Who is Payzee?
I am an activist and campaigner. I am also an IKWRO ambassador. I also work in the fashion industry. I was born in Iraq, grew up in Iran and have lived in London since the late 90s. My own journey of being married at 16 then fighting for a divorce and losing my dear sister Banaz, has encouraged me to fight for her, myself and many other women. I would describe myself as an extrovert introvert, I love to socialise but I am a loner at heart.
What is your current job role?
I currently spend the majority of my time campaigning, raising awareness and petitioning to ban Child Marriage in England and Wales. I also work for Luxury Designer in Retail, Buying and Visual Merchandising. My role is mostly based in our flagship store in London, as an Assistant Manager. I am quite lucky in the sense of all the other things I get to do, I take part in the buying process for the store, online and contribute to feedback to the Designer directly. It’s an amazing opportunity and I feel very blessed to watch the designer work and learn from him.
What are your hobbies?
I love to travel. I have travelled a lot on my own since I left my family home and started to discover the beautiful places the world is made up of. I love reading, I have always had an interest in Psychology. Fashion and art intrigue me every day, I just can’t ever get bored with those two, there is always something to learn and see. I have taken a big interest in keeping active in the last few years, I really enjoy going to the gym and biking. I am a family person, but I have my limits, I love to be alone so I try to limit family time (and usually fail). Music and food are very close to my heart.
You love fashion and design your clothes, how did that come about?
My earliest memory’s of clothing and fashion comes from growing up in Ira and having a big family (4 sisters, 1 brother) I always had hand me downs. I hated it, I would dream of the clothes I wanted to buy when I was older. I would always tell my mum I wanted a red pair of high heels when I am older, she would laugh and promise me them. My mum was very very creative, she would make our clothes on her Singer sewing machine, I would watch her in awe, she learnt from her mother and just got better and better as time went on. I am also self-taught and have a Singer just like her. Growing up in the 90s fashion was just breathtaking, I am so happy to have grown up in that era. I also adore Kurdish clothing, the colours, the shapes and layering. So I think my love for fashion comes from my mother’s creativity and the surroundings I grew up around.
You also had the opportunity to work with Mcq by Alexander Mcqueen how did that happen?
Yes, I was actually attending a London Fashion Week event at their store, when I ran into an old friend who was working there. I was shocked. I had always been a fan of Alexander McQueen and I couldn’t believe someone I knew was so close to the brand. My friend then offered me an interview awhile after, again I was shocked. I went through a pretty lengthy interview process with Kering and actually got the job! It was an amazing experience and I am so glad I took the opportunity. I learnt a lot and I am very proud to have that in my work experience.
Who is your role model?
I have a few lol, my late sister Banaz is my first role model. She was nothing short of amazing, inspiring and simply the most wonderful woman I have ever encountered, she left me with so much to look up to. My mother is also my role model, she is superwoman, she has been through hell and back and she is still trying, she is not perfect but I know she tries.
My creative role models are Fridah Kahlo and Alexander McQueen. Both of their journeys I really resonate with, there was a struggle, there was a pain but essentially, they just wanted to create. Their upbringing and surroundings gave them masses of trauma, yet they thrived in their creativity and pushed on, it’s what kept them alive for the time they were still with us.
I have a lot of respect for both because of their struggles, and achievements.
What is your favourite book and song?
My favourite book is ‘Shame’ by Jasvinder Sanghera. It was the first book I read after I lost my sister. It made me feel like someone else understood what I was going through. It gave me a sense of where I was in my life. I till have my book and I have read it 5 times. I also do a lot of work with Karama Nirvana, I never in a million years thought I would meet Jasvinder let alone join her on this empowering journey.
My two favourite songs are ‘We Belong Together’ by Mariah Carey and ‘Amoza Gyan’ by a Kurdish singer Shahen Talabani. Both of these songs my sister Banaz would blast in the home when we would clean, she loved them. They remind me of her and make me smile.
You are Banaz Mahmood’s sister. Can you tell me about her? What was she like?
Banaz and I only had about 16 months age difference, we were very close. She was quiet but very sweet. She really loved spending time with her family. She wasn’t someone who had a lot of friends, she liked to keep a close circle but no matter where we went she would always talk to people and leave an impression on them. She really enjoyed the life she began to discover in the UK as a child. She had a lot of appreciation for her Kurdish culture, she loved the food, the music and also the traditional clothing, she loved dressing up. She was very selfless, she would always put others before her, she really loved to see those around her happy, she was a simple girl, just happy go lucky.
What do you remember about that fateful day?
It will never leave my thoughts, my worst nightmare is that day. My life changed in a way I will never be able to understand. The first thing I recall about the day I realised Banaz was missing was the number of police officers, I had never seen so many police officers at once. I had a feeling in my stomach I can’t put into words, my heart was hurting. I didn’t know pain like this could be experienced. That is until, the next thing that killed me inside, even more, the day Banaz was found, dead. Up until that point I was trying to tell myself all sorts of stories to give myself hope, I would imagine reuniting with Banaz, I would try and picture her in someplace, safe and sound. These images were all shattered that day. I gave up, I lost hope, I felt lost and confused, how could this happen to my sister? A question I ask myself every day. I try desperately to continue living but not a single day the feeling of guilt leaves me, I feel guilty for living, I feel guilty Banaz is not here and I am.
