Tag Archives: honour based violence

Getting it right first time: women and asylum

Asylum Aid recently exposed very high rates of refusal for women seeking asylum in the UK. Russell Hargrave has written a guest blog to tell us more:

The typical image of a political refugee is of a single male, fleeing conflict in which he has become embroiled at home. But in 2009 more than 7000 women applied for asylum in the UK. 

The factors which lead women to seek asylum can be very different from their male counterparts. Women face persecution for their political activities, but also for their gender. They may come from societies where violation of women’s rights is the norm, and may be fleeing ‘honour’ killing, rape, forced marriage or FGM to be carried out against them or their daughters. 

Asylum Aid’s report on the quality of decisions when women seek asylum – Unsustainable – was conducted against a background of poor decision-making generally. In 2009, almost 30% of Home Office decisions to refuse asylum were reversed on appeal by an independent immigration judge. That is, one in three of the people denied protection when they turned to the UK for help was then found by a judge to need that protection after all. The human cost is enormous, as victims of torture and rape struggle through the labyrinthine appeals process. The economic cost of unnecessary appeals and ongoing support payments is also vast.

Unsustainable vividly illustrates one area in which decision-making has gone very badly wrong. 87% of the applications we looked at were refused, nearly always because doubt was cast on the credibility of the woman’s claim; yet half of these refusals were then reversed by a judge on appeal, and the woman’s credibility was accepted in each case. 

So why does this happen? Worryingly the disbelief confronting so many women in the UK – for example as survivors of rape or violence approaching the police or before the courts – almost certainly permeates the asylum system. 

However, Unsustainable also showed multiple flaws in the ways that individual applications were considered. Some decision-makers displayed a shockingly limited understanding of women’s rights (one woman was told that she was not a victim of domestic violence as her husband had only once tried to hit her), and the evidence used to support decisions was sometimes extraordinarily flimsy (one refusal letter ignored objective information about the woman’s home country, and referred instead to an article from a gossip site). 

Above all, though, the provisions in the 1951 Refugee Convention that offer international protection to women as members of a Particular Social Group (PSG) at proven risk of persecution were consistently overlooked. The Home Office made no reference to PSG in the majority of cases based solely on gender-related persecution. The means to protect women exist, but were normally ignored.

Recently the Home Office has recognised the importance of getting asylum decisions right first time, albeit on cost grounds more than any other. Now they need to act. One way to maintain pressure on them is to endorse the Charter of Rights of Women Seeking Asylum, a set of goals around which more than two hundred charities and community groups have campaigned. 

You can find out more about the Charter and the Unsustainable report on our website. You can also watch a short film about Asylum Aid’s Every Single Woman campaign.

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Four years on: Join IKWRO in remembering Du’a Khalil Aswad

Four years ago today a 17 year old girl named Du’a Khalil Aswad was stoned to death in the square of her home town Bashiqa, in Northern Iraq. 

Today, it is still unclear why Du’a was killed.  Some say that she was simply talking to a boy in the street.  Others claim she had spent a night away from home, or had run away with a boyfriend.  Either way, the men of her village took it upon themselves to ‘punish’ her. 

Each year at least 5,000 women and girls around the world are stoned, burnt, stabbed, beaten, strangled, electrocuted or otherwise put to death in the name of so-called ‘honour’.  Often the victim’s only ‘crime’ is being raped, wanting to choose who to marry for herself, or simply being the subject of gossip.  While most ‘honour’ killings go unnoticed, Du’a’s murder made international news after mobile phone footage of it aired on CNN.

Once you have seen that footage you will never forget it.  A terrified girl is surrounded by an enormous, jeering crowd.  For half an hour they punch, kick and stone her.  When she tries to get up she is beaten back down.  No one answers her cries for help.  From the sidelines the police look on.  Finally, someone drops a concrete block on her face.  The crowd bursts into uproarious cheering.  A pool of blood surrounds her.  Du’a is dead.  

Talking to the Guardian’s Mark Lattimer, a local woman said that after her death Du’a’s murderers tied her body to the back of a truck and dragged it around town.  She was later buried with the corpse of a dog as a final gesture of contempt.  Even after this, she could not be left to rest in peace.  Months later her body was exhumed for medical testing.  The tests showed that she had died a virgin.

In Kurdish Du’a means a call.  Tragically, on the day four years ago when Du’a was murdered, no one answered her call for help.  And now, the video footage which should have been an international call to action has faded into oblivion too.

And yet, if you have ever watched that awful scene then you will have heard Du’a’s call loud and clear.  It is a call to people around the world to reject the concepts of ‘honour’ and ‘shame’ which are used again and again to justify the appalling and brutal murders of innocent women and girls.  It is a call to governments, police and the courts to protect women and bring the perpetrators of ‘honour’ killings to justice.  It is a call to international institutions like the UN to speak out against these terrible crimes, and to hold the countries that allow them to happen to account.

