Honour killing being exported to Italy
* Italian academic says Pakistani women living in Italy virtually absent from social life
LAHORE: Pakistani women living in Italy are virtually absent from Italian social life, according to an Italian academic, who has cited examples of honour-killings in Italy.
In her paper “Exporting (dis)honour: the practice of honour killing among the Pakistani community in Italy” presented at the international conference titled “The Other Self: Conflict, Confusion or Compromise” arranged by the federal government’s National Commission on the Status of Women in collaboration with United Nations development Programme (UNDP), Italian academic Anna Vanzan discussed honour killing among the Pakistani community in Italy, its perception among the Italians, its possible repercussions on the project of multiculturalism and on Pakistani women’s life in Italy.
Anna has a degree in Oriental Languages and Cultures (University Of Ca’ Foscari, Venice) and a PhD in Near Eastern Studies (New York University). She is also the editor of the Italian journal Afriche & Orienti. She is currently the adjunct professor of Islamic studies at the IULM University, Milan and tutor of Persian Culture at the Università Statale of Milano.
Honour killing was invoked as a pretext to exclude Muslims/Pakistanis from the right of obtaining citizenship in the countries where they lived and worked, she said. “Ironically, Muslim/Pakistani women end up being double victims of this situation, as they are both physically injured by honour killings and socially excluded from the rights and the protections that the new citizenship would guarantee them.”
Some women’s role in honour killing was ambiguous, she said, as in the murder of Hina, a 19-year-old-Pakistan girl killed by her male relatives in Brescia, the town which hosts the biggest group of Pakistanis settled in Italy (13,000 in total). “In Italy, the relationship between the local people and the Pakistanis has been affected by the case of honour killing in August 2006,” she said.
Quoting a number of examples of honour killing in Italy, she said that many Muslim women’s documents were confiscated by their husbands or fathers when they reached Italy, which forced them to live clandestinely and prevented them from being able to bring domestic violence charges against male relatives.
Honour killings like that of Hina, she said, generated several kinds of responses. “It reinforced the racist barrier against the ‘Islamic invasion’ brandished by the supporters of the ‘clash of civilisations’; it multiplied the cries for attention to the ‘poor Muslim women’ by some women (including Muslim ones) who discovered that this approach was much more attractive for Italian people who now would frequently invite them to talk shows and public debates; it revived the advocates of cultural relativism and, unfortunately, above all, it exacerbated the already tense relationships among all the segments of the society.”
“So far there have been no significant friction between the local people and Pakistanis,” she said, “though Brescia and its neighbouring areas are the main centres in which the Lega political party was born and is still active.” “This party,” Anna said, “appeared in the late 1980s, is openly racist and particularly hostile towards Muslims against whom it has waged war. The high presence of foreigners in the areas, among which there is a sky-scraping percentage of Muslims, has inevitably rendered the Pakistanis an easy target of Lega’s anger. This is probably the reason why the leaders of the Pakistani community are very careful not to hurt the local susceptibility.”
“In other words, Pakistani women are virtually absent from Italian social life,” she summarised. “Women are the double victims of this situations. On the one hand, they are kept apart in their own community. They are considered the symbol of their men/community’s honour, therefore they cannot move freely and have a social life. Italian teachers lament how they have no relation with their Pakistani pupils’ mothers. Pakistani men admit that since their wives have trouble with the Italian language, they cannot have social intercourse. However, if women have no occasion to go out and mix with Italian people, it is unquestionable that their language confidence will not improve.”
On the other hand, Pakistani women risked being left apart from the benefits and opportunities offered by the Italian institutions, she said, such as free Italian classes, free medical assistance for them and their children, and other facilities available only to people who were aware of what was going on and who could be benefited from it. The Italian National Heath System provided free healthcare to Italian and foreign citizens, she said, even to those who did not have a regular permit of residency. The only national survey on the Pakistani community so far showed that in 2004, in the district of Bologna, 164 Pakistani patients had been hospitalised in health institutions, but only 2 women had been treated in a gynaecological and obstetrical centre.
“Pakistani women do not know their rights and therefore cannot get them, or, even in case they know them, they make a step backward and wait for their husbands/fathers to take a decision on their behalf,” the academic said. “However, since their men also face difficulty in trying to cope with the challenge of modernity imposed by the Western impact, Pakistani women suffer from a double delay: caught in between the culture they come from, without the instruments to fully settle down in the new one, they are isolated, homesick and anxious for the future. Therefore, they tend to create a world of their own.”
She stressed the need for dialogue between Pakistani and Italian women to improve the situation. The problem was not only how to conciliate Pakistanis’ desire to be different, to maintain their cultural values and identity while living in a Western context, she said. “The problem is also how to prevent patriarchal structures from using cultural and religious pretext in order to impede women from participating in social life.”
“In other words, when Pakistani men bring Islamic injunctions or Punjabi cultural code as an excuse in order not to leave their women to attend an Italian language class, or to impede their walking in the street alone, one should be able to unmask the falsity of their assertions.” staff report