Burned Alive, 2003 - Transcript Interview

  • Hans Fischer    Welcome to SwissEduc. My name is Hans Fischer and my guest today is Jacqueline. Welcome Jacqueline. Jacqueline you are the woman who found Souad, badly burned and with her newly born child in a hospital, where she was not given the necessary treatment. And you managed to get her out of her country and took great care that she got the necessary treatment in a hospital in Lausanne, Switzerland. What difficulties did you encounter until you had Souad on a plane to Switzerland?
    Jacqueline    Well, the whole story happened in '79, and I just would like to say that Suad's baby was not in the hospital with her. The child was living in an orphanage before she came. The difficulties were that Souad was 17 years old and could not travel on her own. I mean the family had to know about her departure and to sign papers that she would leave the country. The difficulty in this case is to talk to the family, because this custom, which is a patriarchal custom, is a very difficult pressure on them and they don't like to talk about it. So you have many difficulties to reach them and to start talking to them about "Would you agree your daughter to leave the country or not." We were helped by the fact that she was dying. And the family thought "well anyway she is going to die." So to die here or to die somewhere else it's ok with us. So they came and they signed the necessary papers so that she can travel. Now, I know this country very well. I had been living there for many years. I know the kind of pressure they have on them, especially concerning the traditions and the culture. This is - this honor killing is a patriarchal culture, which has nothing to do with Islam or Christianity. I mention Christianity because the minorities, which are over there the Christians, do it too. The difficulty here is that if the family don't kill, even the family who thinks that the girl is not a virgin anymore or has been told that the girl has been seen talking to a boy or something like that. Nobody controls if it is true or not. But if the rumor is going on in the village it means that the girl is not a virgin anymore: And a girl who is not a virgin should be killed by her family, because this is a dishonor for the family.
    HF    What about the men? Is there an honor system for the men too?
    J    In the Middle East there is no honor system for the men. But there is one in Pakistan. In Pakistan not every time there is such a story, but if there is a man involved - a couple flying together or something like that - the men are also killed in Pakistan, not only women, but nothing really this hard.
    HF    Let's go to the book. Why do you think some women in the town helped Souad by getting her to a hospital, and the more educated people at the hospital denied her the proper treatment?
    J    It's not a town, it's a small hamlet. And probably the women, the neighbors, did not know what happened. They saw somebody running in fire, and they just wanted to help. They didn't know the story.
    HF    When one reads the book "Burned Alive" it is easy to develop a hatred toward these people. And hate does not solve any problem. What advice would you give to teachers as to how to prepare their classes before reading the book?
    J    I would say that the - in those countries, but not only in the Middle East, in many other countries, like Turkey, like South America, because there is also honor killing in South America, which is not a Moslem country, a Moslem continent - people are under pressure of these customs and traditions. If they don't do what is requested by the custom, they will be pushed out from their village, themselves, but not only themselves, but the extended family, which is so many people who have to leave the village. Some are poor and cannot just leave the village and settle somewhere else. So sometimes the extended family is asking the family of the girl to do what they have to do, just to work according to the custom.
    HF    So it is actually these people who are under pressure and cannot act differently.
    J    They cannot; they cannot act differently; but you know I would say that I saw mothers who cried after the killing. I met many families: I saw mothers who cried, I saw fathers talking very highly about their daughters. I saw brothers talking very highly about their sisters. They are under this pressure, which says that ... which means that they cannot do otherwise and they do it. So now what we are doing - and this is more important than to save the girls one by one; I mean we can do it on a low basis. But the most important (aspect) of our work is to help the local organization, local women organization from all these countries to do prevention of violence and prevention of honor killing; this is the most important.
    HF    You work for SURGIR. What kind of an organization is it?
    J    SURGIR is a small organization, which - we have a lot of experience, because I have been working in the field of ... humanitarian field for many many years before starting SURGIR. SURGIR is fighting against violence - violence against women. Violence in general; it's not only honor killing. We are now in honor killing because we say so many cases of honor killing. But we want to work and we start working also for the dowry in India, the dowry there, whereby girls are killed because they don't have a dowry.
    HF    Where do you get the money from?
    J    We do fund raising, nonstop fund raising. We get the money from private organizations, private foundations in Switzerland and from the Swiss government. But the Swiss government is helping more for the program concerning the prevention of violence in developing countries.
    HF    Jacqueline, thank you so much for all this information that you gave us.
  • This interview took place in Lausanne, Switzerland, on September 8, 2004.