At seventeen years old, Malala Yousafzai has come a long way from the London hospital bed she occupied two years ago. In January of 2013, then fifteen-year-old Malala was released from the hospital after undergoing brain surgery to repair a gunshot wound inflicted by Taliban soldiers. The Taliban targeted Malala because of her outspoken blog posts advocating equal education for girls. Rather than intimidating her from pursuing her cause like the soldiers had hoped, the shooting served to skyrocket Malala to international recognition and support. Now, after becoming the youngest ever recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, Malala has expanded her advocacy beyond education equality to as she strives to see an overall increase in women’s human rights.
Malala’s age is not the only unusual facet of her global fame and influence. For the majority of Muslim women living in the Middle East, Malala’s outspokenness and courage is a distant dream, and her survival story is a sad rarity.
The Honor Diaries, a recent, award-winning documentary, gives a voice to these Muslim women who undergo abuse and oppression in the name of religion. The film focuses partially on a practice called “honor killings”, in which males commit acts of deadly violence against females as vengeance for bringing dishonor upon their families.
Honor looks different in the Middle East than in Western culture. Dishonor could come simply in the form of speaking outside the home or refusing an arranged marriage. The United Nations Population Fund estimated that 5000 honor killings occur throughout the world each year, crossing multiple cultures and religions. In Pakistan alone, approximately 1000 people per year are killed for the sake of their families honor. Some of the most disturbing accounts include the story of a Pakistani girl who was killed with acid by her own parents after she looked at a boy in public.
All that to say, honor killing is not by any means prevalent in every Muslim family or home. Many Muslims enjoy loving and supportive home environments where women are cared for and appreciated. However, some interpretations of Sharia law in the Quran lead to a higher rate of honor killings and violence in Muslim communities than many other cultures.
Many people are shocked to find out that these kinds of practices are still taking place around the world. In America, feminists focus primarily on issues like body image and women in the workplace, which are all valid concerns. But while people spend their time advocating for less Photoshop or higher salaries, thousands of women are being murdered because they simply seek the same rights as their male counterparts.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali, an interviewee in The Honor Diaries, is a native Somalian who fled her country to avoid an arranged marriage, and voiced this same concern in a recent interview. From Ali’s own experience, she states,
“If something wrong were to happen to me, and where I come from that happened all the time — you were groped, you were harassed, you were raped — you had no recourse because you weren’t supposed to be where you were.”
Ali is now an active proponent for the rights of Muslim women around the world, and believes that feminists today should be fighting the battles that matter- ones that will win women the right to be treated as equal humans no matter where they live.
Young Malala now stands on the battle front with Ali, using the atrocity committed against her as a platform for bringing other women’s hidden pain to light. The issue extends beyond feminism. Justice itself is at stake, as many women suffer in silence every day. The real dishonor is not committed by these women in the breaking of religious laws, but by any member of society turning a blind eye to the robbery of human rights and dignity.
Featured image courtesy of: http://rhrealitycheck.org/article/2012/04/25/global-roundup-indian-muslim-women-fight-marriage-laws-forced-sterilization-in-uz/