“Even if I have nothing, I should have honor”. But what does “honor” mean for Khalida Brohi, now thirty-one years of age and continuously fighting to redefine the word. Brohi is a Pakistan native and women’s activist currently fighting to end honor killings in her small village just outside Balochistan, Pakistan. She is well-known for her numerous campaigns, the most notable being WAKE UP, Youth and Gender Development Program, and Sughar. She has been featured in multiple newsletter articles such as Newsweek 25 Under 25, Forbes 30 Under 30, and Forbes 30 Under 30: Asia for her accomplishments and hard work. Brohi started her activism at just nine years old when she discovered her cousin had been murdered in an “honor killing”, a decision made from the family that is in no way honorable.
In her captivating memoir titled I Should Have Honor, Brohi tells us her thrilling story of her fight to end the practice of “honor killings” in her tribal village. Her memoir details her story, from the beginning to now, showing the birth of her many organizations and what sparked her passion for dismantling this horrible practice.
But what are honor killings? Honor killings are in no way honorable – they are power grab and a way to mend someone’s pride. Many cultures in Northern Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia conduct these lawful murders which affect around 93% of women in these areas. They are brutal, unjustified, and tear families apart – all for the cause of “honor”. Honor killings happen when someone rebels against what their family deems appropriate. Thousands of individuals are losing their lives every year because they just wanted to live the life that they preferred over their families judgments.
When Brohi was only 14-years-old, she found out her cousin, Khadija, was murdered by her father. The reason? Khadija did not marry the man her father choose for her, rather eloping with the man that she loved instead. Brohi, upon learning this news states, “people often become poets when they fall in love, but I became a poet when hate entered my heart” (Brohi 71). Brohi knew then, at only 14-years, that no one should go through what he cousin did.
Using the strength she found within herself that day, Brohi transformed her anger into poetry, writing and eventually performing for her father’s nonprofit organization titled Participatory Development Initiatives. Brohi’s father made her master of ceremonies, and she wowed every crowd with her passion and her words. This exposure allowed her to be discovered by a local organization called WE CAN End Violence Against Women. After being contacted by them, she collaborated and brought the organization to her local village. Brohi knew that the woman in the village would be hesitant to come to any meetings, so being clever, she framed the meetings in another light. Once all the attendees that were coming arrived, Brohi eased in conversation about “honor killings” and how to go about stopping them. The crowd got silent once she mentioned her real agenda, but soon enough, people being telling their stories and sharing their thoughts and feelings on the matter.
From that tense first meeting, Brohi used the WE CAN organization to kick start her organization, Youth, and Gender Development Program (YGDP) which focused on “educat[ing], empower[ing], and strengthen[ing] youth against cultural restrictions, enabling them to speak up about customs like honor killings” (Brohi 87). Her new organization also gave the women in her village a platform and space were they could air their grievances and address what they believed needed to be addressed. In Brohi’s words: “Until [then], they’d simply had no resources to bring them up to par” (Brohi 89).
Though her personal organization gained more traction, she also unfortunately gained unwanted attention. The work Brohi was doing threatened the power structure and patriarchy around her. Not only was Brohi, herself, being threatened, but her family as well. It was not easy for Brohi to go through the decision that she did because since she was gaining momentum and a following, she was also gaining a following of people who do not like her. They did not like her speaking out on what she believed in. Their threats did not stop Brohi, though.
Brohi, with the momentum WE CAN and YGDP was getting, traveled to Australia and America to speak at multiple conferences and events, some including Clinton Global Initiative, Women in the World, and MIT Media Lab. At those events, she railed the crowd and gave more publicity to what was happening in her tribal village back home.
In 2009, she founded the Sugar Foundation, “a non-profit dedicated to providing tribal and rural women in Pakistan with opportunities to evaluate their abilities and nurture their leadership skills in an environment of growth and development” (quote taken from her “about me” page on "her" blog, khalidabrohi.com). From there, she has also founded The Chai Spot in Arizona with her husband, David Barron. The Chai Spot, is a forum where Americans cannot only help fund her cause, but also learn the lively and enriching culture and lifestyle that Brohi, herself, grew up in. Advertisements on her blog show that she is set to open a new Chai Spot in New York City soon.
Brohi, through her activism and sympathy, created organizations and gave a platform to people who believed they could not even acknowledge their experiences. She shows the power and agency women have and how they can use it to their own advantage. She is an inspiration for all of us. If you would like to support her, visit sugharfoundation.org and click the Donate tab to fund her important and impactful nonprofit. Let Brohi continue to define and redefine what “honor” truly is.
OLIVIA HAMMOND is an undergraduate at Emerson College in Boston, Massachusetts. She studies Creative Writing, with minors in Sociology/Anthropology and Marketing. She has travelled to seven different countries, most recently studying abroad this past summer in the Netherlands. She has a passion for words, traveling, and learning in any form.