In part 2 of this month’s inspirational interview, Deeyah, continues her conversation about honour killing and her work as an activist. Find out more about Deeyah and her work as a film director, music producer, composer, record producer, and human rights activist at Deeyah.com
You can read part I of the interview here.
6. If a woman or girl is facing forced marriage or the threat of honour killing, what can (and should) her friends and sympathetic family and community members do to help her?
It is advisable to prepare in advance for the eventuality of honour-based violence or forced marriages by locating appropriate services, such as specialist NGOs for minority women in the area. This makes it easier to gain specific, case-based advice and make referrals quickly. Remember that the woman or girl is taking a huge chance in communicating with you and may not be able to contact you again. The first step should be to establish a means of communication in the event that the young woman is withdrawn from school. It may be worth considering using a safe-word to ensure that a call is not being monitored. It is important to take your student’s fear seriously and locate appropriate help as soon as possible. Never contact other family members regarding your student’s concerns, as speaking outside the family is considered an offence against honour and will increase risks of violence or abduction.
7. Aside from “Banaz: A Love Story”, you are also the founder of Sisterhood. Tell us about Sisterhood (http://sisterhoodnetwork.org) – what’s happening and what are your plans for it?
I established Sisterhood in 2007 to empower young Muslim women by encouraging creative and artistic expression. Started originally as an online mixtape project of songs written by aspiring female Muslim rappers, singers, and poets from the UK, Europe, and the US, Sisterhood has evolved into its own scene of young women finding their own voice, whatever form that may be. It is a community of support and encouragement established as an open-minded network, founded on the idea that it is beneficial for each person to find their own voice, talent, and strength. Sisterhood provides ways to try out artistic disciplines – music, writing, design, dance, photography – and is a pioneering force for young Muslim women who previously had no canvas for their creativity. The young artists deal with war, racism, love, romance, living in a post-9/11 world, women’s rights, individual identity, sexuality, a sense of belonging, faith, and personal experiences of being young, socially conscious Muslim women in the West.
8. Before making “Banaz: A Love Story” and founding AVA Foundation, you were a well-known music artiste in Norway where you were born and you have given up performing due to constant threats and attacks. Why were you attacked? Are you still using music as part of your activism work?
In most Muslim communities, a woman who is a professional performer is often considered not to be a respectable or moral woman, although music and the arts are a central part of our culture and heritage. I believe that this comes from the historic association of women performers with the Red Light districts. The threats and intimidation I experienced most of my life were due to unacceptability, the dishonourable and shameful nature of music and performance for a woman of my heritage. Having said that, I continue to work in music. Although I am working as film director, my second job is working as a music producer and composer. I create all of my music and film-related work through my own production company, Fuuse.
Activism through art is my deepest passion and the unifying thread through all of my work. All of my work has a social purpose and is created to shed light on human rights topics. As an artist, I feel a great sense of responsibility to participate in our world during these challenging times. I believe in art as a vital form of critique of society, an instrument for social change, and a source of beauty, history, and freedom. As a woman and an artist, my life embodies a fusion of the traditional and the modern, the east and the west, and between work as an artist and interest in engaging the real world.
9. In your opinion, what kind of role can men and boys play in helping stop violence against women? How can they bring about change in conservative and/or traditional communities?
Men are part of the key to creating a world that is less violent for us all. As a society, we must all work towards a more caring and supportive environment, where men are empowered to be full human beings and not expected to play the psychologically suffocating, emotionally stinted roles defined by a confused sense of masculinity. We must take responsibility for the evolution into healthy, secure, strong human beings who are not constrained by the straightjackets of traditional gender roles. Media and education systems can play majorly impactful roles in helping to open up to a wider spectrum of what is healthy human and interpersonal behaviour. At the heart of all of this, it is emotional and psychological challenges that will need to be addressed so that we can finally evolve past the restrictive constructs that say someone else must be humiliated in order for his self esteem to grow. The inability to solve problems non-violently is not a sign of strength, but of an underdeveloped ability to take on the challenges of life and relationships. If there is no equality inside a home between men and women, boys and girls, we cannot develop healthy families or societies. There are men who are living examples of wonderful, bright, creative, kind human beings, and we must stand with them and recognise their courage rather than glorify their counterparts who are unable to cope with life and abuse those close to them.
10. In your opinion, how can people help stop violence against women in their communities, cultures and societies?
First and foremost, we must not turn a blind eye to it. As much as we would like to think that these issues may be a thing of the past, that is not the case. Speak out and use your voice against violence and oppression of women. Join NGOs, activists, women’s groups, human rights initiatives. Take a stand online or in public against abuses of human rights against women. Solidarity is a very essential part of the picture. Sisterhood and solidarity are both crucial ingredients that we must encourage, sustain, and work from, if we are to create lasting and inclusive solutions.
This is one of the last and largest issues that face us on a global scale. Violations and abuse against women far exceed the extent of any other form of oppression in the world today. No matter how humble and small, every step helps towards building a global shift in consciousness away from brutality and violence. Change never comes easily but our perseverance must continue if we are to leave a better future for our daughters and coming generations. Whatever actions you can take, whether it is writing about gender-based violence and discrimination or beginning the dialogue in your school, workplace, or home, it will help towards highlighting the need and desire for a better future.