Today is the 7 April 2011.  Please join IKWRO in remembering Du’a.  She is a symbol of victims of honour killing all around the world – an innocent girl whose murder is a blight on humanity itself.  Help us to remember Du’a by sharing this story, talking to others about what happened to her, and speaking out against ‘honour’ killings, wherever you are in the world.

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Government plan on violence against women and girls: OUR VERDICT

In January IKWRO asked our supporters to write to the Home Secretary and ask her to get tough on ‘honour’ based violence.  Many of you sent emails to Teresa may asking her to increase government efforts to tackle ‘honour’ based violence and to commit to providing training for all public sector workers.

That was six weeks ago.  On Tuesday you may have spotted IKWRO’s Diana Nammi in the Guardian, talking about the government’s new action plan which was released to coincide with International Women’s Day.  The Guardian article, by Rachel Williams, was titled ‘Honour’ killings plan does not go far enough.  But why not?

The action plan sets out what the government will do over the next four years in order to tackle violence against women and girls.  As far as ‘honour’ based violence goes, it commits to just three actions: 

  1. Work on the development of learning programmes for the Police on ‘honour’ based violence. 
  2. Continue training for specialist and dedicated prosecutors in ‘honour’ based violence.
  3. Identify models of effective practice to share with local areas, particularly those where awareness and activity to tackle ‘honour’ based violence is low.

While these commitments are all going in the right direction, the first two are not even new.  In 2008 the Association of Chief Police Officers also promised training.  Last year they finally began to develop a training programme but so far it hasn’t been rolled out.  The UK also already has specialist ‘honour’ based violence prosecutors who play an important role in ensuring that victims have access to justice through the courts.  Good, but again, nothing new. 

What’s more, training is also needed for other professionals such as social workers, teachers, health workers and housing officers.  Information sharing may help to tackle low awareness and improve the response to HBV, but so far it is unclear how information will be shared and whether there will be any monitoring to identify if local areas have used it to improve their work.

IKWRO believes that what is really needed is a national, cross government ‘honour’ based violence strategy which sets out what changes the government want to bring about, ways they will do this and how they will measure progress.  IKWRO will continue to campaign for stronger government leadership in this area through our UNITED against ‘honour’ based violence campaign.


100 years of International Women’s Day: Still not equal, and some are less equal than others

This blog was also featured on the Independent’s website for International Women’s Day 2011.

Today is the hundredth anniversary of International Women’s Day.  It’s a day to celebrate the progress that women around the world have made in fighting for their rights over the past century.  And it’s a day to look to the century to come, the challenges that remain for the world’s women and the obstacles that lie ahead.

Despite claims that discrimination is over, women’s rights remain a major concern in the UK.  From lower pay to sexist imagery in the media, women in British society are still not recognised as men’s equals.  But on top of this, women from the UK’s ethnic minorities face a level of discrimination which is unimaginable to most women in this country. 

At the Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation we help Middle Eastern women and girls living in the UK to escape ‘honour’ based violence, forced marriage, female genital mutilation and domestic violence.  Since we began in 2002 we’ve worked with thousands of women and girls who have been beaten, locked up, threatened, mutilated, forced into marriage, attacked with acid, forced into suicide and even murdered.  Their families or husbands, who carry out this abuse, try to justify it by reference to culture or religion.  To them, women’s rights is not relevant to their community.  It’s something that happens outside.

Yet discriminatory attitudes come from outside of minority communities too, with many people in the UK still believing that the rights of women from ethnic minorities are somehow culturally relative.  Last week for example a receptionist in a London GP’s surgery said that she could not put up a poster advertising the help that we offer to women.  When asked why, she answered that it might offend men.  Would she have said this had the poster been for a domestic violence charity helping British women?  We don’t think so.

Despite all the international conventions which the UK has signed on to and the growing body of UK legislation on women’s human rights, our national government has also made exceptions to women’s rights on the basis of religion.  In 2007 the government introduced Muslim Arbitration Tribunals, which can resolve disputes related to family issues using Sharia law rather than UK civil law.   Under Sharia, it is extremely difficult for a woman to divorce her husband and child custody automatically reverts to the father after children reach a certain age.  A man can have several wives, a woman’s testimony is worth half of a man’s and sons inherit twice the share that daughters do.  All of this is provided for under UK law.

The irony is that ordinary people and politicians do these things because they don’t want to be racist or culturally insensitive, yet their actions exclude the most vulnerable women from the rights that the rest of us enjoy.  Of course women from ethnic minorities aren’t the only ones to face abuse or sexism.  Women and girls from all walks of life still experience violence and discrimination.  But women from ethnic minorities are even less equal than the rest and if we want to make progress in the UK we need to ensure not only that women are equal to men, but that we protect the rights and entitlements of all of the women who live here.