Movie review: Honor Diaries — ‘Their lives are not their own’

Documentary looks at the abuse of women in male-dominated societies

Honor Diaries

One girl was married off when she was eight, then raped by her “husband.” A woman was killed with acid by her own parents because she looked at a boy. “It was her destiny to die this way,” her mother said. A husband cut off his wife’s nose and ears because people were talking badly of her. A man killed his wife and then said he will happily die because his honour is intact.

“Honour” — a notion that seems to be bound up in the fear of a woman’s sexuality — is the perverse and dangerous idea explored in Honor Diaries, a documentary about the abuse, enslavement and murder of woman around the world, particularly in Muslim societies. “Their lives are not their own,” says Raheel Raza, president of The Council of Muslims Facing Tomorrow. “Their bodies are not their own.”

Honor Diaries brings together nine women to talk about such issues: the horrors of female genital mutilation (6,000 women a day have their clitorises removed or their vaginas sewn shut), forced marriage (a girl from Yemen who is a divorcee at age 10; a 12-year-old who died in childbirth), and “honour” violence such as whipping, rape, and killing.

“We need a whole way of women helping other women,” says Nazanin Afshin-Jam, president of Stop Child Executions (and the wife of Canadian justice minister Peter MacKay.)

Some of it is depicted in newsreel footage, but mostly we see the women talking: Honor Diaries is partly an exposé and partly an appeal for action (and for funds).

The details are not new — we see, for instance, the indomitable Malala Yousafzai, the Afghan girl who was shot by the Taliban for the crime of going to school — but the group of intelligent and informed activists helps coalesce them into a horrifying pattern.

“The honour of a family is vested in a woman’s body,” says Raza, and it results in laws that, for instance, forbid a woman in some nations from appearing in public without a male “guardian,” such as a father, brother or son.

Some of the women are survivors of such abuse. Jasvinder Sanghera, co-founder of the U.K. help line Karma Nirvana, recalls how she was held prisoner in her house until she agreed for a forced marriage at 14. When she refused, her mother said, “You are now dead in our eyes.”

The film also attacks the notion that such behaviour is “cultural,” and the political correctness that keeps some people from calling attention to it. “Culture is no excuse for abuse,” says author Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who also produced the movie.

At an hour long, Honor Diaries barely touches on the depths of the problem, and it doesn’t delve into the paradox that no religion, including Islam, condones the abuse of women. Nevertheless, it happens, and all honour is left behind.

A link to the article can be found here.