A Chat With: Afrah Qassim from Savera UK

As well as being International Non-Binary People’s Day, Tuesday 14th July also marks the National Day of Memory – a day to remember all of those killed in the name of so-called ‘honour’ and aims to shine a spotlight on survivors of ‘honour’-based abuse (HBA).

To learn more about ‘honour’-based abuse and how it impacts the LGBT+ community in the city region, we spoke to the founder and newly-appointed CEO of Savera UK, Afrah Qassim.

So, let’s start with the basics, first of all, what does Savera UK do?

Savera UK is a charity based in Merseyside that tackles culturally-specific abuse across the UK. This means we speak out against and support the survivors of – and those at risk from – practices like ‘honour’ killings and other forms of ‘honour’-based abuse (HBA), forced marriage and female genital mutilation. 

Practically, we run a helpline and provide 121 and group services to support our clients, as well as training professionals working in affected communities in how to recognise these forms of abuse and how to respond, we run educational sessions in communities and schools and campaign on a regional and national level with the aim of eradicating these harmful practices for good.

The word ‘savera’ means ‘new beginning’ in Hindi. That is what we aim to offer. We help survivors of ‘honour’-based abuse and harmful practices to rebuild their lives. We provide emotional and practical support and help them to gain economic independence so they can move forward into their future with confidence.

What exactly is ‘honour’-based abuse and how is it different to other forms of domestic abuse?

HBA is a form of abuse that is perpetrated in the name of so called ‘honour’. Those at risk of ‘honour’ based abuse are often told that they have brought “shame” on their family or community and so they must be punished. The abuse can take many forms, from physical to psychological and in the most extreme cases this punishment ends up being death, or an ‘honour’ killing.

Unlike other forms of domestic abuse, there are usually multiple perpetrators in HBA cases, immediate relatives, extended family and the wider community. ‘Honour’ killings relate to the act of murder carried out by family members or through agreement with the wider community. It is usually a collective act.

So what kind of behaviour is considered to bring ‘shame’ on a family or community?

There are typical examples of what is considered to be ‘shameful’ or ‘dishonourable’ behaviour. If you are a woman this can be as simple as dressing in clothing outside of your cultural traditions, wearing make-up, accessing higher education without the approval of your family, having a boyfriend or just interacting freely with men in public. More widely speaking – and affecting both men and women – refusing a marriage, seeking a divorce, marrying outside of your religion or caste or identifying as LGBT+ are other reasons a person can be considered to have brought ‘shame’ on a family or community. However, this list isn’t exhaustive and HBA is an issue in many cultures with many different beliefs. It is possible to be considered to be acting ‘dishonourably’ by going against any cultural traditions that a particular family or community believes.

Is this an issue that all LGBT+ people potentially could be faced with?

In short, yes, if the culture or community they are part of deems the way they identify or their sexuality to be ‘shameful’, ‘dishonourable’ or ‘wrong’. HBA and ‘honour’ killings affect women more and it is more prevalent in Middle Eastern, South Asian and African cultures. But it can happen everywhere. It is an issue in cultures that you might not expect, such as  Eastern European communities and Irish Travellers, among others. Those who identify themselves as LGBT+  already face discrimination in our society, but if you are LGBT+ and from families and communities that consider being LGBT+ as being unacceptable or consider it to be a sin due to their religious beliefs, then this puts them at even greater risk.

How big is the issue in the UK, and in Merseyside and the Liverpool City Region specifically?

In the UK there are an estimated 12 ‘honour’ killings each year, but HBA is such a hidden crime that the statistics we have are only the tip of the iceberg. Last year alone, 80 percent of referrals received by Savera UK were relating to victims of – or those at risk of – HBA and forced marriage and although we are a national organisation,  a large proportion of the calls to our helpline come from Merseyside and the Liverpool City Region.

How can you tell if someone is experiencing, or might be at risk of ‘honour’-based abuse?

There are many signs of HBA, but if you’re not aware of them they can easily be missed. In some cases, that can end up with a life being lost. We work hard to educate people on the signs of HBA, particularly with professionals who work in affected communities and young people, who we see as the generation that will end harmful practices for good, by empowering them to see the signs and speak out.

We have detailed information about the signs on our website, but they include things like individuals being chaperoned at all times by family members, even to doctors appointments; being kept home with no choice or freedom of movement and showing fear of being taken abroad.

What should you do if you think someone is at risk of HBA?

Get in touch with us. Call our helpline and talk to one of our team members. We are here to provide support, help and advice and everything is completely confidential. However, if you think the person is in immediate danger call 999. We work with Merseyside Police and other forces and they understand the urgency of reports of HBA. 

What would you say to someone who believes they are experiencing, or may be at risk of, HBA, but are not sure if they’re the kind of person you’d ‘usually’ deal with?

I would urge them to get in touch. We do not deal with people from just one culture or community, we are here for ANYONE who is experiencing abuse, physically or emotionally, because the way they live their life is not accepted by their family or community. We are here to help anyone regardless of their age, culture, gender identity or sexuality. We understand cultural sensitivity, we will listen to you and we will help you.

How can we learn more about HBA and its impact?

Tomorrow, we will be hosting a webinar, where a number of survivors will be sharing their story, including Kiara Mohamed, who is one of our Survivor Ambassadors. We find that sharing stories of those who have found their ‘savera’ helps to inspire others to speak out and get help too. You can also find plenty of fact sheets and information on our website too.

You can register for Savera UK’s free webinar “My Story, My Savera” here.
To get help call the Savera UK helpline on 0800 107 0726 (weekdays 9am-5pm) or visit www.saverauk.co.uk


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