Mary Noble – Founder and CEO of Feminenza International
Diana Nammi – Founder and CEO of IKWRO
(Iranian Kurdish Women Rights Organisation: www.ikwro.org.uk, Photo by Andrew Parsons)
17 December, 2020
“There is no honour in “honour” based violence”
Diana Nammi is a remarkable, determined woman and activist for human/women’s rights. She was active as an underground women’s rights leader in Iran from the age of 15. To save her own life and the lives of others, she joined the Peshmerga as a freedom fighter, with whom she fought for 12 years, all the while continuing to meet with women and educate them about their rights, as women and as human beings. Her journey as a Pashmerga freedom fighter is told in detail in her book “Girl with a gun”
Diana considers herself to be extremely lucky and fortunate to have had an upbringing that was very unusual for most women at that time. Her father wished all his daughters to marry for love with a man of their choosing, he also wished for them to be educated, and he himself put himself in danger defending a young woman at her wedding, it was a forced marriage. Diana’s courage was greatly fueled by her father’s support, as she could not abide and sit quiet while her friends were forced into marriages at an early age and completely stripped of their rights for education, property ownership, making any choices and decisions for themselves, or their children.
In the early 90’s she fled to the UK as a political refugee as it was extremely unsafe for her to remain and continue her work with the rise of the Islamic Republic in Iran. Shortly after her arrival, she had been confronted again with the horror of “honour” killing when her friend and interpreter was murdered by her husband. Devastated by the ignorance of the UK judicial system about “honour” based abuse, which attributed the act to a traditional cultural moral persuasion within the Kurdish – Iranian community, Diana decided to take matters into her own hands. She formed IKWRO – Iranian Kurdish Women Rights Organisation – where young girls and women in danger of, or facing domestic abuse or “honour” based violence could find counsel about their legal rights, access the mental and emotional support of professional counselors, and find refuge and shelter should they decide to flee for safety away from their families and start a new life.
But taking the first step to leave for a girl or woman at risk from forced marriage is extremely difficult. She risks losing everything she has ever known, her family, her community and lifelong threats to her life…
Feminenza team members had the privilege to meet with Diana and hear about her journey, her values, and her continued motivation for her relentless pursuit to eradicate all violence against women and girls in her community and hopefully the whole world.
The on-line meeting was conducted by Mary Noble, Feminenza CEO.
Diana Nammi: Lovely to meet you all, thank you so much for this time and the opportunity to meet all you wonderful women and for taking the time.
Mary Noble: I wanted to begin by asking you some questions about your work. Having read your book, I’m thoroughly versed with your childhood and your extraordinary story, and how you got to be in the UK, but given the time that we have, I wanted to focus on the work that you do now with your organization. Clearly, things have moved on in the last few years, I can see that awareness is growing in the UK about some of the issues that you’re tackling to do with “Honour” Based Violence (HBV), but I just wonder from your perspective, what for you, are the core challenges that you face as an organization in terms of – is awareness changing in the community? Are women suffering more perhaps because of the lock down situation? Can we just start there? Do you feel things have changed for the better? What are the main issues that you are still struggling with?
Diana Nammi: Yes, of course, since the organization was established over the past 18-19 years, things have changed quite a lot. I remember the first time I was talking about our organization, we talked loudly about HBV and “Honour” Killing, and the challenge was – and still is even today – that other people who heard about it at that time, were concerned that talking about the issues openly and publicly will upset the community. They believe that these issues are best kept within the community and not talked about with others. But we believe that keeping it within the community will not help the lives of women made vulnerable by their circumstances and those at risk of HBV, we have to be their voice. Their life is at risk, so how can we say that for the sake of the community we need to keep silent about women who will suffer, whose lives and rights will be in danger? The hundreds and hundreds of women who have been killed, if it is so bad that we (the community) are so ashamed to talk about it, why should we allow it to happen within the community? So I thought – it’s OK to talk about it loudly!
Another challenge and reason to keep quiet is the issue of racism. People think that if we talk about these issues it will open the door to racism against the community, so we must keep silent. One of the things we want to change at the moment, is the issue of child marriage in the UK, but our campaign has not been supported by some large, famous, very big and well-known organizations because they say that if we talk about child marriage, as it mainly happens within the minority communities, it will trigger racism and will work against us. You know, racism is always on the table for us, regardless of child marriage, regardless of HBV, regardless of our religion or non-religion.
Tackling child marriage
The religious community issues are there for us to tackle, but in the meantime we have to tackle the (other) problems within the community, first of all child marriage in the UK. It is not something happening only in the Iranian communities, it’s happening within our communities more and more, and from a very, very young age. It happens – it’s even legal. It’s within the law in the UK, that at age 16 – 18 – it’s a legal loophole – with the consent of the family a girl can marry, or a boy can get married.
These are challenges that we still have, and we had them before as well, but things have changed quite a lot. We managed to make HBV a part of the Violence Against Women (laws), it’s part of the Domestic Abuse bill in the UK, and it is being considered as formal violence against women, and I think it is mainly thanks to IKWRO that made it a real mainstream issue, and now all the organisations in the UK picked it up and many of them are actually working on that.
Mary Noble: Thank you Diana, I am just wondering – what do you think it would take to start – (and I am sure you have been working this already for many years) to actually change fundamentally the attitude of the men, or presumably both parents, including the mothers, who are complicit in early child marriage, in the forcing of their daughters to get married at an early age? Is there some kind of initiative for dialogue at a community level with men? Are there men who are championing a different attitude? Or is it still quite embedded in terms of “this is our way, this is our tradition, no-one is going to change it”?
Diana Nammi: I think tradition or culture is the surface of things in my opinion. If the main issues change within the communities, many of those problems will be sorted out. But what are the causes that created this kind of violence, especially against women? When we are talking about HBV, we are talking about women who are predominantly victims of violence of HBV, forced marriage, FGM, child marriage, “honour“ killing. But all of those issues belong under the topic of HBV because they all relate somehow to the honour of the community, of the family, or it can be the other side of “what brings shame”, so all of them have got the controlling of women’s bodies, and sexuality, it’s heavily involved in that.
In some cases, forced marriage or child marriage are related to the issue of finance and economy and community poverty, this is a big issue. War is another issue, for example the poorer communities, they have more poverty (caused by war). Child marriage and forced marriage happens mainly in poor families when they can’t feed the family, so they are forcing their children into marriage, usually the girls. And even during war, because of fear of rape or violence in conflict situations, or poverty in conflict situations, many families forced their children to marry or sold their girls to some wealthy people, just to be able to feed the family. In some cases, they try to keep wealth within the family by forcing the children to marry within the family or tribe, this is their way to maintain control over the family’s wealth and economy.
So, there are issues like that, but I have to say that in all these issues, you can see that women are the main victims, and the perpetrators are mainly family, sometimes members of the community and community leaders, but you can see that the victims are predominately women. So, these are the challenges that we still have. What we need is a longer period to work on that, and to solve the economic problems, this is related to politics as well, so the situation is out of our hands. But what we can do perhaps, mainly in the UK and European countries, is raise awareness within the community and especially teach parents and the male community, by working with schools. To educate women themselves about their rights and entitlements in Europe, in the UK.
We are talking with many women now. When they first came to us they have been in the country for 5, 6 or 7 years, they have a few children and yet they still can’t take a bus or go shopping by themselves, because they have been controlled by their partners by giving them wrong information: “if you go out of the house, social services will be after you, if you do something