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Photo: bdnews24.com
Photo: bdnews24.com

Our lives, as women, in Bangladesh, are founded on a twisted interpretation of “Honour”. This concept is based not on honesty, integrity and fairness, but rather on some perceived “worthiness” and “respectability”. In this light, the Bangladeshi family is viewed as a unit of honour, and the family affects a woman’s identity and social standing; simultaneously, there exists a mutual feedback loop wherein a woman’s conduct, and how it is perceived by others and the society at large, has an impact on the family.

Therefore, it becomes important for us to fulfil the expectations held by family and society in order to be accepted and to experience feelings of belonging to this central institution that we are tied to through birth or marriage.

Unfortunately, the reality of maintaining this honour in our lives is often at odds with our own individual freedom, choice, will or achievement. Our lives are not based on “freedom”, on “liberty” or on the ability to live within a free spirited space. Yet, as a nation, as a society, collectively, we pride ourselves on values such as freedom and democracy.

There is a great deal of research on-going on women across the world, and specifically in South Asia. Increasingly, there are cold hard statistics that clearly indicate escalating levels of violence against women. Missing in these numbers are numerous unreported nightmares faced by women in trying to reconcile with their place in society. No amount of progress in terms of education, class, and development has resulted in the evolution of our society.

obrbd-logoEvery move, every decision that a woman takes must ensure that this honour is restored. So, when a girl is raped or sexually abused by family members, it becomes a secret that must be kept forever, because it will hurt the “honour” or the social standing of the family. Honour, then, is far more important than any damage created within the daughters of families. So, the daughters of these numerous honourable families go through abuse thrice in their lifetime- first, when the actual event occurs; second, in the aftermath of dealing with trauma for a lifetime, and third, dealing with the silence and ignorance of her family.

Even outside of the family boundaries, if a woman is sexually harassed, abused or raped, it is still her duty to keep the honour of her family intact. If she does stand up and fight it, which entails breaking away from silence and talking about it, will invariably hurt the honour of the family, of the acquaintances, of the greater society. Starting from families and the greater society, everyone will continue to use their combined forces to “justify” rape or any form sexual assault- “she was not honourable enough”, she was not dressed appropriately”, “It must have been her fault” and more.

The streets tell women that sexual harassment is all right and honour has a different meaning than we think. Being grabbed, being pinched, being verbally abused is normal. ‘A little bit of sexual abuse is all right and it is common’, that’s what they will tell you. Silence is the “key”. Who would appreciate a woman standing up in the street and creating a chaos? This is definitely not respectful or honourable in the eyes of our society.

Even in a marriage, it must be the woman who must keep that honour intact. Once you sign up, no amount of violence or emotional abuse is justified enough for a decision for walking away. It is the woman’s duty to maintain the honour of her family and her in-laws. Being pushed or thrown by your husband, in the middle of a fight, is simply a moment of anger and nothing more. It in no way indicates violent tendencies. Leaving is often not the first choice a woman is able to take, because walking out leads to series of battles with their own families and the entire society.

Honour even extends to our achievements as women. How can you, as a woman, achieve so much in your work place or in your career? How can an honourable woman put her career first? There must have been something wrong. It is not about intelligence or efficiency or anything more.

It does not end. Honour extends to how we, as women carry ourselves. From what we wear, to what we do, to whom we mingle with, and what we say, is constantly under scrutiny. If you are a daughter of an honourable family, if you are the wife of an honourable husband, if you are a mother, you must maintain the norms that this society has created for you and live up to the expectations that the society has carefully designed for you.

It never ends, really. Not from birth; not even till our very last breath.

Many men, and unfortunately women themselves, too, believe that the well-being of the entire society lies on the shoulders of a woman and, more importantly, in her ability to suffer every wrong, in utter and submissive silence. This means that, while there will be many legal and technical arguments, the actual arena in which all cases of violence against women may be won or lost are the hearts and minds of the ordinary men and women of our society. Because it is really not the law alone that has failed to prevent violence against women; it is the collective, colossal force of prejudice, chauvinism and insensitivity of this very society that has brought us where we are. Unless we change this mindset, unless we change the fundamentals through which we shape a woman’s place in this society, we will continue the twisted legacy of imposing our perverse sense of honour on our daughters, and on women for decades to come.

Tahmina Shafique works in an international development agency in Bangladesh. She is a part of VDAY Dhaka and a member of the core organizing group of One Billion Rising Campaign Bangladesh.

5 Responses to “In the name of Honour”

  1. Mozammel Haque

    The article by Tahmina draws my attention in respect to honor and women security.
    My mother is a woman,my daughter is a woman my sister is a woman and out of three only my wife pursues for the right and wrong and competes with life and luxury.
    This means it is the woman who is wife to someone feels different with her husband.
    And this husband means he has the social recognition to live with her and if a baby is born he will accept.
    Now with the development there lies a doubt to accept the baby’s father-ship.
    But this is not so with the claim of mother-ship because there are changes which can rarely be secret.And in this issue there is the question of honor.
    The baby is the truth mother-ship is the change but father ship remains doubtful.
    So only for this reason there is a need of evidence and any one who wants to do it in secret never wants to become a fool to claim the fathership in public and this matter of foolishness and rightousness is a constant issue in the human history.
    And for this -is the faith and practice so that the ladies are kept within walls to keep the changes in woman out of other’s sight.
    This has made so much hue and cry.If all three factors are at equilibrium there is no need of secrecy.And it should be the right and constant social practice. And a woman becomes the only responsible for her own prestige.
    A wife enjoys all other benefits like a mother and daughter and if it is not done it is economy not the system.
    So to conclude I say it is better to keep own’s prestige and honour rather it should be made a big issue for others to maitain her prestige.
    She has mentioned a girl faces three times assaults- first by mistake second as the trap and third as the wedding.
    To it I dare to remark it is the mistake to take decision without consultting parents or elders for going for the decision.
    So it is a must.So one woman should think and consult before decision.
    And this will bring safety security for them and there is no need for the bargain and lack of security.

  2. Bithi Azam

    If you deny women their due rights and try to hold them back using frivolous terms like ‘honour’, it will just hold back the nation and the progress of people.

  3. Sakes Ali

    Let the women speak their mind and let them enjoy their lives in freedom.

  4. Tahir

    Yes, in the name ‘honour’ and many other such frivolous things, the society, the male dominated society to be precise, just holds the women folk back and deny them their rights.

  5. Amina Haider

    The article was written on a very important topic but it was quite poorly written. An important but immature piece.

Comments are closed.