News & Politics

Honour Killing 2: A hushed up but popular type of femicide

TNF publishes the second article of three about an extreme type of violence against women and girls: honour killing. Follow TNF next week for the last article on this horrific practice women fear and face in many cultures

Femicide and all sorts of abuses are imposed on women by the patriarchal system everywhere, but it can be even harsher in some societies. Last week on TNF, Iranian Mona Heydari’s story told us a very current and alarming practice: the honour killing, femicide perpetrated at a large scale supported throughout the system, from the family to the State.

As a NY Times article reported in 2020, honour killings are hushed up but have been exposed to the public more often. Reports of cases have spread around the world through the media and social media.

Back in May 2020, a reported honour killing perpetrated in Iran shocked the world. A man was sentenced to nine years in prison for beheading his daughter, a fourteen-year-old girl. Her crime: running off with her twenty-nine-year-old boyfriend. The teenager was posthumously criticised, as conservatives in Parliament blamed the young girl for promiscuity and disobeying religious laws accentuating that her murderer was fair.

Women protested in Iran in December 2021 against honour killing. Photo: Kayhan Life

In Israel, in 2007, Hamda Abu-Ghanem sought refuge in a woman-battered shelter, after multiple threats she received from her brother. Forced back home later, she filed a police complaint of assault which was met with her brother being arrested and later released on court order. Reports described Hamda as fully aware she was facing immediate danger. Her brother shot her to death when she was asleep. Her crime: she spoke to a man.

After prompt questioning from the police force, the victim’s sisters began to speak out, followed by their distraught mother. In response, the women reported having received threats for speaking out against the honour killing. NGOs that have the women in witness protection, whilst commending their bravery to speak out, have expressed concern for their lives. 

As these women’s lives remain threatened, you cannot help but wonder if the man Hamda spoke with is okay. Where an unmarried man is concerned, he could either easily seek asylum or be forgiven, explains an article published by the Academic Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies.

Illustration by Indian news outlet DNA for an article about an eleven-year-old Pakistani girl stoned to death

Couples killing

However, some men may not be so lucky.

Over a series of honour killings, Bihar, a state of India, was termed as the graveyard of young lovers as couples falling in love in secret and those who eloped were tracked down there and murdered in cold blood. Dreadfully recounted by investigative officers, one of the reports claimed the girl’s family had confessed to murdering the couple in a quest to save their honour. 

These societies dwell in more rural regions, where traditions are often left unquestioned and hidden from authorities, except for complaints that are prioritised.

As India’s government pursues to implement inter-caste marriages to promote more social harmony, the rates of the cases in return have resulted in more frequent intervals and the crimes are just as horrific. The social order incentive is unwelcomed in certain parts because certain traditions can run their course through corruption and families are indifferent to criminal consequences.

Honour suicide

Honour killings also manipulate young minds into believing their actions are sinful, pushing them to take their own life to absolve their family from legal consequences. Those are honour suicides. Femicides could not get any worse.

“I loved my father so much, I was ready to commit suicide for him even though I hadn’t done anything wrong”, eighteen-year-old Elif from Turkey told to the newspaper Independent, in 2009. “But I just couldn’t go through with it. I love life too much.”

Choosing her education over a marriage proposal to a much older stranger, Elif committed an act of disobedience and deemed a crime punishable by death. The crime: dishonour. 

Manoeuvring their way around the law, the crime sentences are relatively reduced as criminals can claim acts of provocation and suffer a lesser impactful legal sentence. Appalling as it seems, these societies are pushing hard against the legal system with a willingness to suffer a shorter term, which should allow them to go free and persevere in cultural inhumane acts. 

The hierarchical system materialises further as accounts of the family council play judicial, counting breaches and valuing the breaches against sizable punishments. Where honour suicides are not instated, a killer is elected.

In the state of Batman, Turkey, chief prosecutor Mustafa Peker, provided some insight to the Independent regarding honour-related crimes. “I think most of these suicide cases are forced. There are just too many of them, but they are almost impossible to investigate.” Peker further stated that women are provided three options of honour suicide consisting of noose, gun, or rat poison and are locked in a room until it is completed.

Severely devalued by their own family, and with no path to a refuge, the silver lining to escaping socially-induced torture may just be death. 

Honour the men in your family

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) defines femicide as a gender-related homicide that specifically targets women. Femicide cases typically revolve around misogynistic intention, honour killings and intimate partner violence, including previous sexual, emotional and physical violence.

Artwork by Iranian artist Mostafa Heravi. Photo: Instagram/Mostafa Heravi

An article published by the Indian Journal of Women and Social Change in 2020 highlights that honour killing is the most popular type of femicide. It is a form of a global epidemic that has plagued women for centuries conforming them to a socially-acceptable behaviour that disobedience is punishable by violence and likely fatality.

Within the culture encouraging honour killing, there is an idea of a good woman who shall traditionally be deemed suitable to society. Their role includes discouraging any form of sexual expression and observing modesty norms. Any counter on the woman’s part is null. Independent desires are a cause of sin, except for her husband’s needs. If she disagrees and fights back, it is regarded as dishonourable behaviour, thus violence becomes the social mechanism to keep her under control. 

For instance, if a woman or girl is caught alone with the opposite sex, she could likely be paying it with her life. Comparatively, men are often compensated in cash or land for the supposed illicit behaviour of women. Given their more reputable standing, men may also have better access to a haven than their dishonourable gender counterparts. 

Whereas men execute the violence, women within societies also participate in the misplaced glorification of honour. The elderly women associate themselves as agents to uphold the family honour.

Better than to be shamed for a daughter rebelling against customs, they preserve their honourable status through encouraging supervision of women’s behaviour and public shame, and even going as far as assisting honour killings. 

Murderous families

It is a hunt for their lives, to eradicate the stain of sin that somewhat besmirches the honour code when women take the stand for what they want. Beaten down into a series of codes of conduct meant to shackle them into values deemed only worthy by patriarchal leaders.

The spread of this ongoing terror has concealed inside the family home an understanding of honour shared amongst these communities and where countries in the West are less aware of the realities of honour severity. 

Many of these women escape abusive environments only to run straight into a different wavelength of poverty, absent of their family support and frightened for their lives. Yet they will take being ex-communicated from the family than being forced to go back to their respective families. There is no surviving the trip home or taking back what had been done.

So women fight back harder, pushing back against the blatant lies in an attempt to coerce them back home or remain submissive to the life of a loveless, abusive marriage. Many have had to face difficult mediation between their families and themselves under the watchful eye of the shelters protecting them.

Knife scarring, bullet shots, acid hurling and countless beatings make up for a reminder of harsher consequences if even for a minute, they are allowed a second chance or worse conjure a belief that perhaps they were wrong for escaping the system. 

* The featured image shows honour killing victims from around the world on the memorial page of Karma Nirvana, a U.K. charity helping victims of honour-based violence and their families. Source: Newsweek

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