Fozia, Survivor of Forced Marriage reflects on the Day of Memory conference.

I was delighted to attend the annual Day of Memory this month, remembering those lost to so-called ‘honour killings’. Of course it was Shafilea Ahmed who inspired the event, murdered 14 years ago by her own parents for becoming ‘too westernised’ in the UK.

A day to raise national awareness. Here it goes…

As I made my way from the train station, I couldn’t help but think about what Shafilea might have been doing on her 31st birthday. What was I doing on mine…? Celebrating my last birthday as a ‘Miss’ and excited for my wedding the following spring. I feel privileged to have something which is denied to so many young girls, even in the UK which is supposed to be a champion of equality. I wonder how many 16 year-olds are out there now that will never reach their 31st birthday.

Upon approaching the corner of Great George Street I saw a hearse and a flower-laden coffin. I remembered Shafilea’s headstone engraved with the ironic quote: “in loving memory of our beloved daughter”. Her parents buried her knowing they killed her.

Part of the problem is that ‘honour killings’ are considered ‘normal’ by some people within certain communities. They don’t think that it is a problem. So whilst it is shocking, one can imagine how they may have justified such an immoral act to themselves. They have attitudes from the distant past which must change.

That morning I walked into a room of survivors and supporters and I must say I found it a little overwhelming. I knew I was there to remember and celebrate the lives of victims, but seeing the display of images of those who were murdered was upsetting. Suddenly I was taken straight back to being overseas when my uncle was contemplating whether or not he should let me return to the UK, or ‘get rid’ of me and tell my Mum I ran away.

I decided to make my way to the ladies to freshen up and have a moment to compose myself. I met Jasvinder on the way and she greeted me with a hug, which I have to say was most comforting. I needed it.

It was not your average Friday morning in one of the most ‘developed’ countries in the world, discussing how local and national partners can do more to tackle so-called honour-based abuse and how the UK can prevent further murders.

Albeit brief, it was a morning of highs and lows. The emotion was tangible, to say the least. The event started and we were shown a presentation projected onto a screen. I could see the shock, terror and sadness filling everyone’s eyes as each new image appeared. You could hear a pin drop. The silence of the audience at that moment was total. Photos of young faces, one after the other, and the one thing they all had in common was simply wanting to choose who they married. Is that not a right for everyone? Is that something we should have to ask for?

There weren’t enough tears for every life lost.

We cannot, and must not, tolerate illegal, culturally-based abuse. How in the UK can individuals be denied basic human rights?

The morning flew by and with a heavy heart I had to say my goodbyes and leave before midday in order to get back to my day job. As I returned to the station for my train home, I couldn’t help but think about those who died yesterday and had plans for this morning. Those who died this morning had plans for tonight. Life is so short. We shouldn’t take it for granted.

To all the survivors out there, never doubt that you are valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world. Never be afraid to raise your voice for honesty and truth and compassion against injustice. If we all did this, it would change everything.

Sadly, this ends with me logging onto my public Facebook page and reading this comment about Shafilea from a male follower:

“I know the story she is a bad person she put the dignity of her family down to the ground she did what the western girl can… I don’t know how you can memorize her”

We all have so much work yet to do.

Fozia