Young men take a stand against honour-related oppression

2010-05-18 He was about to have his sister married off. Now Farman Sediq is involved in Sharaf hjältar (Sharaf heroes) and works to counter this culture of honour. - I’m proud to be a Kurd from Iraq, but I’m also proud to stand for human rights.

Farman Sediq arrived in Sweden when he was 14 years old. He says that he early on sensed how he and his sisters were being treated differently in the family. His sisters were not supposed to engage in any physical activities, and Farman Sediq was to monitor that nothing bad happened to them or their family.

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Farman Sediq. Photo: Bosse Parbring

– When we moved to Sweden, this difference became more pronounced, says Farman Sediq. We lived in an area with Kurds. But there was something out there that was different. It wasn’t supposed to be like that. We were to continue living the way we’d always done. The strange phenomenon was the parents who allowed their daughters to party. They were bad parents.

The surrounding society was perceived to be menacing. Native Swedes had no shame. The threatening aspect of the surrounding society reinforced the Kurds’ own identity and culture.

– I came to Bergsjön in Gothenburg. The only Swedes I met were cops, social workers and outsider Swedes such as alcoholics and drug addicts. We read about murder and rape cases and saw drunken Swedish youth during the weekends. We didn’t want to end up like that.

– One thinks that this is what Sweden is like and forgets that Swedish families, too, are worried about their children and want to look out for them.

Unmasculine and a pimp

Surveillance of one’s sisters thus seemed a matter of course to Farman Sediq, and this was affirmed Young men take a stand against honour-related oppressionamong his friends. They informed each other about their sisters’ behaviour and thought it peculiar if someone failed to react. Farman Sediq recounts an episode when someone had witnessed a friend’s sister hang out with a couple of guys who smoked. Upon being told, he did not react the way he was supposed to. He just said that he trusted his sister. This led to several months of bullying by 25-30 guys, among them Farman Sediq. After the young man had been locked up in the rest room and beaten, he moved to another school.

– He had sold out his honour and was called unmasculine and a pimp, says Farman Sediq. At the same time, his sister was labelled a loose woman.

The fear of what his buddies might say had Farman Sediq almost marry off one of his sisters against her will. When one day he borrowed her mobile phone, he discovered that she had received a message from a guy. He confronted her, and she claimed that it was just a friend.

– In our family we had talked about it being OK to have male friends at school and in the work place, but not privately. We didn’t believe that he was just a friend. That kind of thing just wasn’t done in our homeland.

Their parents got upset and were close to arranging a marriage for his sister in order to put an end to the alleged romance. But they finally decided to give their daughter a second chance. Later Farman Sediq fell in love with a girl, but was forced to break it off because her family considered him to be the wrong guy for her. In the course of these events he was introduced to Arhe Hamednaca who had started Sharaf hjältar and who talked about democracy in the home, honour and sexuality.

– At this point, it didn’t occur to me that it was wrong, Farman Sediq recounts. The first time I met Arhe, I didn’t say a word. There were all these thoughts that were making my head spin. Who will I become? What will people say? But after I while I realized that it is up to the girls themselves to decide whether to drink or have sex. It’s their lives.

Fadime’s murder

Farman Sediq joined Sharaf hjältar and now works as a project manager. Sharaf is Arabic and means honour. The idea is to turn the concept of honour, which is often perceived to be negative, around and provide it with a new meaning.

In 2002 Fadime Sahindal was murdered by her father who did not want her to live with a Swedish man. Arhe Hamednaca knew her because they were active in the same political party. He felt impelled to act. Even if supportive action is important to girls, it does not suffice. Men’s attitudes will also need to change.

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Arhe Hamednaca. Photo: Bosse Parbring

– We men are also victims, says Arhe Hamednaca. We’re not born with a patriarchal mindset. Rather, we’re moulded into adopting one. We’re forced to control and oppress – and eventually even become killers. If young men are influenced to become this way, they can also be liberated. If we manage to affect young boys, i.e. the men of the future; if they accept human rights and women’s rights, then the future is saved.

Arhe Hamednaca made a few tentative attempts to get hold of guys who wanted to discuss with him. After he had won their trust he formed the group that was to provide the basis for Sharaf hjältar. At present, there are divisions of Sharaf hjältar in Stockholm, Gothenburg and Malmö and even in other countries. In 2008 Sharaf hjältinnor was founded, educating girls in a similar fashion. Often the educated young women and men visit schools together, hence reaching a wider young audience.

Re-evaluating one’s view on women

To many, the training is a rather groundbreaking process, Farman Sediq relates. He recounts how he and his friends used to view girls before he joined Sharaf hjältar. They would hang out with Swedish girls, party and have sex. But the girls were only perceived of as casual affairs.

– Even if we liked the girls, we never imagined they could be wife material. The girls we marry must be nice girls, innocent and well-behaved.

– I discovered at an early age that the guys looked at women in a way that cast Swedish girls as whores, says Arhe Hamednaca. You can do whatever you want with them. They have no shame. I wanted to influence that attitude.

– When coming into contact with Sharaf hjältar, one’s first encounter is devoted to understanding how I as a guy would feel if I were treated that way, says Farman Sediq. To see things from the girl’s point of view. From there, we start working with values and the available knowledge in the field. We educate ourselves on democracy and human rights. To begin with, it seemed like rocket science to me. I come from a culture in which certain things are missing due to e.g. war. But I won’t become Swedish because of that.

– I often say to young people who are afraid to become Swedish that they have nothing to fear, says Farman Sediq. You can calibrate your culture. The fact that we didn’t have human rights in our countries of origin is not our parents’ fault. I have the option to not raise my children in the same way, but still pass on the traditions of which I am part to them. This is a way to be proud of one’s culture.

Death threats

At the same time, both the young people and the employees face resistance from where they come from. Many experience being threatened. Arhe Hamednaca received his first death threat in 2004.

– I sometimes wonder how old I’ll live to be. The people who threaten me believe that I corrupt their children, and that their children will give up their culture. But seeing that we are so many now, it has become harder for the people who threaten us. The whole society is more aware now compared to a few years ago.

– A certain political correctness used to dictate that we shouldn’t talk about this. Kurds and Muslims were being identified as the problem, and that was a mistake. All religions have this problematics.

Furthermore, Arhe Hamednaca and Farman Sediq emphasise that even ethnically Swedish girls and boys are treated unequally when it comes to gender and sexuality. During the spring of 2010 Swedish television ran a story on a small-town community in which rumours cast two rape victims as loose liars, while the perpetrator sentenced in court was hailed and seen as the one telling the truth.

– The woman always gets the worst part of the double standard, says Farman Sediq.

By Bosse Parbring

The article was first published in Swedish in NIKK magasin 1/2010 © NIKK

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