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Documentary Spotlights on Pervasive Issue of Violence Against Women

  • Tabinda Naeem

I am a survivor of FGM," says Jaha Dukurek, a young Muslim woman originally from Gambia.

A survivor of both genital cutting and child marriage, Dukurek refuses to believe her traumatizing experiences are a requirement of her Islamic faith.

Yet female genital mutilation — or FGM, as it is called — is practiced in more than 20 countries, many of them Muslim, around Africa, the Middle East and Asia.

"I went through FGM when I was a week old," she says, giving voice to a vast diaspora of women whose harrowing accounts of culturally-sanctioned violence are brought to light in the recently-released documentary "Honor Diaries," the product of a joint effort by 30 women's rights groups.

As the documentary shows, thousands of women and girls around the world are subjected to forced marriages, mutilation, attacks and even murder — all in the name of maintaining the "honor" of the perpetrator, family or community that condones it. "Honor Diaries" features nine women's rights advocates with connections to Muslim-majority societies, and also lends support and encourages sponsorship and promotion of The International Violence Against Women Act.

But according to Dukureh, the practices aren't restricted to far-flung corners of the globe.

"Whenever you have immigrants that migrate from other countries, they bring their culture and traditions with them and these are the things they practice on their daughters," she says, explaining that genital mutilation even occurs in some immigrant Muslim communities in the United States.

Regardless of geographic locale, Dukureh says one way to change attitudes is by raising awareness and getting people and government agencies involved. By providing support services for these girls, she says, it gives them hope and lets them know that people really do care.

For Paula Kweskin, a human rights attorney the documentary's producer, the central purpose of the documentary is to spark a public discourse about practices many perceive as taboo.

"This is an issue that is swept under the rug time and time again," she Kweskin. "There is a paralyzing sense of political correctness — not only in the United States but in many countries around the world — where they feel that if they are talking about issues such as violence against women that are sometimes condoned by culture and religion, they are not allowed to talk about it.

"That's primarily and specifically, why we should be talking about it," she says.

A joint effort by 30 women's rights groups, Honor Diaries, Kweskin says, is more than a movie, but a movement to engage people the world over.

"We want to have the film translated and shown all over the Muslim world. We have translated the film into Arabic, Farsi, [and] Urdu, and we hope to have it shown and distributed as widely as possible," she says. "We are also raising money to hopefully enact a text line and help-line here in the United States that could potentially serve as a refuge for women and girls at risk."

The producers hope the documentary will help more people break the silence and open an honest dialogue on the issue of violence against women, which — they say — is the first step to promote change.

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