In celebration of South Asian Heritage Month (July 18 – August 17), Rabeya speaks of her research on the concept of izzat.

My research is focused on the concept of izzat (which can be loosely translated to mean honour, prestige and respect), and the impact it has on the lived experiences of South Asian women. Using qualitative methodology conducted in two distinct phases, I embarked on a journey to uncover the intricate layers of this multifaceted concept.

Phase 1 employed semi-structured interviews to explore the views of religious leaders (male and female). The interviews were particularly aimed at exploring the sensitivity surrounding the topic of izzat and how it is currently being understood by influential members of the community. One of the main findings from this phase pertained to the sensitivity around the topic of izzat. It was difficult to have an open conversation about the concept of izzat with the religious leaders, who maintained a silence over the topic and shifted the focus of the conversation towards discussions about religious identities. This phase highlighted the nuanced nature of izzat and its role in shaping conversations, even amongst influential members in the community.

Phase 2 involved interviewing young British Pakistani women to turn the research focus to the voices that truly resonate with the concept of izzat. Through insightful interviews, these women shared their unique conceptualisations of izzat and its intricate links to their psychological wellbeing and lived experiences. The findings revealed a delicate interplay between cultural expectations, family dynamics and personal aspirations. For these women, izzat was not merely a concept, but a force that guided their decisions, emotions and self-perceptions.

As the layers of izzat were gently peeled away, a series of insights emerged, casting light on the complex nature of this concept. The research highlighted the cultural complexity of izzat, revealing how this term holds different meanings across generations, often reflecting on the evolving dynamics of cultural identity. Izzat was found to be deeply woven into family dynamics. It influenced decisions related to education, marriage and career paths, thereby influencing the trajectory of these women’s lives. The sensitivity around izzat was further underscored by the struggles encountered in engaging religious leaders in open conversations. This emphasised the intricate interplay between cultural norms and religious identity. Finally, the research highlighted the emotional toll that the concept of izzat can take on young South Asian women. The pressure to uphold family honour and conform to societal expectations was often linked with feelings of anxiety, self-doubt and the negotiation of identity.

The journey into the heart of izzat provides a unique lens through which we witness its far-reaching impact on the lives of South Asian women. From religious leader’s guarded responses, to the emotional complexities faced by young women, this research highlights the need for a deeper understanding of this concept’s influence.

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