Summary: This is an extended preview from the film Honor Diaries (2013), which explores the subjugation of women in honor-based societies. As explained in the clip by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, author of Infidel, “The concept of honor, it’s very difficult to explain it to Western societies. A lot of it has to do with how women behave and the sexuality of women.” Oanta Ahmed, author of In the Land of Invisible Women, elaborates saying, “Honor is something that is carried and contained in women, and is there to be guarded by men." The movie focuses on the work of nine women’s rights activists—Zainab Khan, Raheel Raza, Juliana Taimoorazy, Nazanin Afshin-Jam, Raquel Saraswati, Fahima Hashim, Nazie Eftekhari, Jasvinder Sanghera, and Manda Zand Ervin—and explores gender-based abuses including female genital mutilation, child marriages, and acid attacks. This video is useful for illustrating the concept of transnational feminist activism or, “activist efforts by feminists to change gender relations outside their own states and collaborate between and among feminists in different countries” (Wade and Ferree 2015:358). In this case, women activists from different countries (including Somalia, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Sudan, Canada, Iraq, and the UK) have come together to work against the subjugation of women in honor-based societies. The clip is also useful for inciting discussion around tensions pertaining to culturally relativist arguments about gender oppression. Western feminists have a long history of imposing their own culturally-specific perspective of feminism upon those in other societies. Aware of this imperialistic feature of Western feminisms’ history, many, including students, may resist criticizing oppressive practices taking place in non-Western societies. The activists in the clip confront this issue head-on (around the 7:50 minute mark), highlighting the resistance toward criticizing these practices for fear of being labeled an Islamaphobe. Saraswati says, "We shy away from criticizing anything that’s different because we don’t want to be seen as the type of people that would restrict someone’s expression." Westerners can learn to distinguish respectful cultural relativism from abusive oppressive practices by looking for guidance from the countless numbers of human rights activists working on these issues in their home countries. As evidenced by the women activists in this video, the notion of honor as being intricately tied to women's behaviors and bodies is justification for abuse.
Submitted By: Valerie Chepp