After the murder of Aasiya Hassan, the director of the New York chapter of the National Organization for Women, Marcia Pappas, made statements saying that Aasiya’s murder was a “terroristic version” of honor killing, which stems from, as she puts it, “cultural notions about women’s subordination to men.

This has troubled many domestic violence advocates, and many in the New York area convened to explain why.

Dear Marcia Pappas:

On behalf of the survivors of domestic violence we serve and as members of the South Asian and anti-violence communities, we are reaching out to you to express our deep disappointment in your comments regarding the murder of Aasiya Hassan as printed in the February 17th issue of The Buffalo News. We all too well understand the cultural, religious, and social barriers which affect survivors of violence in our communities.. This is why we work each day to provide culturally-appropriate services. We also recognize that you have been working to advance women’s rights and status through your advocacy at NOW for a number of years and we thank you for that work and vocal advocacy.

However, your comments that Ms. Hassan’s murder is a “terroristic version of honor killing, a murder rooted in cultural notions about women’s subordination to men” and that “too many Muslim men are using their religious beliefs to justify violence against women” are a disservice to our community, to people of diverse cultures and faiths, and to our daily work as advocates for survivors of domestic violence from South Asian and Muslim communities.

In this particular scenario, Ms. Hassan had an order of protection, law enforcement officials confirmed a history of domestic violence, and the crime occurred after she filed for divorce. Would you call a Christian woman in this same scenario murdered by gun violence a victim of an honor killing? Femicide is femicide and this tragedy is one more disturbing face of domestic violence.

Your comments eclipse domestic violence for what it is. As we know from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, in this country every day, on average, more than three women are murdered by their husbands or boyfriends and in 2000, 1,247 women were killed by an intimate partner. We should, together as women’s rights advocates, be able to name domestic violence when we see it. When we do not, it reinforces the silence around domestic violence and stigmatizes minority communities by condoning “cultural” excuses for violent behavior.

Your comment dangerously re-casts focus on culture, religion, and particularly American stereotypes of Islam. As multi-faith advocates, we reject the idea that any faith condones violence. In fact, we have been working for years to change the language around “honor killing” for we reject the notion that there is any honor in killing – and many of our community members agree. We would hope that an organization as esteemed as NOW would not reinforce stereotypes in the media – especially when this is how many of our fellow Americans shape their understandings of our communities as well as domestic violence.

Survivors do indeed face cultural and religious barriers (such as abuse from an extended family member or inability to access a religious divorce). This is why our organizations exist – to be able to address domestic violence while refusing to indulge in negative stereotypes of our communities. Furthermore, we know that survivors of all backgrounds face family and community resistance to divorce, custody, law enforcement involvement – and simply to being believed.

We would like to work in partnership with NOW to end violence against all women in a framework which does not stigmatize minority communities and also recognizes common threads of domestic violence which cross communities. We would love to hear your thoughts on this matter and seek to discuss building a future partnership. Furthermore, we have a number of experts who can speak to violence in our communities. We would encourage you to review our websites, reach out to us for information, and refer media requests to us so that we can speak on behalf of our communities.

Thank you again for your advocacy for women’s rights. We look forward to hearing from you and to working more closely to end violence and advance our communities in the year to come.

Warmly,

Purvi Shah Executive Director, Sakhi for South Asian Women www.sakhi.org

Aparna Bhattacharyya Executive Director, Raksha, Inc. www.raksha.org

Jaslin Chopra, AWAKE (Asian Women Allied in Kinship and Equality)

Maneesha Kelkar Executive Director, Manavi www.manavi.org

Shaida Khan Executive Director, Domestic Harmony Foundation www.dhfny.org

Larry Lee Executive Director, New York Asian Women’s Center www.nyawc.org

Robina Niaz, MS, MSW Executive Director, Turning Point for Women and Families www.turningpoint-ny.org

Afshan Qureshi, Saathi www.saathiofrochester.org

Kirsten Rambo, Ph.D. Executive Director, Georgia Commission on Family Violence www.gcfv.org

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