Female

‘My sister and I were forced to marry strangers in our teens. That’s why I fought so hard to change the law’: Meet the inspirational woman who campaigned to raise the marriage age to protect girls from abuse after her sister was tragically killed

Do you know an incredible woman — a campaigner, entrepreneur, teacher or health worker who goes above and beyond — and who deserves more recognition? 

If so, you can nominate her for the Inspirational Women Awards, in association with M&S, and in support of The WOW foundation. 

Five women will be picked as winners. Find all the details at dailymail.co.uk/inspirational women2024

When she thinks about her sister, Payzee Mahmod likes to remember them laughing together in their bunk beds.

Born 17 months apart, Payzee and Banaz were so alike, strangers thought they were twins. They swapped clothes and make-up. They straightened each other’s hair and shared dreams for the future. Payzee holds these moments tight, because she has another, horrific, memory — seeing her sister’s body in a hospital morgue.

Payzee Mahmod, 32, campaigns to outlaw honour-based abuse after the death of her sister

‘The police didn’t want to let me see her,’ says Payzee, now 32. ‘But I insisted. It was the only way I could really believe she was dead.’

Banaz, who was 20, had been murdered on the orders of her family in a so-called ‘honour killing’ after leaving her husband and starting a fresh relationship. Her new partner, Rahmat Sulemani, was so devastated that he later took his own life.

The horrific case saw Payzee’s father, uncle and others jailed.

The image of her older sister’s body has haunted Payzee ever since. But it has also spurred this remarkable young woman to do something extraordinary.

Payzee has spent the past six years campaigning to outlaw child marriages and other ‘honour’ based abuse, using her own story.

It’s largely thanks to her that on April 26, 2022, the legal age limit for marriage was raised from 16 to 18. No marriage can now take place under the age of 18 and no child can be taken in or out of the UK for marriage.

But Payzee’s campaigning hasn’t ended. She wants to see all marriages officially registered so women from migrant communities also have access to the divorce courts. ‘If their marriage is a religious ceremony only, they aren’t legally married so have fewer rights on divorce,’ exlains Payzee, who lives in London with her husband and their two-year-old son.

Speaking of the changes to the law, she adds: ‘I am beyond proud. And my sister has played a big part in this. What she suffered started with a child marriage.’

Banaz (pictured), who was 20, had been murdered on the orders of her family in a so-called ¿honour killing¿

Banaz (pictured), who was 20, had been murdered on the orders of her family in a so-called ‘honour killing’

Payzee’s parents are Iraqi Kurds who fled Saddam Hussein’s regime, arriving in London with Payzee, then 11, Banaz, their three other daughters and one son.

The girls had already gone through female genital mutilation, an abusive practice widespread abroad but illegal in the UK.

When Payzee was 15, her older sister Bekhal fled their home in Mitcham, Surrey, and spent time in foster care.

‘It was seen as bringing shame on the family,’ says Payzee. ‘So Banaz and I were used to bring “respect” back — and that meant being married off quickly.’

Banaz was married first and, after meeting her 28-year-old husband just three times, moved to the West Midlands. She was 17. Her family described the older man as ‘the David Beckham of husbands’ but in fact he was violent and cruel.

She reported him many times to the police, accusing him of rape and regular beatings. ‘We spoke regularly, so I knew she was unhappy, but I was helpless,’ says Payzee. ‘Meanwhile my father told me he had found a husband for me. He was big and balding and almost twice my age.

‘I remember being in this room with him for the first time. I was told not to speak, not to make eye contact. I had to be shy, like a good girl. Then I was being taken to the shops, buying clothes and jewellery [for the wedding].

‘I was 16. All my friends were meeting up in the park, talking about fashion and music. Within a couple of weeks, we were married. I had never been away for a single night, but here I was having to pack all my things and go to live with this complete stranger.’

Banaz (pictured) was married first and, after meeting her 28-year-old husband just three times, moved to the West Midlands

Banaz (pictured) was married first and, after meeting her 28-year-old husband just three times, moved to the West Midlands

After two-and-a-half years, Banaz left her husband, angering her family. She returned to their home, and fell for Rahmat Sulemani, a family friend.

Then in January 2006, Rahmat reported Banaz missing.

‘I hadn’t heard from her for a long time but it never occurred to me that she had been murdered,’ says Payzee. ‘When my father was arrested I still couldn’t take it in. I sat in court in utter shock.’

