Photographer : Shahram Sharif @ flickr
What are they?
The term ‘Honour killings’ generally refers to the act of murder, attempted murder or violence toward a woman by a male relative on the basis of personal or family honour. Honour is threatened when a woman engages in, or is suspected of engaging in, an immoral act. The reality, however, is a lot broader.
First of all, it is not only men who engage in honour killing. Whilst husbands, fathers and brothers are normally the perpetrators, female family members are often involved in the planning and set-up. In some cases, tribal councils, or ‘jirgas’ give the order for men to engage in specific honour killings.
Secondly, the notion of ‘immoral’ is defined as any perceived form of shame to a man or family. This shame can come in various actual or suspected forms, including: adultery, rape, flirting, being seen with a man (unchaperoned), marrying or expressing interest in marrying one’s own choice, attempting to or obtaining a divorce.
‘Honour Killings’ is the name given to the practice when it occurs within an Islamic context. This does not mean that the phenomenon is limited to Islamic society, as the practice exists in other cultures and countries, such as India and Latin America, and is known by other names such as bride burnings and dowry deaths. It is worth noting that Honour Killings are not a ‘religious’ practice but are a cultural phenomenon.
Who is being killed for honour?
Honour killings occur in both private and public settings, with public acts often either ignored by passers-by or even spurred on by group approval. Many public killings are the result of the decisions of tribal councils ordering retribution in this manner. Whilst women represent the majority of victims, men associated with women in acts of immorality sometimes receive the same punishment. Whilst serious, this is less common as men are sometimes given the opportunity to compensate and, as the woman is traditionally killed first, they have more of a chance to flee.
It is unclear how many people are victims of honour killings with some reports, such as from Amnesty, saying hundreds, and others, such as the National Geographic and UN, reporting in the thousands. Whilst it is acknowledged that there is a critical lack of statistics on honour killings, there is consensus that the real figure is far greater than what is recorded. This is because families and authorities collectively act to cover up incidents, referring to deaths and abuse as suicides or accidents.
Honour killings are a global issue, with violence and killing in the name of honour being recorded in Afghanistan, Argentina, Bangladesh, Britain, Brazil, Denmark, Ecuador, Egypt, Germany, Guatemala, Holland, India, Iraq, Iran, Israel, Italy, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Pakistan, Palestine, Peru, Sweden, Syria, Turkey, Uganda, Venezuela and the West Bank. Despite this, the majority of honour killings occur in the Middle East, in Muslim settings. It is important to note that Islamic law and religion do not support the practice. The practice in fact has tribal roots which precede Islam and can be traced back to the Hammurabi and Assyrian tribes of 1200 B.C. It stems from a belief that women, like livestock and land, are the property of men, and that it is a man’s role to ensure a stable family structure. A woman’s virginal status is seen as both the property and responsibility of the man.
Why in the name of honour?
In some Islamic communities, the structure and status of the family are paramount to the condition of the society. Family status is directly linked to family honour, and family honour is directly linked to the female’s perceived moral integrity. This is a deep-rooted, long-standing aspect of the belief system amongst some Islamic communities.
Why aren’t women protected?
Whilst honour killings violate various rights outlined by the Declaration of Human Rights, legal systems in the countries where most honour killings occur allow for the practice to continue with no or minimal repercussions. These countries include Jordan, West Bank and Palestine. Other areas where the law makes some form of allowance are Argentina, Brazil, Bangladesh, Ecuador, Egypt, Guatemala, Iran, Israel, Lebanon, Morocco, Peru, Syria, Turkey and Venezuela.
Whilst some countries make allowances for men who have killed close female relatives in the name of honour, others prescribe lighter sentences for such an act, with average sentences ranging from three months to a year. Many families avoid longer sentences by giving the task of murder to under-age men. Patriarchal legal structures make things hard for women who want to prosecute. For example, in Palestine, a woman’s case for rape is valid only if she is accompanied by an immediate male family member.
This is not to say that there is consensus about the practice in these countries. For example, King Abdullah II of Jordan has supported legislation that will outlaw honour killings. In taking this stance, he has inspired others who oppose honour killings to become stronger in their convictions.
Whilst women at risk could seek asylum in another country, a lack of education about the process, limited access to relevant authorities, lack of financial independence to do so and corruption within police systems all contribute to making escape difficult. In some instances, women who try to escape are found and killed.
How do I know this?
Amnesty International 1999, Pakistan honour killings of girls and women, http://web.amnesty.org/library/Index/engASA330181999
Jones, A 2002, 'Case Study:"honour" killings and blood feuds', Gendercide Watch, http://www.gendercide.org/case_honour.html'
Kurdish Women Action Against Honour Killing, http://www.kwahk.org
Mayell, H 2002, 'Thousands of women killed for family 'honor'', National Geographic, 12 February, http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2002/02/02...
Nebehay 2000, 'Honor killings of Women said on rise worldwide', Reuters dispatch, April 7
Wikipedia Free Encyclopedia,, Honor killing, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Honor_killing#Honor_k...