Two prominent social and cultural patriarchal constructs play a role in all aspects of a woman’s life in the South Asian (SA) community; they are izzat (honour) and sharam (shame). Izzat and sharam are both factors that impede the assessment of child sex abuse, domestic violence and honour killings. These were and still are widespread issues swarming the community.
A woman’s chastity is sacred in the SA community; many women are encouraged to be submissive to avoid any sexual attention. There is a cultural construct dictating how each gender must conduct themselves in this community leading to generations of double standards. The concept of sharam and izzat comes in many forms in the South Asian (SA) community. But within the confined walls of the SA community, what lies is something a bit more sinister. Many in the community tend to sweep issues under the rug in order to maintain the ‘family’s honour’ and to continue by the community’s values.
Statistics show 1 in 20 children in the UK have been sexually abused and over 90% of those children were abused by someone they knew. Many SA families are in denial about the issues concerning abuse or sexual abuse towards children and women, they are a taboo. For some, anything from inappropriate touching to the rape of a child is usually swept under the rug. These heinous acts are going unreported for many reasons. One is to maintain the honour and not to bring sharam on the family. Many children are raised in patriarchal households, where their mothers are the caregivers and the fathers are bread-winners, who unfortunately may not give the emotional attention they necessarily desire. As a result, many children are brought up to respect and revere their elders, particularly males. With this requirement and attitude they are placed in, children are expected to not question authoritative figures, otherwise they may face harsh consequences. Children, that have been abused sexually, are more likely to grow up with mental health issues, behavioural issues or even substance abuse.
Within the SA community women too are faced with sexual abuse as well as being victims of domestic abuse. The police recorded 464,886 cases of domestic abuse in England and Wales in 2017. The sickening truth is that of the women that are raped, many are raped by male members of their families or in-laws. They receive little or no help in order to preserve the notion of the family’s honour – they are not to bring shame on their family name regardless of the atrocious acts inflicted on them. Many women are emotionally blackmailed, for young girls; they are threatened with the idea of being in a forced marriage. For those who are already married, members of their family use them losing their children against them and others use psychological abuse to prevent the victims from seeking help. For many migrant women the situation has added frustration as their immigration status may be threatened and they are constantly reminded they will have no family to go back too because of the shame they will bring along with them. Consequently they are unaware of their rights, they have no families when they arrive to the UK, they have no close friends they can contact, and speak very little or no English to be able to go to the authority to seek help. Many women are in a sense trapped in this dire situation.
For a proportion of these young women, the domestic abuse can manifest into ‘honour-killings.’ Honour-killings are a result of young women or girls transgressing the social and cultural concepts created for them, they are consequently punished for tarnishing the family’s honour. Many cases have made it into mainstream media, with the most notorious being Samaira Nazir, in 2005, whose only crime was to want to marry someone from another ethnic background. Her throat was slit by her brother and watched by two young female family members, as a warning to them. The act of honour killings is a culturally prejudicial idea and not a religious act. The practice of honour killings has no sanction in Islam.
At JAN Trust we are here to educate women on these taboo issues; empower to have a voice and to be heard; encourage women improve their skills and continuously grow. We offer a safe environment for women to come and seek help and guidance on issues affecting them, including any form of domestic violence. If you are a victim or know anyone that is suffering, we encourage you to approach us so we can help.