“Why wasn’t she saved?“: Payzee Mahmod on the ‘honour’ killing of her sister Banaz

With the arrival on ITV of Honour, about the murder of Banaz Mahmod, her sister Payzee talks to Stylist about a life cut tragically short. 

In 2006, Payzee Mahmod’s older sister Banaz was murdered on the orders of her family. The 20-year-old British Iraqi-Kurdish woman was entered into an arranged marriage at the age of 17. But when Banaz left her abusive husband and began a new relationship, her father, uncle and other members of her family conspired to have her killed, believing her to have brought shame on the family.

A new two-part factual drama, headed by Keeley Hawes, looks into the investigation of the case and how DCI Caroline Goode brought Banaz’s killers to justice, with the help of Banaz’s other sister Bekhal – who now lives in witness protection. 

Goode also discovered that there had been multiple opportunities to protect Banaz – she had reported the risk to her life to the police on five separate occasions, but no action was taken. 

Her sister Payzee had also been forced into marriage at the age of 16, which she was able to escape. She now dedicates her life to campaigning against child marriage – including delivering a TED talk about why changes in the law are needed. As such, on 6 October the Child Marriage Bill will be tabled in the House of Commons by Pauline Latham MP  – under current laws children at 16 can be legally married with parental consent.

When news of the drama, written by Gwyneth Hughes, came out Payzee expressed concern that the story focussed on Caroline Goodebut since then she has said that she is “not focusing so much on the angle [from which] the story is told”, but “on the conversations about honour-based abuse that the show will hopefully raise.”

Payzee talks to Stylist about the drama, how she remembers her sister and what needs to be done to prevent this ever happening again. 

What was your experience of watching Honour, Payzee?

I was very emotional. You never imagine in your wildest dreams a TV show is going to be made about your life, especially such tragic events from your life. As Banaz’s sister I felt very sad to see a re-enactment of her begging for help. It is something that will haunt me for the rest of my life: how much she was screaming out for help but no one heard her or saw her.

I felt passionate about the way DCI Goode did not give up, her dedication and go-getter attitude. On the flip side, seeing the officer who failed Banaz made me angry, because I witnessed this in real life; this is a scene I lived. I came in contact with her and I still feel sad and disappointed about the way she treated someone in so much distress. 

What do you hope that viewers take from watching the drama?

I hope viewers will see how serious HBA (Honour Based Abuse) is, that it is very much prevalent in our society. This is costing millions of girls and women their livelihood, their freedom of choice and in some cases their lives! I want people to recognise this and take responsibility: we are all responsible for ensuring victims are not missed, our friends, neighbours, colleagues etc.

We need all front-line workers to be trained in HBA so that they recognise the signs and give victims the confidence to come forward. Resources and funding needs to be in place to tackle this abuse. I also hope viewers will recognise this abuse is all around us, not just in countries somewhere far away. My sister was a regular teenager growing up in London, she could have been your school friend, colleague or neighbour; let’s stop failing victims and listen and see when they ask for help.

The final thing I hope that people will see is that the police absolutely failed Banaz, there were no serious punishments handed out for this – in fact, the police offer was promoted. I find that disgraceful. The public will hopefully see as much as girls and women are let down by those close to them, the agencies responsible for safeguarding are also letting victims down. Something has to change now!

At what point did you feel able to use the pain of what your sister endured to fight for change?

I live with my experiences on a daily basis. Not a day goes by where I don’t question, ‘why did Banaz have to die? Why wasn’t she saved?’Last year I saw a case that gave me goosebumps: ‘Woman murdered by husband in the name of honour, she was in contact with the Police, an enquiry has been made into the failures’. It felt like déjà vu. I realised that was the moment that I had to do something. I have to demand change for girls and women who are going through this. Why should they continue getting let down by services? Why should they lose their lives in the name of honour?

Banaz gives me so much strength. I couldn’t be how strong I am without her – I feel her love, her presence all around me; she is in my every moment and I know she would want me to fight for change.

Do you think lockdown has exacerbated incidences of abuse?

Yes and it has been backed up by data from various NGOs who deal with HBA. The unique thing about this type of abuse is that there is a multi-perpetrator dynamic: it’s parents, male members of the family, uncles and community. At a time when the world stood still, anyone who is experiencing this abuse has been impacted greatly, they are under watch more than ever, who they talk to, what they do online, all of these activities we classify as normal can put victims at great risk.

Reaching out for help is more difficult than ever now, and this is why as we ease out of lockdown and schools have re-opened, the right resources, education and training must be in place for victims when they do come forward. There is only one change, not everyone will go to the police five times like Banaz did!

How do you like to remember Banaz?

I remember Banaz as she was, the kind, soft spoken, beautiful, cheeky sweetheart. She adored children and the elderly. She did her work experience in a care home and she would come home and tell me about her days. She loved chatting with a cup of tea in her hand, that was our favourite.

I remember her sweet laugh that would echo through the house, I remember our long walks to my grandmother’s and back – she would hold my hand when we crossed the road. She was my guardian angel. The worst and best two years of our lives, when we lived together, plays in my mind every day. We found ourselves in such a horrible situation, but together we made the most of it, playing with make-up, blasting music whilst we cleaned the house and sang into the mop. I have her birthday cards and I read them every year. 

We always told everyone we were twins. She made me whole. I miss her warm hugs, her sweet smile – I just miss her so much. 

Payzee works with Ikwro who support victims of HBA, train front line professionals and raise awareness.

To support the campaign against child marriage go here.

Honour airs on ITV, Monday 28th and Tuesday 29th September at 9pm

Images: ITV, Payzee Mahmod 

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