Do you know an amazing woman—an activist, entrepreneur, teacher, or healthcare worker who goes above and beyond—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 chosen as winners. Find all the details at dailymail.co.uk/inspiringwomen2024
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 that strangers thought they were twins. They exchanged clothes and makeup. They straightened their hair and shared dreams for the future. Payzee retains these moments because she has another horrible memory: seeing her sister’s body in a hospital morgue.
Payzee Mahmod, 32, campaigns to ban honor abuse after sister’s death
“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 that she was dead.
Banaz, who was 20, had been murdered on her family’s orders in a so-called “honour killing” after leaving her husband and starting a new relationship. Her new partner, Rahmat Sulemani, was so devastated that he later took his own life.
The horrific case led to the imprisonment of Payzee’s father, uncle and others.
The image of her older sister’s body has haunted Payzee ever since. But she has also pushed this extraordinary young woman to do something extraordinary.
Payzee has spent the last six years campaigning to ban child marriages and other “honour”-based abuses, using her own story.
Largely thanks to her, on April 26, 2022, the legal age limit for marriage was raised from 16 to 18 years. People under 18 cannot now be married and no children can be taken into or out of the UK for marriage. .
But Payzee’s campaign is not over. She wants all marriages to be officially registered so that women from immigrant communities also have access to divorce courts. “If their marriage is just a religious ceremony, they are not legally married, so they have fewer rights in the event of a divorce,” explains Payzee, who lives in London with her husband and her two-year-old son.
Speaking about the changes in the law, she adds: ‘I am more than proud. And my sister has played a big role in this. What she suffered began with a child marriage.
Banaz (pictured), 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 and arrived in London with Payzee, then 11, Banaz, their three other daughters and a son.
The girls had already undergone female genital mutilation, an abusive practice widespread abroad but illegal in the UK.
When Payzee was 15, her older sister, Bekhal, ran away from home in Mitcham, Surrey, and spent time in foster care.
“It was seen as embarrassing to the family,” Payzee says. “So Banaz and I were used to getting ‘respect’ back, and that meant getting married quickly.”
Banaz married first and, after meeting her 28-year-old husband just three times, moved to the West Midlands. She was 17 years old. Her family described the older man as “the David Beckham of husbands,” but in reality he was violent and cruel.
She reported him to the police many times, accusing him of rape and regular beatings. “We talked regularly, so I knew she wasn’t happy, but I was helpless,” Payzee says. ‘Meanwhile, my father told me that he had found me a husband. He was big, he was balding and he was almost twice my age.
‘I remember being in this room with him for the first time. They told me not to talk, not to make eye contact. She had to be shy, like a good girl. Then they took me to the stores, to buy clothes and jewelry (for the wedding).
‘Was 16 years old. All my friends would meet in the park and talk about fashion and music. After a couple of weeks we got married. I’d never been away a single night, but here I was having to pack up all my things and move in with this complete stranger.’
Banaz (pictured) 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 her home and fell in love with Rahmat Sulemani, a friend of her family.
Then, in January 2006, Rahmat reported Banaz missing.
“I hadn’t heard from her in a long time, but it never occurred to me that she had been murdered,” Payzee says. “When my father was arrested, it still couldn’t sink in. I sat in court in a state of complete shock.”
Terrified, Banaz had told police four times that her life was in danger and had called for help. She didn’t believe him. One officer called her “manipulative.”
It emerged that in December 2005 she had been raped and tortured in her family home on the orders of her father and uncle before being strangled with a ligature.
His body was stuffed into a suitcase and taken to a house in Birmingham where he was buried in the garden, only to be discovered by police three months later. Meanwhile, Payzee struggled to leave her marriage. “My husband was abusive,” she says. ‘What happened to Banaz made me absolutely determined to escape. My husband agreed, as long as I signed a paper saying that he had been unfaithful, which was not true. I found a lawyer and got divorced in May 2006. My parents were adamantly opposed.
In a single month, Payzee was divorced, buried her sister, and turned 18. Moving between shared flats, she began a psychology degree at London Metropolitan University, but dropped out before completing it. She began to bury her pain in drink and drugs.
“It was ten years of total self-destruction,” he says. ‘I refused to talk about it. Not even my closest friends knew my story.’
Largely thanks to Payzee, on April 26, 2022, the legal age of marriage was raised from 16 to 18.
However, Payzee built a career in fashion, starting in sales at Alexander McQueen.
Then in 2016, ten years after Banaz’s death, Payzee finally faced her past.
“I was talking to my partner,” he says. And I told him the whole story. I thought she would leave. But he assured me that I was the victim. It was not my fault. So little by little I started telling my closest friends. His reaction was always kind.”
In 2018, Payzee was at the gym when something appeared on the news. “A man had stabbed his wife and his mother-in-law to death after his wife left him,” he says. “I was rooted to the spot. Like my sister, this young woman knew she was in danger and she had filed numerous reports with the police. Still, she ended up horribly murdered.
‘My sister had been dead for 12 years. How is it possible that this keeps happening? A burning fire had been lit. She knew she had to do something.’
Payzee contacted the Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organization (IKWRO). The charity campaigns for the rights of Iranian, Kurdish, North African and Afghan women and provided extensive support during Banaz’s trial. “I offered to do whatever I could,” she says.
IKWRO was campaigning for a bill to ban all forms of child marriage and Payzee realized she had found her cause. She became an activist there in 2020.
“At first, every time I spoke it was like opening a deep wound,” he says. But I couldn’t give up. I accepted all invitations 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 in a final debate in the House of Lords before it became law. She could have cried with joy,” Payzee says.
‘Nothing can bring Banaz back. But much has been done in his 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.
Nominate your inspiring woman
To make a nomination, complete this online form or use the form below and email or post it to us, telling us in no more than 400 words, on a separate sheet of paper, 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.
The deadline for registrations is Wednesday, February 14, 2024 at 11:59 p.m. The editor’s decision is final.
AWARDS: Each winner will receive a crystal trophy and an M&S gift voucher worth £500. There are no cash alternatives to prizes. Full terms apply; Please read before entering dailymail.co.uk/inspirationalwomen2024.
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