The ITV drama ‘Honour’, which concluded last night on ITV1, shines a much-needed spotlight on ‘honour’-based abuse (HBA) in the UK.
Starring British actress Keeley Dawes as DCI Caroline Goode, the two-part drama followed the investigation into the real life ‘honour’ killing of Banaz Mahmod, a twenty-year-old British-Iraqi Kurdish woman from London.
At the age of just seventeen, Banaz’s family forced her into a marriage in order to uphold the family ‘honour’ after her sister, Bekhal, had run away. Her husband was ten years her senior and she was violently abused by him throughout the marriage. Banaz told her parents about the abuse but they told her that if she left him, she would bring ‘shame’ to the family.
One day, Banaz left her husband and fell in love with someone else, much to her family’s disapproval. Fearing for her life, Banaz went to the police five times and named the people in her family she knew would cause her harm. The police did not follow up on Banaz’s report and she was killed by those she named not long after.
For many communities, ‘honour’ is very important. To ‘dishonour’ your community or your family would mean that you have brought ‘shame’ on them by doing something that is not in keeping with the norms of traditional beliefs of their culture.
There are usually multiple people who are involved in the abuse and that can often be family members as well as members of the community who share the family’s beliefs. There are often severe consequences to those whose family or community believe they have dishonoured them, including physical and physiological abuse, abandonment and also death.
Banaz’s story is not the only one of its kind in the UK. There are an estimated 12 ‘honour’ killings in the UK a year. Due to the covert nature in which these organised crimes happen and lack of reporting due to fear, the true figure is unknown. Organisations like Savera UK work with the police and voluntary and statutory services, as well as organisations to offer specialist support when they are working with individuals at risk of HBA.
Perpetrators dishonour the community, not victims
In the past 10 months, over 80 percent of referrals received by Savera UK were relating to victims of – or those at risk of – HBA and forced marriage. The majority of those referrals came from Police and Social Care Services. Statutory services are often the first point of call for those at risk of HBA and opportunities for intervention at this stage are vital to save lives.
‘Honour’ gives viewers a valuable education on how ‘honour’ can be more important than life to some families as well as how this can extend to the wider community. An important moment in the drama is where the interpreter says that it was the perpetrators that were dishonouring the community and not Banaz.
The portrayal of the police and other services fear of offending cultural practices and stereotyping behaviours is a common occurrence in honour cases. Savera UK has challenged these attitudes many times. Lack of awareness and understanding of cultural sensitivity and these issues, often means that many individuals do not get the support they extremely need in the first instance. Education of these practices is the key to prevention as well as believing those who seek help and never missing the ‘One Chance Rule’.
White saviour narrative
Despite this, the drama focuses heavily on the police investigation led by DCI Caroline Goode and has been criticised for telling Banaz’s story through the lens of the white saviour narrative. In the drama, not much is known about Banaz and her life with her boyfriend before her murder. The same is true of her sister Bekhal, and her life at home with her parents before she escaped.
The show also does not portray the good in Iraqi-Kurdish culture or in similar cultures. Savera UK’s view is that culture is beautiful and should be celebrated. Harmful practices are not culture, they are a violation of human rights. The setup of the narrative could allow viewers to easily ‘other’ this issue and see it as something that couldn’t really happen to them.
Simultaneously, the Iraqi-Kurdish community could see the drama as an inaccurate representation of those in the community that do not follow this practice. Although HBA is prevalent in certain communities, it is a wider issue and can affect any culture, gender, race or religion.
However, as depicted in ‘Honour’, it cannot be mistaken that DCI Caroline Goode’s determination and passion to solve the case eventually meant that Banaz’s perpetrators were eventually put behind bars. ‘Banaz: A Love Story’ is an award winning documentary by Deeyah Khan that chronicles the life and death of Banaz. In the documentary, Caroline Goode said: “I want people to remember Banaz and the loving, giving, warm young woman who did nothing wrong in her life, other than to love someone that they disapproved of. That’s how I want her to be remembered.”
Starting the right conversations
Both ‘Banaz: A Love Story’ and ‘Honour’ start the right conversations about HBA and the impact of harmful cultural traditions for some individuals in the UK. For a long time, HBA and other harmful practices have been seen as taboo subjects. Those experiencing harmful practices are not often recognised or accounted for as seen in the lack of representation in the Government’s Domestic Abuse Bill.
Savera UK CEO and founder, Afrah Qassim, said: “Death or abuse should never be the price to pay for your freedom and right to choose.
“Reporting figures may still be low and this is always a challenge, but every person who speaks out and gets help is a life saved. Far more people are reaching out to us for help than when Savera UK was established 10 years ago. It is only through continued education, awareness-raising initiatives and collaborative working that we can encourage people at risk from HBA to speak out, so we can help them to find their ‘savera’, which means ‘new beginning’ in Hindi.”
By sparking these important discussions and shining a light on the issue, those who experience HBA may recognise their risk and seek support from services like Savera UK or the police. Furthermore, the British public will now be equipped to call out harmful behaviour and join the fight to speak out for those who do not have a voice.
By Shauna Lacy