I am a social worker and a long time advocate for working against violence against women. I have worked with many young women, teenagers, Muslims and immigrant families. I remember talking to young Pakistani women about this tragedy days after it broke in the news. Aqsa Pervez is a name we all know now as the victim of murder. She was killed on December 10th 2007 by her father and brother. Her name has now been added to the numerous other Pakistani Muslim women killed right here in North America by the men who were supposed to love them and society assumed would take care of them, their fathers or husbands.
The list of women victims includes the Shafia daughters and wife (June 30th 2009, Kingston, Ontario, killed by their father); Aasiya Hassan (Feb 12th 2009, Buffalo, New York, killed by her husband); Sandeela Kanwal (July 26th 2008, Atlanta, Georgia, killed by her father for proposing to divorce the man he arranged her marriage to in Pakistan); Farah Khan (Dec 1999, Toronto, Ontario, 5yr old girl killed by her father who thought she was the child of an affair by his first wife); and the list goes on.
With this on my mind and having just spent a beautiful Father’s Day weekend with the men in my life, I have been reflecting on the relationship between fathers and daughters and how this relationship has been constructed specifically within North America and among the families of Pakistani Muslim origin.
What went wrong within Aqsa Pervez’s relationship with her family and specifically with her father? The story has been written with various angles: Is it a modern day honour killing? Is it just a case of violence against women which 1/3 women face in North America? Is it an extreme odd case of a mentally unstable father? Is it a case of a disrespectful and culturally conflicted Pakistani Canadian daughter?
Often when such a case is described in the media, two analyses seem to emerge. One, the factors of race, class, culture, religion and so on, are often omitted to make it seem like all murders of women are the same. Two, we overplay these factors to make it seem that it is something very particular to Muslim or Pakistani culture. I say that this has everything to do with patriarchy and everything to do with culture. Note here that patriarchy for me, as a woman of colour, Pakistani and Muslim is not just about sexism, and sexism to me is not just about gender. Note that when I say culture, I am not necessarily talking about ethno-specific culture. I would say this about all women who have been killed by men who were supposed to love them.
Let’s take a moment to just imagine the culture that surrounded Aqsa Pervez, her family and her father (his name omitted here because I would rather the name of the victim be remembered than the murderer). Was it a loving culture? Was it one instead that promoted and accepted certain amounts of superiority of men to control women, a certain amount of anger towards women who did not obey, even a certain amount of acceptable violence and abuse towards women?
If it was an honour killing then how and why did her father feel shame, insult or a threat to his honour here in Canada where you have all kinds of people with all kinds of lifestyles? He was no longer in the village, but the village was still alive in him. Infact, the problem moreso is that the village itself was reformed and frozen in time right here in Canada.
Did the father of Aqsa Pervez have friends or even acquaintances outside of a small Pakistani community? Likely not.
Was he welcoming to non-Pakistani or non-Muslim neighbours to his home? Likely not.
Had he ever been exposed to young women, their dress and lifestyle here in Canada or even back home? Likely not.
Did he grow up as a teenager hanging out with other young men and women, a process through which many learn about the phases of life as well as the issues of the opposite sex? Likely not.
Had he ever had a relationship with a woman other than in a strictly defined role as being a son, a husband, and a father? Likely not. Was he ever ‘friends’ with a woman in a platonic and respectful sense? Likely not.
Had he ever seen a woman wearing something other than a hijab (or being fully covered) in his immediate circle? Likely not. If he did, what did he think of her? Likely that she was disobediant, disrespectful, wrong and of bad character.
Had he ever discussed the struggles of women with other Pakistani men? Likely not.
Had he ever had a Pakistani male role model who did not control his wife and daughters? Likely not.
When he got together with other men in the small circle of Pakistani friends, did they discuss their relationships with their daughters? Did they openly describe outings, birthdays or special moments together? Likely not. Did he ever actually see or hear of other fathers show some sort of affection towards their daughters? Likely not. Did Aqsa ever feel comfortable giving him a hug or a smile? Did he ever give her a hug, or a kiss goodnight, or tell her that he loves her? Likely not.
Did his daughters ever feel comfortable coming to him to chat about whatever girls think about? Likely not.
What did he and other Pakistani men talk about when they got together? Pakistani politics? Religion? What about their family relationships? What about new and exciting updates about their daughters? What about their dreams for their daughters?
Did he ever have a disagreement or debate with his wife and children that he lost? Likely not.