A terrified Banaz had told police four times her life was in danger and begged for help. They did not believe her. One officer dismissed her as ‘manipulative’.

It emerged that in December 2005, she had been raped and tortured in her family’s home on her father and uncle’s orders before being strangled with a ligature.

Her body was put in a suitcase and taken to a house in Birmingham where it was buried in the garden, to be discovered by police three months later. Meanwhile, Payzee was battling to leave her marriage. ‘My husband was abusive,’ she says. ‘What happened to Banaz made me utterly determined to escape. My husband agreed, as long as I signed a paper saying I had been unfaithful, which was untrue. I found a solicitor and divorced in May 2006. My parents were bitterly opposed.’

In a single month Payzee got divorced, buried her sister and turned 18. Moving between flat shares, she began a degree course in psychology at London’s Metropolitan University but quit before completing it. She began to bury her pain in drink and drugs.

‘It was ten years of total self-destruction,’ she says. ‘I refused to talk about it. Not even my closest friends knew my story.’

It¿s largely thanks to Payzee that on April 26, 2022, the legal age limit for marriage was raised from 16 to 18

It’s largely thanks to Payzee that on April 26, 2022, the legal age limit for marriage was raised from 16 to 18

Yet, Payzee built a career in fashion, starting in sales at Alexander McQueen.

Then in 2016, ten years after Banaz’s death, Payzee finally confronted her past.

‘I was talking to my partner,’ she says. ‘And I blurted out the whole story. I thought he would leave. But he reassured me I was the victim. It wasn’t my fault. So gradually I began to tell close friends. Always, their reaction was kind.’

In 2018, Payzee was at the gym when an item came on the news. ‘A man had stabbed his wife and mother-in-law to death after his wife left him,’ she says. ‘I stood rooted to the spot. Just like my sister, this young woman knew she was in danger and had made numerous complaints to the police. Yet still she ended up horrifically murdered.

‘My sister had been dead 12 years. How could this still be happening? A blazing fire had been lit. I knew I had to do something.’

Payzee contacted the Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation (IKWRO). The charity campaigns for Iranian, Kurdish, North African and Afghan women’s rights and had been hugely supportive during Banaz’s trial. ‘I offered to do whatever I could,’ she says.

IKWRO was campaigning for a bill to outlaw all forms of child marriage, and Payzee realised she had found her cause. She became a campaigner there in 2020.

‘At first every time I spoke, it was like opening a deep wound,’ she says. ‘But I couldn’t give up. I accepted every invitation going to tell my story.’

Helping to push the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Minimum Age) Bill through the House of Commons and House of Lords was exhausting, especially after Payzee became pregnant in 2021.

‘Baroness Sugg dedicated the Bill to me, another survivor and my sister at a final debate in the House of Lords before it became law. I could have wept for joy,’ says Payzee.

‘Nothing can bring Banaz back. But so much has been done in her memory. And I will never stop campaigning for all women. Anyone can bring change. You just have to believe and never give up.’

You have until midnight on Wednesday, February 14 to nominate your inspirational woman. The five winners will attend a WOW Foundation event at Buckingham Palace in March, to celebrate International Women¿s Day

You have until midnight on Wednesday, February 14 to nominate your inspirational woman. The five winners will attend a WOW Foundation event at Buckingham Palace in March, to celebrate International Women’s Day

Nominate your inspirational woman

To make a nomination, fill in this form online, or use the form below and send it to us via email or by post, and tell us in no more than 400 words — on a separate sheet — why your candidate should win.

Visit dailymail.co.uk/inspirationalwomen2024 to enter your nomination online; email your entry to: inspirationalwomen@dailymail.co.uk, or send your nomination to: Inspirational Women Awards, c/o Femail, Daily Mail, 9 Derry St, London W8 5HY.

Closing date for entries is 23.59 on Wednesday, February 14, 2024. The editor’s decision is final.

PRIZES: Each winner will receive a crystal trophy and a £500 M&S gift voucher. There are no cash alternatives to the prizes. Full terms apply — please read before entering at dailymail.co.uk/inspirationalwomen2024.

YOUR NAME ……………………………………………..

YOUR TEL NO …………………………………………….

YOUR EMAIL ………………………………………………

YOUR NOMINEE  …………………………………………

THEIR TEL NUMBER ……………………………………

THEIR EMAIL ………………………………………………

  • For more: Elrisala website and for social networking, you can follow us on Facebook
  • Source of information and images “dailymail

Related Articles

Back to top button
Open chat
Hello
Can we help you?