Sweden: Men who fight for women's rights

WLUML Networkers
Sharaf Heroes is an anti-honour violence project launched in 2003 by the anti-racist and feminist Swedish organisation Electra. It seeks to educate young men from different backgrounds and religions in human rights and equality.
Sharaf means honour in Arabic. It is initially a beautiful word but is today, in the western world, mostly associated with violence and patriarchal oppression. Sharaf Heroes want to reclaim this word, and regain the positive meaning of it. In this report Johanna Heden, WLUML networker, will briefly describe Sharaf Heroes – who they are and what they do.
Much attention was drawn to the phenomenon of honour violence in Sweden after the murder of Fadime Sahindal in 2002 . The murder of Fadime Sahindal raised many questions:

* Why do men, young men who have lived in Sweden all their lives, have such a patriarchal view of women that they believe their family’s honour is related to their sisters’ sexuality?
* How can this be changed?

Sharaf Heroes is one of the few projects launched after Fadime’s death that focuses on young men and their behaviour.

According to Electra, research shows that young people’s beliefs and thoughts are often influenced, not only by families, but also to a large extent by friends. The project Sharaf Heroes was launched in response to this research. Sharaf Heroes believe that the ones who actually can change old-fashioned patriarchal thinking among young men are other young men from similar backgrounds. Sharaf Heroes therefore offer education and a space for dialogue where men can discuss issues of honour and violence with each other. The education in human rights and equality also gives them tools to further elaborate their actions and the consequences of their actions.

Sharaf Heroes educate young men from different backgrounds and religions. It is recognised that honour violence can be found in several religions and cultures. After a 10 week long education you receive the first diploma. From there it is possible to take more advanced courses, for example to be group teacher or a lecturer. The diplomaed Heroes lecture in schools, organisations and authorities. Furthermore, Sharaf Heroes are now in the process of setting up their third theatre play.

The goal with the project is to spread knowledge about honour violence, and to change attitudes among young men. To change attitudes is a lifelong process, and it cannot be done within a few weeks. Sharaf Heroes know that they cannot completely change everyone’s attitudes, but they can, and they do, give tools and inspiration to young men who are curious to live their life differently.

In 2006 the sister project Sharaf Heroines was launched. Sharaf Heroines offer education to young women in matters of honour violence, and they work to strengthen girls confidence. These young women – the heroines –act as support for girls who have been victims of honour violence.

Sharaf Heroes also act as a support for men who have rejected (honour) violence against women. Rejecting old patriarchal thinking (such as the belief that honour is related to women’s sexualities) might be very uncomfortable for men. It is not uncommon that men are being threatened by other men after making the decision to leave the old world view. Sometimes these young men have to turn against their own families, friends, and communities.

Over the last 6 years the project Sharaf Heroes/Heroines has grown. It is now established in several cities in Sweden: Stockholm; Gothenburg; and Malmö. There are today more than 100 diplomaed Heroes and Heroines. Sharaf Heroes have international allies such as Ni Putes Ni Soumises (France) and TransAct (Holland). Furthermore, Sharaf Heroes have been in Norway and Germany to lecture, and they have participated in several international conferences.

22 April 2009

By Johanna Heden

Fadilme Sahindal was murdered 26 January 2002, 26 years old. Her father shot her in the head; his reason was she had had a Swedish boyfriend. The murder of Fadime Sahindal is not the first honour killing in Sweden, but the first one attracting such a huge media attention and public debate. Fadime Sahindal had escaped her family several years earlier due to threats by family members. Since she found a lacking support from the Swedish society regarding her safety, she decided to turn to the media, to behold the violence she – and many other women – are subjected to. She told her story and made her case famous in all Swedish households. She participated in documentary films, she wrote articles, and she spoke in front of the Swedish government. She became famous, and the murder of her came as a shock to the Swedish society.