". In most cases that is of course not true, but the men use it against the women to be able to control them.

The mother's assignment or role, in turn, is to see to that the daughters lives are as expected, but still it is the father who has the biggest responsibility. So if they don't behave, he has to act as if he is ashamed in front of the others in his culture.

Would you say that there is a naivety from other people who are not in this culture? And if so, what can we do to notice these problems so the change for the better goes faster?

It is very difficult to understand this culture, so perhaps naive is not the exact description, but there is a credulity from the environment because it all is so hard to grasp. Another thing to have in mind is that people keep to what is known to them as it is connected to security. Even I who have lived here around 30 years still have things that I find hard to adapt to in the Swedish culture. I accept my children's choices in life and I'm open minded, but the old is still within me.

In spite of Fadime Sahindal's speech in the parliament it took a very long time for the politicians to understand. They didn't want to see the difficulties and some even thought it was the others own problems. Soon though there were financial consequences and then things began to happen.

Also there's a vision that one shall not interfere in others lives and cultures. Some debaters see that violence is violence and there are no cultural differences. That thinking prevents the solution. If we can't see different forms of oppression, we can't solve the problems more effectively. Another fear is that society shall accuse you of racism if you admit this type of violation.

I would like to finish with saying that in Sweden the secular laws shall always be prevailed. For some women it can be about life or death if those laws are followed.

#mariarashidi #womensrights #cultureofhonor #honorculture #honourculture #50+