National Press Club

Congresswoman, activists call for action against honor-based violence on women

March 11, 2014 | By Jennifer Ejim |

Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), sponsor of the bipartisan International Violence Against Women Act (IVAWA), joined a panel of concerned women to condemn the horror of honor violence against women and its insidious encroachment onto Western territory, at a March 11 National Press Club Newsmaker.

“We know that one in three women worldwide will be beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused in her lifetime,'' Schakowsky said. ``Violence keeps girls from attending schools, which is one of the reasons that over 30 million girls around the world go without any education.”

She pointed out there are honor killings even in the United States, citing the example of the father who ran over his daughter and killed her because she was “too westernized.” As a result of the violence women experience, they live in fear and with shame within their communities, she added.

Raheel Raza, president of the Council for Muslims Facing Tomorrow and founder of Canada’s Forum 4 Learning also spoke out against what she called a “creeping jihad.”

“I speak out because culture is no excuse for abuse. I decided that I must be a voice for the voiceless,” Raza said.

She stated that female genital mutilation was more prevalent than many people assumed, with over 125 million girls and women having suffered from this abuse worldwide over the last two and a half decades. Contrary to popular belief, men were not the only perpetrators of female genital mutilation, or even honor violence, Raza said, adding that some women were actively involved in the abuse, and in a few cases, some mothers aided and abetted honor violence against their own daughters.

The incidence of female genital mutilation was quite high even in the U.S., with an estimated 150,000 to 200,000 US girls victims of female genital mutilation, according to Raza. This, she mentioned, was an offshoot of the “vacation cuttings” that occur when “families take their daughters abroad to have the procedure performed. As a society, we don’t talk about it, so it remains largely hidden and not reported in the U.S. media,” she said.

Raza also talked about other forms of violence against women, especially forced marriages involving child brides as young as eight. She said the situation was so bad and the victims felt so helpless that some of them resorted to extreme measures to escape their unpleasant realities. In some cases, some of them burnt themselves rather than continue living with the abuse, she said.

Manda Zand Erwin, an Iranian political refugee, also spoke out against the plight of women under the Islamic Sharia Law. Raza and Ervin appear in the new, award-wining documentary, Honor Diaries, which puts a spotlight on honor violence through the eyes of nine women who have experienced it.

Rep. Schakowsky said that she had seen the effects of honor violence against women first-hand through her numerous trips around the world. “My sisters with me are fighting each and every day to change this, they are fighting to create a world where girls can go to school, women can go to work, drive a car, wear what they want, marry whom they choose and when they choose, and live without the constant worry that they are going to experience violence,” she added.