By Zoe Crowther
Men must be educated about honour-based abuse in order to reverse the rise in cases across the UK, a Scottish charity claims.
‘Honour’ can be the motivation, excuse, or justification behind a range of violent acts against women and girls, sometimes resulting in so called ‘honour killings’.
Honour Based Abuse (HBA) can take many forms, including child marriage, virginity testing, enforced abortion, forced marriage, female genital mutilation, as well as physical, sexual, and economic abuse and coercive control.
Honour Based Abuse is widely misunderstood and underreported, meaning that hundreds of victims are not being helped and perpetrators are escaping justice.
The National Lottery supported and Glasgow based charity, Community Infosource, was founded in 2006 to help communities in need, including migrants and asylum seekers.
They launched their Challenging Violence Against Women project in 2015, with the aim of raising awareness on of female genital mutilation (FGM). Since then the project has widened to challenging all forms of violence against women including honour based violence (HBV).
HBA is a collective term used to describe offences which are committed to preserve family honour, such as female genital mutilation (FGM).
The Challenging Violence Against Women project has worked with more than 1,200 men, largely from East and West African and Middle Eastern backgrounds. It's the only project of its kind in Scotland and involves a team of men working in partnership with men to tackle issues, support them to change their attitudes and practices, and influence others in their communities.
In the lead up to the National Day of Remembrance for Honour Based Violence (July 14th), a leading National Lottery funded charity, Community Infosource, is now calling on victims to spot the signs, report the crime and get the right support they need.
Hassan Darasi, Challenging Violence Against Women project manager at Community Infosource, said: “This is very challenging, as FGM is an issue where men do not want to engage, and we must use other tactics to bring them on board.
“FGM is such a taboo subject which people don't want to speak about, so at the beginning we have to build trust with the people we work with.”
There is no specific offence of ‘honour’-based violence. However, the Crown Prosecution Service describes ‘honour’-based violence as an incident or crime “which has, or may have, been committed to protect or defend the ‘honour’ of the family and or the community.” Community Infosource provides practical help such as language support, immigration paperwork and gaining access towelfare benefits, as well as weekends away and weekly football sessions for men.
Darasi described how they deliver these services to bring men on board with the project, with the eventual intention of getting them engaged with workshops to tackle gender-based violence and coercive control.
Recent figures show these issues are on the rise in the UK: In the year ending March 2021, there were 2,725 HBV-related offences recorded by the police in England and Wales, an increase of 18% compared to the previous year.
Of these cases, there were 78 FGM offences and 125 forced marriage offences.
Community Infosource work with men to dismantle the idea that FGM is a religious practice, by analysing religions and looking at the history of FGM across the world.
As well as sharing the legal consequences for perpetrators, the charity also seeks to educate men about the medical consequences of FGM for women, something which Darasi says many are not fully aware of.
“Most of them are shocked,” he said, explaining that the organisation gets medical professionals to talk through the pain, bleeding, and childbirth complications that FGM survivors can experience.
After attending these workshops, Darasi said the attendees often go on to spread awareness to others in their communities.
According to Darasi, although FGM is usually carried out by older women in communities, fathers are often complicit in the practice to raise the marriage prospects of their daughters.
While there are many organisations working with women on this issue, Darasi believes Community Infosource is filling a gap by educating men too, adding: “Unless both genders are convinced about this issue, we stand little chance of convincing communities that this is a harmful practice.
“Social change affects the entire community. It is important that men are involved in this process to come up with lasting solutions. Ensuring that everyone has basic knowledge of their rights and responsibilities helps us achieve our aim of enabling women to lead a dignified life free from violation of human rights.”
The National Lottery is the project’s main funder, taking on much of the overhead costs and salaries. With their support, Community Infosource has been able to take vital steps to recruit people who speak the languages of the communities they work with, including Somali, and expand their social media campaigns.
Journalist and broadcaster Samira Ahmed, who has long been a supporter of projects tackling HBA, said: “Throughout my career, I’ve always had a special interest and concern in violence against women, particularly honour-based violence against women.
“Honour-based violence has always been there, but we didn’t always call it honour-based violence. The word ‘honour’ is controversial - some people feel it shouldn’t ever be used in the context of violence against women - but it struck me that the problem was never going away, that there were always accusations of racism if people tried to talk about it, and women were being silenced.”
Mrs Ahmed acknowledged HBA continues to be underreported and underacknowledged by the wider public, partly due to these difficulties associated with labelling and discussing it.
She added: “I’ve been really struck when I’ve gone into some communities, and spent time talking to people, police, social workers, women’s groups, about how much pressure there is to not talk about honour-based violence, because somehow it tars a whole community and that it suits racists to talk about it.
“That’s been the real challenge as a journalist: finding that balance between being scrupulously fair and not feeding racism, but also just calling a crime a crime.”
To find out more about Community Infosource and their Challenging Violence Against Women project, visit https://www.infosource.org.uk/
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