Sisters in Solidarity

pk add'l photoToday’s post comes from Paula Kweskin, an attorney specializing in international humanitarian and human rights law. She has worked on various human rights projects including corporate social responsibilty and micro-credit initiatives in Argentina, advocacy on behalf of victims of extraordinary rendition, and relief for victims of domestic violence. Paula is currently pursuing her LL.M in International Law and Human Rights while producing Honor Diaries, an award-winning documentary film focused on women’s rights and gender empowerment. The film brings together nine activists fighting for gender equality and the human rights of women in honor-based societies.

Just a few months ago, I was in NYC, pounding the pavement, trying to get people to care about Honor Diaries. It hadn’t been long since nine of the world’s most daring women’s rights activists had come together in front of our cameras.  These women – my newfound sisters in solidarity – have roots in honor-based societies around the world: Pakistan, Afghanistan, India, Iran, Iraq, and Sudan.  They are committed to speak out about the harms women face in honor-based societies: female genital mutilation, honor violence and killings, forced and early marriage, and lack of access to education, among other threats.  The emotion and gravity of what we were trying to do with our film weighed on me as I started our process of promoting the film.

I was looking for advice and support.  This is my first documentary film, and I needed guidance.  I graduated law school – not film school – and frankly, I was in search of people to tell me that I’m not crazy.

I took sips of a latte in a café as I nervously waited for my 2 o’clock, a well-seasoned documentary filmmaker and woman’s right activist.  I hoped she’d love the project and would want to help in some way, even if just to reassure me that we were on the right track.  I flipped and re-flipped through my notes.

About five minutes into our conversation she looked over her coffee mug with the slightest bit of scorn and a whole lot of sympathy: “Listen, Paula, it’s nice to meet you, and I’m sure your heart is in the right place, but please – do me and yourself a favor, and get out of this now.  It’s not too late.  You don’t have the budget, you don’t have a big name, and frankly, you’d be better off doing something else. Didn’t you say you were a lawyer?  I mean, what do you really expect to happen with this film?  What kind of difference can you really make?  What have you said that hasn’t been said before?  Probably nothing. And the market out here is so tight; unless you have a lot of money and a lot of connections behind you, no one is going to pay attention.  I’m sure you’re a really nice person, and that’s why I’m being so direct with you.  Don’t be offended, but you really don’t have a chance.”

I felt like someone had punched me in the stomach.  The flush crept up to my cheeks, but I tried to remain calm and professional.  Still, I was shocked.  This was the summer of Lean In and Malala: what happened to sisterhood and support? And where along the way had she become so jaded?

With a lump in my throat, I just kept talking about politics and books and womanhood.  By the time our coffee had gone cold, her eyes had brightened – I could see the wheels were churning.  She was excited by ‘Honor Diaries’ and maybe even started to believe it could make a difference.

1452465_257310131084255_41301537_nSince that meeting, I’ve met hundreds of people in my effort to get people on board with our growing coalition.  Honor Diaries is more than a movie, it’s a movement to affect change.  We have over 25 human rights organizations as part of our coalition and we are planning thousands of screenings all over the world.

This week marks a big milestone in that effort.  I’m thrilled to report that our film, Honor Diaries, premiered on US television DirecTV yesterday, December 5th at 8:00PM EST.  There are several additional screenings that you can read more about here. And make sure to visit our website and get involved! Tune in and tell all your friends to do the same.  I’ll bet you a cold cup of coffee you will never think the same way about women’s rights again.


  • Thank you both for engaging in this debate. You’re absolutely correct in stating that ‘honor murders’ happen in all parts of the world. Within the film, we underscore that honor-based violence happens within the Sikh and Hindu communities as well as within the Muslim community. Check out our trailer at to learn more. Our tagline is “culture is no excuse for abuse”. Unfortunately, women around the world are often abused, harassed, or killed in the name of culture or religion. This is deplorable. No major world religion sanctions this type of abuse, especially not Islam. Please continue to join in the conversation by visiting our website. Also be sure to watch the film so that you can see the many instances in which brave women from SIkh, Muslim, and Christian backgrounds fight against this abuse are highlighted.

  • Anonymous

    I am all for fighting these so-called “Honor Killings” which should be better known as “Honor Murders”. However, I am a little disturbed at the focus you have taken on Muslims and Muslim countries when Honor Murders happen all the time, in non-Muslim countries, perpetrated by non-Muslims.

    I believe you should absolutely, be focusing on Honor Murders in Muslim-majority countries, but your focus should also include Honor Murders in places like India, Sri Lanka, the Balkans…even those ordered by people living in Europe and N. America, who are not Muslims.

    If your cause is to fight Honor Murders, then you have seriously undermined your cause. If however, your cause is to find an excuse to attack Islam and Muslims and use Honor Murders as your cover, then you have succeeded.

    • Kate Otto

      Hello and thank you for your comment. My name is Kate and I’m responding on behalf of Everyday Ambassador, not on behalf of Honor Diaries. As a global network of individuals who believe in the power of human connection across borders (including borders of religion), we never endorse, support, or share discriminatory attitudes, so we appreciate your sentiments and agree with your assessment that Honor Killings/Murders happen all over the world. The spirit of this post was for the filmmaker to share her journey in building a supportive network of women around the world to speak up against gender violence. Since there is no mention of Islam in this post, I assume you are referring to the actual film itself with your comment, and in that case I’ll leave it to the filmmaker to respond. However you can rest assured that our EA community is one of diverse viewpoints and lifestyles (including many Muslims), connected by a shared value of respect.

    • According to UN Women over 91% of world wide honor crimes are within Muslim societies (the rest are attributed to Hindus, Coptics, etc.). That’s a huge discrepancy.

      Your attempt to equate moral equivalency obfuscates the matter. Honor crime is hugely disproportionate within Islam. That it exists in other cultures must be addressed, but rather than worry about that, Muslims need to focus on Muslims.

      Both Muslims and non-Muslims need to look for ways to live together:

      7 Ways Westerners Can Help Ex-Muslims – Patheos

      The Islamophobia of CAIR vs. The Honor Diaries

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