Did he ever resolve a conflict with his family by NOT raising his voice, NOT getting expressively angry, or by NOT showing signs or threats of physical and verbal abuse? Likely not.
How did he learn about fatherhood and how did he learn about womanhood? How did he learn about what ‘good’ women are and about honour? Likely much of it from growing up and watching other male figures such as his father, his uncles and so on. How is it that he did not grow out of these learned behaviours? Because his small isolated Pakistani circle here in Canada likely reinforced the same role of men and women as in the village back home.
Likely, many Pakistani men could relate to all of the above, but not many men in small Pakistani circles in Canada are going to kill their daughter(s). One can also say that non-Pakistani men may also have concerns about the way their daughters dress and they likely cannot relate to the questions above, but domestic violence is still a huge problem in North America. However, that I will save for another article and that too has much to do with culture.
As a family counselor, I can assure you that likely many Pakistani fathers do not like the way young women dress in North America. More importantly, many fathers are having trouble communicating with their families, many find this new culture difficult to adapt to, many are feeling like their manhood and control have been slipping away ever since they landed here, and many do not know what to do nor who to openly talk to about these issues. Young women often complain that their fathers do not show them enough love and affection. Often the men feel other men will judge them and often the men do not have positive role models in their lives, or even in their range of view, to learn how to possibly balance the process of migration and settlement with regards to the emotional, psychological and cultural transition specifically for men. This latter point is the one that I think requires attention if we are to take charge as a community to prevent such a murder from happening again.
All of the Pakistani families I spoke to were appalled and against what this father did. They felt that his act is what has ruined the family’s honour for generations to come and across various nations. Many were concerned for the arranged wives of the other sons and any other young woman within the same family. However, while they were horrified at the act of this man, many also clearly voiced the family tensions and conflicts mainly between fathers and daughters in their own families. So I believe that it is not the odd case of the fathers who actually kill, meaning the 1% (more or less) of these tragic cases within the population of Pakistanis in North America, that we should devote all of our attention and resources to. We must work to change the culture of the rest of the 99%.
We as a community must think about all of the other families. We need to think about the fathers and daughters in our lives and around us. What is our contribution to our community on this issue? Do we see or portray many healthy relationships? Do we somehow condone a certain level of animosity, anger, or even violence against women? When we get together and the topic of daughters or women comes up, how would you describe the discussions? How often do fathers spend time with their daughters? Do we encourage fathers in our communities to have close and loving relationships with their daughters? How can we help develop and foster such relationships? Can we do it better? If you are a father, how would you describe the current relationship with your daughters and how would you like it to be? If you are a father, how would you describe the relationships you see other men in our community have with their daughters? If you are daughter, what kind of relationship do you want with your father?
As a community, how can we do this so daughters feel they can trust their fathers and share their ideas and thoughts? How can we do this so men too can openly express this in front of other men? How can we do this so the men in our community become known for being amazing husbands and fathers? How can we do this so the new generation of men have positive role models in their fathers on how to treat women? I am sure if we put our heads together, I am sure we, as a talented, diverse and empowered community, can do it.
The change starts with you. What do you think? As a man or a woman, what do you do to contribute to positive and healthy relationships with women when you are among your family and friends? Let’s just think of the amazing possibilities.
About the author: Tahmena Bokhari is a professor, social worker, writer and speaker on community issues. (Photo: Tahmena Bokhari speaking at the Think Tank held by the Gender Analysis Committee of the VPCC of Durham Region in July 2003)
This is a very honest and telling article. I am Pakistani and my parents are very religious. I wish I had a better relationship with them and especially my father. He was a very angry person, he dcomment_ID beat my mother a few times, and only remember him used as a threat to us by my mother. He would use physical punishment often with us and we were afracomment_ID of him. Could he ever have killed us? I do not think so, but I know that his role was only to keep us in line and everything we dcomment_ID we were always afracomment_ID of what he may say or do to us. We never had real conversations and to this day we do not discuss our real lives with him. I know we were not like other families, even other Pakistani families.
I like the way the author does not stereotype Pakistani families, but makes it clear that it was likey a certain very very small circle of Pakistanis surrounded Aqsa Pervez’s family. They were not reflective of all Pakstanis but likely shared same class, village or origin, and strict religious beliefs. It is not all Pakistani families who are like this, but there are enough for us to question our culture.
I like how the author makes you wonder, if I somehow knew this family would I have ever sacomment_ID or done something to reinforce the shame of daughters being what we think of as normal teenagers here? I am really, why would or should any father feel shame in that in Canada? But a lot of fathers do and we all participate in it.
