January 21 which is my birthday will never be the same for me ever again. In 2016 on this date which is always a celebration, I found myself in Stockholm, Sweden for a series of conferences and seminars.
I was invited by an organization called GAPF which is essentially a commemoration for the memory of two Swedish girls Pela and Fadime. I had no idea who these girls were and it was a shock to hear their heart-rending stories. It was also a very important wake up call. January 21, 2002 was the date on which Fadime Sahindal was killed by her father and I will always commemorate her memory on this day. Why? Because Fadime is a symbol for the thousands of girls who are murdered in the name of honour all over the world but who we easily forget.
However thanks to the persistent and inspirational work of a Swedish woman of Kurdish heritage, Sara Mohammad, today everyone on the streets of Sweden knows the name Fadime.
Fadime Şahindal was opposed to her family’s insistence on an arranged marriage, and instead selected her own boyfriend. At first she kept the relationship secret, but her father found out about it. Fadime then left her family and moved to Sundsvall, where her brother found her and threatened her. She went to the police who advised her at first to talk to her family. She then turned to the media with her story, after which she turned again to the police and was offered a secret identity. By turning to the media Fadime managed to receive support from the Swedish authorities, but she had also made the “shame” of her family public. She filed a lawsuit against her father and brother, accusing them of unlawful threats, and won.
Fadime was scheduled to move in with her boyfriend, Patrick, the following month, in June 1998, when he died in a car accident. He was buried in Uppsala.
Her father forbade her to visit Uppsala, since he did not want her to visit her deceased boyfriend’s grave. Nalin Pekgul, a Kurdish-Swedish parliamentarian, negotiated a compromise in which Şahindal agreed to stay away from Uppsala and her father promised not to stalk her.
On 20 November 2001, the Violence Against Women network arranged a seminar on the topic “Integration on whose terms?”. During the seminar Fadime spoke in front of the Riksdag (Swedish Parliament) about her personal story.
On 21 January 2002, Fadime secretly visited her mother and sisters in Uppsala. During the visit, her father arrived and shot her in the head in front of her mother and two sisters. Confronted by police, he confessed and said to his defense that he was ill. Despite the confession, one of her cousins later tried to convince the police that he had killed her.
Her father was ultimately convicted of murder by a Swedish court and sentenced to life imprisonment.
Her murder sparked a debate in Sweden about immigrant integration and raised questions regarding Patrick’s death.
Fadime was buried in Uppsala.
Pela Atroshi’s murder in Dohuk, in Iraqi Kurdistan, was officially deemed an honour killing by both Iraqi and Swedish authorities. Pela was an intelligent and good-looking girl. When she emigrated with her family to Sweden in 1995, she took to Swedish ways – eventually leaving the family home in January 1999.
But after a time she missed her parents and six younger brothers and sisters and returned, agreeing to an arranged marriage in Kurdistan. It was a front – the men in her family had decided to kill her in their home town of Dohuk, northern Iraq, where honour killings were considered minor crimes, and where the Atroshi clan commanded immense respect.
Since Fadime and Pela’s murders, GAPF headed by Sara Mohammad and many Kurdish-Swedish volunteers have been lobbying to make Honor Based Violence a criminal offence and have a specific separate listing in the penal code for HBV. The work done by GAPF has resulted in the entire country becoming aware of the threat of honour killings for many more girls and women. Two men have also been murdered in Honour killings in Sweden so it’s not only women who are the victims of this barbaric practice.
GAPF has now made the month of January a month of commemoration for Fadime. I was invited to attend part of these events.
On January 19 I went to Västerås where there was a screening of Honor Diaries followed by Q & A. At every event local politicians and media were invited so that the murder could stay alive in the minds of people.
On January 20 there was a full day conference held at the Swedish Parliament in collaboration with political parties and 81 other organizations. Honor Diaries was screened to a room full of politicians from every party, law makers and the public. This was a very well organized event with open discussion and raw questions asked. GAPF put the politicians and law makers on the spot and recalled Fadime’s words when she had pleaded to Parliament to take note of what is happening to her and other girls. I spoke from the perspective on Canada.
On January 21, we had a very poignant and emotional day which we spent in Uppsala, which was where Fadime is buried. A park in Uppsala has been dedicated to Fadime. On a day where the weather was minus 20 and freezing beyond description, Sara Mohammad and her volunteers lit torches in the park and spoke about Fadime’s life. From there we went to the graveyard and laid wreaths on her grave and spoke at length about the importance of keeping her memory alive.
Then we went to the school where Fadime had studied and spoke to the students. A room at the school is now dedicated to Fadime where students are invited to come for discussion and debate.
At every event, including the outdoors, Fadime’s favorite song is played by live musicians or recorded.
All this is to say that nowhere else in the world do I see a commitment like I saw in Sweden. The Kurdish-Swedish women I met are firebrands and activists who do not stop at anything despite threats from the Islamists to hold back their words and their work. I have never met a person like Sara Mohammad who spends 18 to 20 hours a day on this work where she has dedicated her life to keeping Fadime’s memory alive. She has certainly succeeded in making me aware that we need to do the same in Canada.