London campaign targets ‘honour’ violence that can range from shaming to assault to killings

For such a complex issue, the plan is simple: Reclaim honour.

It’s what a group of young Muslim women in London — the demographic typically victimized by “honour” violence, which can range from verbal shaming to killings — have set out to do.

On Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, in school gyms, mosques and community centres, they aim to take the shaming and violence out of honour and put the honour back into it.

“We want to reclaim honour from those who do use it to legitimize violence,” said Gina Kayssi, 24. “It’s a hidden issue in the community and having a conversation is the first way to change attitudes.

“The main concept is to allow girls to use their voice.”

Kayssi is one of 22 young women hired by the London Muslim Resource Centre for Social Support and Integration to explore the issue, what it means locally and to be London’s leading voices in making change for the better.

Launched this week, the original plan was to hire six girls and women as community facilitators, said co-ordinator Yasmin Hussain.

But when the posting went up, the Muslim Resource Centre was flooded with applications.

“I wasn’t sure how many people would apply because of the sensitive nature of the issue,” said Hussain.

Organizers interviewed 35 young women for the spots.

“These girls are incredibly courageous and bold, they are addressing an issue that is very complex and often hidden,” said Hussain.

She hopes the project will a model for young women to define safety in other cultures too.

“Violence against young girls and women cuts across class, culture, religion, race,” she said.

Ranging in age from 16 to 24, the women are diverse. Some go to high school, others college and university. Some cover their hair with scarves — hijab style — and others wear it loose. Some go to the mosque regularly, others almost never.

They have roots in many different countries. But they have so much in common.

They say they love their Muslim culture, but think so-called honour violence needs to be addressed. They say there’s no honour in violence and that Islam doesn’t condone it.

For the past two months, they’ve met at the resource centre to plan their campaign. A bulletin board at the centre is filled with brainstorming notes on everything from the definition of honour, to the campaign’s slogan.

They’ve asked each other, what is violence?

How does it start?

Is it gossiping about girls?

Is it forcing your daughter to wear a hijab?

Is it arranged marriage?

They agree on some answers, not all.

They’ve made every decision on how to unfold the campaign, from calling the mosque — the Imam agreed to devote a Friday sermon to the subject — to rolling it out on social media.

“That’s our generation, that’s how we reach out to people,” said Sumayyah, Tobah, 21, adding the’yre still deciding how to do workshops.

The project marks another first for the Muslim resource centre, headed by Dr. Mohammed Baobaid who’s been recognized internationally for tackling domestic violence in minority communities.

“We’re really excited to see another program emerge,” said Farrah Khan, co-ordinator of a program for young Muslim women in Toronto who are speaking out about violence.

“For a long time the conversation has been adults speaking on the behalf of youth. To end violence against women in our communities you have to centre the voices on those that are most impacted,” she said.

It’s a touchy subject, and not exclusive to Muslims — though high-profile killings in Canada, such as that of the Shafia family in Kingston — have thrust that community under the spotlight.

“These girls don’t want their families criminalized — they just want to be heard,” said Khan.

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