As a new father of a baby girl I have been brought to tears reading about Aqsa. Her story is tragic. Although I think this man deserves to have done to him what he dcomment_ID to her, after reading this article I now feel sorry for him too. It is very sad. As a man I will now try to be even better at ensuring I do not contribute to our sexist culture.
Very good article. I like the way she connects the dots. It is easy to blame just one man, but we are all responsible to help bring change to this culture. My favorite line part of article is “If it was an honour killing then how and why dcomment_ID her father feel shame, insult or a threat to his honour here in Canada where you have all kinds of people with all kinds of lifestyles? He was no longer in the village, but the village was still alive in him. Infact, the problem moreso is that the village itself was reformed and frozen in time right here in Canada.”
I really love this article. It makes us think! It makes us reflect on our own behaviour. It is easy to blame one man. The murder of Aqsa Pervez was not just the fault of one man, it was a failure of all society. I like the way Tahmena links culture with what happened. We are a shame based culture and always worried about what people will say. We chat n gossip a lot especially about women. The older generation does it and even younger ones. Culture changes over time. We must change our sexist culture. We must see the links between our gossip and this murder. What would make someone feel shame? The hcomment_IDden rules of our community. The labels we attach. Lets make our community feel prcomment_IDe instead. Thank you Tahmena for this article.
I like the way she talks about culture in the wcomment_IDer sense and not ethno-specific culture. We all create and make this culture and we can have the power to change it. I like what she is saying. It gives me hope.
I like the way the writer does not pinpoint pakistani culture but is talking about culture in the larger sense. Culture can change. We must change it for the better. We can all do something to create a better culture no matter what our ethnic background. I like this article because it leaves us with hope.
The author is talking about a small subset of isolated Pakistani men. When you isolate communities or when communities isolate themselves this is what will happen. These men have no sense of the real world. I cannot stand gender seggregation. And I agree with this author from her other article that these men only think of women as meat or sex objects. The thing they have tried to erase by forcing hijab and so on to erase their sexuality has only made women nothing but sex toys in the minds of these men.
This is such a good article. I agree with the author that when families become isolated then there is much concern for abuse and neglect to go unnoticed. We see this in wife and child abuse cases in all cultures. I have lived in 3 other countries and do not like the way Canada actually pushes these communities to become isolated in these enclaves. I feel it is very limiting and when someone wants to be different than “the” community, it becomes very hard for that indivcomment_IDual.
I completely agree with this author. I think immigrants may not always realize is that when you migrate to Canada, yes you get a lot of privileges, but there are a lot of responsibilities too. Part of those is accepting all the other people that live with you in Canada, making friends who are different than you, not criticising others and so on. You must participate in the same culture that is so open to you coming here. That means people will have different dress and beliefs and you must accept it. You have to give back to this country what this country gave you.
I hardly see Muslims smiles, greet people in the streets, I hardly see Muslim men at father-daughter events, I hardly see Muslim couples showing affection, I hardly see so many aspects of happinss and peace in our people…and we are supposedly the religion of peace? Thank you Tahmena Bokhari, you have given us a lot to think about and you have somehow found peace in yourself. You are an example for many.
I have been totally thinking on the questions the author asks. Especially how can we become known for amazing fathers and husbands. Of course we can do it better. Currently we are not. Lets stop wining about how the media makes us look bad. Let’s do amazing work so the media has no choice but to show how wonderful we are. Our actions speak louder than our words. I love this article and what the author has pushed me to conscomment_IDer. We are all part of this problem and need to change our beliefs about even our own culture.
Still cannot believe this story. Right in Toronto in a country that claims to support women compared to places like Afghanistan. I thak you for this article for shedding light on how this can be happening in Canada, was surprising to me but not anymore. Canada like the UK does not mind these small communities to be isolated, and that is the root of all evil.
One of the best explanations I have read on this story. I am sick of this honour killing woprd thrown around. Thank you Tahmena Bokhari for opening our minds to the complexity of this issue and also to the situiation of men. I agree with are all responsible and we will all have to make a small change to make the big change happen. Things must change and we all need to wake up!
Saw your presentation on honour killings and it was very good. I like what you sacomment_ID about looking at family dynamics and what we as a community can do. We have to make change in our community so that men do talk about these issues too. Men are so isolated and uninformed about these issues and they are the ones abusers need to hear from. Abusing women for any reason is unacceptable in any culture and men need to be taken to task.