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Honour Killing 3: Legal system and police play key roles

TNF publishes the last article of a series of three about an extreme type of violence against women and girls: honour killing. See below the links to the previous articles on this horrific practice women fear and face in many cultures.

Mona Heydari, Saba Qaiser, Sarbjit Kaur Athwal, Romina Ashrafi, Shafilea Ahmed, Banaz Mahmod and many more victims faced the horrific honour-based violence that led to their demise.

An Honour Based Violence Awareness Network (HBVA) report estimates approximately five-thousands honour killings per year around the world. However, the organisation speculates that the data collected may not represent a genuine reflection of the actual number of this type of femicide. There are inconsistent reporting and incorporation with the authorities.

There is a lack of trust in the state as police are either less equipped or unwilling to address gender-based violence in the communities, as many cases have reported bribery which contributes to honour crimes.

Each victim faces multifaceted schemes of honour killings subjected to patriarchal concerns to tightly control the female autonomy and women’s behavioural inputs within society.

Back in 2021, in India, Neelu, a forty-year-old nurse was stabbed multiple to death on the street by her husband. He assumed that she was having an affair at the workplace. CCTV cameras caught the crime and many who wanted to stop him were terrified as he warned them, that if they dared step any closer, they were next.

Silence and other complicities

Silence plays a deadly role within the communities as it creates a barrier towards testifying against honour crimes, and women may end up internalising the honour code, which results in guilt rather than exposing the issue.

Legal systems also move slowly and inefficiently. In Jordan, for example, “whoever commits a crime in a fit of fury which is the result of an unjustifiable and dangerous act committed by the victim, benefits from a mitigating excuse.” The loopholes present in it give perpetrators the slight advantage to reduce their sentence.

In that country, it was claimed that battered victims at risk of honour killings would be placed in protective custody which usually emulates a prison-like environment. The victims may end up spending years in custody as their cases are less prioritised, thus they are actually incarcerated without charge, for years even.

Jordanian women protest outside the parliament in 2020. Photo: Melissa Pawson/Al-Monitor

However, the fight against honour crimes moves forward when governments and civic groups step up. The legal system and the police have also played major key roles in advancing the process of honour killings, as demonstrated within the multiple stories of the victims.

In early 2009, a Turkish court had sentenced a family to life imprisonment and sixteen years imprisonment to an extended family member who failed to report the honour crime. This verdict served as precedence for future honour crimes and consequences to be met.

Underfunded and understaffed NGOs

Whilst NGOs can provide viable assistance to the victims, they tend to be severely underfunded and understaffed. Therefore, there is a struggle to maintain effective services to protect and support women towards re-building a new life.

Many of the victims’ families play a part in the pressures placed on NGOs that help and protect women threatened. This happens through multiple attempts at guilt-tripping and hurling insults of dishonour, whilst desperately making empty promises, only to ensure their families may clear the stain off their reputation. It is an eventual dead-end. Yet there is always a light shimmer of hope for the victims.

There is only so much these NGOs could do to protect the victims. When the papers have been signed and a consensus to return to the family is made, it is legally out of their hands.

According to IranWire, Sun House, a prominent NGO was forced to shut down after years of providing asylum to battered women. The founder, Arshad, provided a statement to the media stating that “the restrictions on us increased day by day.” The difficult decision to close their doors was accompanied by unnamed authorities urging her to merely forget the women, saying as Arshad quotes, “they’re going to die anyway.”

Ultimate dishonour

When Disney released Mulan, we caught a glimpse of the unanimous understanding of what it means for a woman to dishonour her family. As kids, obviously, we laughed at Mushu’s psycho outburst when Mulan rightfully slapped him for behaving inappropriately. Yet perhaps that particular scene had a point if we were to learn about the current realities girls and women face at the gross definition of men’s honour.

“Dishonour on your whole family! Dishonour on you! Dishonour on your cow!”, Mulan film (1998)

Mushu’s outburst serves to hint at the patriarchal system’s quick judgment and enforcement of shame on a woman if she were to act out against harsh circumstances. 

Nonetheless, Mushu’s character would be the least of our worries when the emperor’s advisor lashed out at Mulan claiming: “ultimate dishonour”.

Following the sequence of scenes, it brought to light just how fatal the punishment for acting beyond the systematic boundaries of womanhood was placed by men and carried out as traditions.

As far as the animation goes, Mulan stood out as a fictional representation of a woman once shackled, but broke the norms out of sheer bravery and forging her own destiny. It gives a great lesson for girls to stand up for themselves or no one else would.

Mona Heydari ran. Banaz Mahmod begged the police. However, they were held back, just as many other women from various extremist backgrounds particularly tight-rooted to dysfunctional traditions of violence against women. They tried to forge new beginnings but were brutally robbed of potential. Men or their families snatched that away. They trusted the patriarchy only to be met with yet another violent end.

Women have shown their rage to push against barbaric femicide despite the terrible odds they face, whether or not the legal system is on their side. With multiple reforms being instated to promote women’s rights, governments continue to fail.

BEFORE YOU GO...Have you read: Women’s charity founder: “Return of Taliban will leave women vulnerable to traffickers"
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