What did you think of the documentary that was made? Banaz- A Love Story? This for always sticks with every time I have watched it.
I think any work which is being done to remember the victims of HBA is very important. We can’t forget the victims. I feel sad that there was no contribution from my family, or even myself, but at the time I was not in a mental place to have been able to do that. I think it was a great documentary to highlight HBA and of course pay tribute to my sister Banaz. There is a lot to learn and I am grateful the documentary tried to teach and raise awareness on HBA.
Payzee, what made you decide to tell people what happened that night to your sister and the world? It was such a courageous thing to do. Also so scary.
It has been 13 years since I lost my sister in such a tragic way. She had done nothing wrong, she was just a young woman in love with a young man. She deserved to be happy and that was taken away from her. This is happening to many women around the world every day. I can’t go on any longer and not do something to help. Since having used my voice and tell mine and my sister’s story it has become evident to me that there is so much to be done, I need to do more, I need to speak for those who don’t have a voice. I was once one of those girls, and now I am not. I want to use the strength Banaz has left me with to educate others about HBA, change things and help.
You also stated on Twitter, “How do you cope with the grief that has no beginning or ending?” That for me hit home how hard this must be for you. Tell me more about what you meant.
What I mean by that statement is, how can I begin to live when I feel I never had the chance to, I feel like I have been going through my life mostly dead inside. The pain, the grief and the trauma will never leave me. I had a tough childhood, growing up in poverty, with no education. Coming to the UK was supposed to be the start to a new life for me and my family, instead, life became a series of tragic events. I have lost complete contact with a sister of mine, Bekhal. My sister was so brutally murdered, I watched my own father get sentenced for life for my sister’s death, I had an arranged marriage at 16, I suffered physical and mental abuse. There is no beginning or end to the grief that I have seen in my life, and the grief of those tragic events cannot leave me. I have to learn to live with it. Some days are easier than others, but ultimately it is a life full of tragedies. None which I could have had any say in, I try not to look at things from a victim standpoint, I try to see that I went through those things and came out stronger. But what is strength? Is it waking up every day and getting on with life because you have to?
You were married at 16 to a man who was 28 years old. This is child marriage. Tell me how this happened?
Yes, I had an arranged marriage just as I finished school. My parents had been approached by a Kurdish man who wanted to marry me. My parents asked me about it, I had no idea what marriage entailed, I was put in a position to say yes to something I had no idea about. The whole thing happened so quickly, I still cannot truly believe it. It was horrible being married, my husband was a very traditional man, he hated everything about me, he kept trying to change me. He would make me feel small, stupid and controlled throughout our marriage. He would control everything I did, what I wore, who I was friends with etc
You fell pregnant when you were married and decided to have an abortion. You stated this was the right decision for you. Again, such a bold and strong thing to do. But I think people forget you were only a child yourself. Tell me about this experience.
It was a horrible experience, I didn’t choose to even have him as a sexual partner. I was so young and I had no idea what was happening. I had no idea I was even pregnant, my mum saw the signs before I realised, I was throwing up every morning and didn’t actually make sense of it all, my body had changed so much. I was living in a daze, I think I chose not to take note of anything happening around me, almost like I died inside.
One thing I did know is that I don’t want to be with him forever and I did not want to bring a child into this world from that sort of person, a person who hurt me physically and mentally. I was only 16 but I knew how wrong that would be. My whole family was against me for making that decision, it was so hard, I was all alone. But I knew deep down I was doing the right thing, I was made to feel guilty for committing a ‘sin’ and I lived with that for many years. I still do. I was really just a child who shouldn’t have had to make that decision and should have had the support system I needed.
You are fighting against child marriages now. Why do you believe this is so important? Do you think its culture expectation for young girls to be married so young?
I think having gone through the devastating experience of child marriage, I feel like it’s only right to help others who are at risk of it or going through it. It has left me with life long scars, I wish I had someone to tell me I did not have to go through it and that I had a choice, it is sad to know the law allowed it too, which is another reason I am so keen to fight for this change, this law is outdated and we need to protect children against this abuse, it is abuse even though a lot of people don’t see it this way, essentially it is a child who is being abused.
I think when these things happen people always try to navigate around their wrongdoings by blaming culture or various other things, however, I think the bottom line is that it’s wrong. This is about choice and opportunities and we have to want that for our young people, one of those choices is marriage.
When you have a stressful day what do you do for fun?
I go to the gym to let off some steam, or I write my thoughts down. During my very bad depression states, I would drink and smoke a lot, to numb my pain, this was a long time before I was able to recognise the depression and anxiety I had, now I am more in tune with myself and able to understand and recognise I am healing. I also love going for a long walk and just walking off my stress, having a chat with myself to organise my thoughts. I have found in the past avoiding facing my sadness only makes me feel worse, now I don’t stop myself crying, if I want to cry I just cry, let it out and take some breaths and play some music which makes me feel better.
What is next for Payzee?
I want to make a change. I really want to do as much as I can to help raise awareness of HBV. I want to use my own experience to help others. I went through my experience and I am still here, I don’t want to ever forget my sister, I want to celebrate her forever and ensure people learn from what happened to her. There were so many mistakes made and I want to make sure this doesn’t happen to others, my sister’s death should have been the last of it’s kind, but sadly it is still happening. I want to be part of the change that says ‘no more’.