Raheel Raza grew up in Pakistan believing she should be seen and not heard.
She was able to leave the country when she was young and avoid a forced marriage, child marriage and female genital mutilation.
Those who cannot leave and fall victim to such problems are the subject of the documentary film “Honor Diaries,” which had a private screening Monday in Wichita at the Crown Uptown Theater, 3207 E. Douglas. The screening was hosted by the Wichita chapter of ACT for America and the Clarion Project.
Raza, president of the Council for Muslims Facing Tomorrow and an author and speaker on women’s rights, is one of nine women featured in the film. All have connections to Muslim-majority societies.
Never miss a local story.
The film is a tool to create awareness and get action to halt these practices, said Raza, who was in Wichita to speak about the film. But the challenge is to get Westerners to believe the problems aren’t confined to third-world Muslim countries.
There are 120,000 girls in America who have been victims of female genital mutilation, she said, and yet there has been no outcry and no legislation banning the practice.
“That’s appalling,” Raza said. “Can you imagine if 120,000 white girls had something like this happen? It’s problematic.”
Some changes have come to England, where the film was shown in the House of Commons. But unless the U.S. and Canada embrace these problem as their own, they will never be solved, she said.
“Why this is not a front-burner issue for Americans is something I don’t understand,” she said. “If this was happening to your own daughter, if this was happening to your own mother and your own sister, would you not be concerned and making it a mainstream issue?”
As a girl in Pakistan, the idea that she could get an education equivalent to the boys in her family and be able to think for herself was unacceptable. She also saw that her future included an arranged marriage. So she rebelled and left the country when she was 19. She married a Pakistani who was concerned about the same issues. They lived at first in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates and then moved to Canada 30 years ago.
The producer of “Honor Diaries” found out about Raza, a human rights activist, and the other women in the film while researching the issues.
Raza’s family in Pakistan has no idea what she does.
“They don’t want to know,” she said. “It’s something better off not talked about. If they understand what I do, they’ll have to ask questions. If you talk about it, you have to think about change.”
The film, Raza said, is about breaking the barrier of silence regarding these issues. People don’t speak out about them because of political correctness or lack of awareness. That must change, she said.
One of the taglines in the film is “Culture is no excuse for abuse,” she said.
The documentary has drawn opposition from a prominent American Islamic group, the Council for American Islamic Relations, which has alleged that it is “Islamophobic” and an attempt to smear Islam.
Raza defends the film.
“Islamophobia is used to deflect discussion about issues that are touchy and taboo and problematic,” Raza said. “Those people who want to slap a label on this documentary are the ones who don’t want to discuss it in public.”
Educating future generations is a prime goal of the film, she said.
After Wichita, Raza said, she will attend screenings in New York and Tel Aviv.
“Honor Diaries” is available on Netflix, Amazon, iTunes and DirecTV and may be ordered through the web site www.honordiaries.com.
Raza said she doesn’t expect the film to change things overnight, but at least it has started a dialogue about the issue.
“It’s a human rights issue,” she said. “Anyone who is concerned with human rights should see it.”
Reach Fred Mann at 316-268-6310 or firstname.lastname@example.org.