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    Honour Killings

    Text: Solveig Hansen

    They brought dishonour to their families and had to die. Why? Because they refused to accept an arranged marriage, they wanted to choose their own partners and started dating young men, or they were raped. Every year, thousands of innocent women are killed. In this article, Canadian-based Dr. Khalid Sohail looks at some of the reasons behind this abominable practice. Dr. Sohail is the IFLAC Peace Ambassador for India and Pakistan.

    Honour Killings of Women

    By Khalid Sohail

    There are killings and there are honour killings.

    There are killings by your rival tribes and there are killings by your family members.

    There are murders by your enemies and there are murders by your relatives.

    There are murders by people who hate you and there are murders by people who supposedly love you.

    Honour killings are one of the most psychologically complex, sociologically complicated, morally distressing and legally challenging violent crimes against humanity. Such crimes have been happening throughout history all over the world in many communities, countries and cultures. In honour killings victims are mostly women and murderers are mostly men—whether fathers, brothers, husbands or sons.

    The term “honour killing” was introduced by a Dutch scholar from Turkish background in 1978 to separate such killings from other kinds of killing in the families and communities.

    Human Rights Watch states, “Honor killings are acts of vengeance, usually death, committed by male family members against female family members, who are held to have brought dishonour upon the family.”

    One of the important factors to understand the dynamics of honour killings is to focus on the reasons families give to justify killing their beloved daughters. When I reviewed their stories I came up with five main reasons.

    The first reason given by the families was that girls did not accept arranged marriages. Families wanted to decide the future of their daughters and when daughters challenged their decision and refused to follow their dictates, family members felt insulted and humiliated and killed their daughters.

    The second reason presented was that young women had started dating young men and wanted to choose their own partners. Such an act was perceived as rebellion from family traditions. They wanted their daughters to break up their romantic relationships and agree to forced marriages and when they did not, they were murdered.

    The third reason of killing was that the woman was raped. Rather than being sympathetic to the victim the families felt humiliated. The situation got worse when the woman became pregnant. Many single mothers were so scared of their families that they abandoned their children born outside the wedlock. One such child was left outside the mosque and when people came out of the mosque in Pakistan, they stoned the child to death, considering the innocent child, a product of sin.

    The fourth reason offered by the families was that their daughter wanted to leave her husband. Even when the husband was abusive and violent, families did not want their daughter to get divorce and when she insisted she was killed.

    The fifth reason given by a maulana, a cleric in Saudi Arabia was that the woman was chatting with a stranger on Facebook. That was considered good enough reason to kill her. The maulana accused Facebook for destroying the moral fabric of society.

    In all these cases women were not allowed to talk, meet or date men. Their life and relationships with men were controlled by their families and every step towards independence was perceived as a threat to family honour. Women were pressured and intimidated to become obedient and passive and were expected to surrender their will. In these families independent minds and personalities of women were never encouraged, cherished and supported. How sad!

    The number of honour killings has been increasing rather than decreasing in many parts of the world. Every year thousands of innocent women are killed all over the world. Only in Pakistan 675 women were killed in honour killings in the first 9 months of 2011. Many tribal traditions, for example karo-kari in Sindh maintain such violent practices. It is tragic that many police officers, judges and politicians are more sympathetic to the murderers than the victims and support them on the name of family honour and tribal tradition. In 2008, Israr-ullah Zehri, a Pakistani politician of Balochistan defended honour killings of 5 women belonging to Umrani tribe. He had the audacity to say in the parliament, “These are centuries-old traditions and I will continue to defend them. Only those who indulge in immoral acts should be afraid.”

    Honour killings are not restricted to Pakistan. They take place in India, in the Middle East, in Latin America, in Europe and in North America. We have seen a number of such cases in Canada in the last few years.

    Honour killings are not a recent phenomenon. They have been happening for centuries all over the world. In the history books we find such cases in 1200 BC in Hamarabi and Assyrian tribes. In those tribes women’s chastity was considered the property of families. In Ancient Babylonian, Egypt, Chinese, North American Native American tribes and Persian cultures women committing adultery were punished.

    Roman law Pater familias gave complete control to the men of the family for both their children and their wives.

    It is quite disturbing to read that such killings were rationalized and justified. In Ancient Rome, being raped was so dishonourable that the elders of the tribe believed that it would be so detrimental to woman’s life and reputation that killing her was considered to be a “merciful act.”

    Over the centuries we have seen a number of changes in people’s attitudes. When Joseph Campbell, an America philosopher, an authority on world mythology, was asked in a CBC interview what was the biggest change in the relationships between men and women, he stated that we have evolved from tribido to libido. Rather than tribe deciding the romantic relationships, the young people decide it for themselves, by falling in love. But we see that more in the Western world. In the East we still see the tradition of arranged marriages and families and tribes deciding the future of their daughters.

    Alongside cultural changes there are also changes in the law reflecting changes in social attitudes. In Pakistan 2 new laws have been introduced. The first law is to stiffen the penalty for acid attacks and the second law is to criminalize marrying off young girls to settle tribal disputes.

    After the tragic honour killings in Canada the citizenship papers have included honour killings to warn newcomers. It states, “Canada’s openness and generosity do not extend to barbaric cultural practices that tolerate spousal abuse, ‘honour killings’, female genital mutilation, forced marriage or other gender based violence.”

    Alongside social, cultural and legal changes there is a genuine attempt to educate young boys and girls to respect each other. We need to sensitize teenagers to develop mutually respectful and friendly relationships with each other.

    In my family I would like to teach the following seven lessons to our children and grandchildren.

    1. Women themselves, not families and tribes, own their bodies.
    2. Men have no right to control women’s sexuality.
    3. A loving relationship between two consenting adults needs to be respected not judged and not punished by their families and communities.
    4. Violence against women is a crime against humanity.
    5. Killing a woman is a dishonourable and not an honourable act.
    6. Teachers need to teach boys to respect girls in their schools.
    7. Fathers need to respect mothers in the families to become good role models for their sons. My friend Saeed Anjum used to say, “If you want your son to become a prince, you need to treat his mother like a queen. If you treat her like a slave, he will never become a prince.”


    14 Comments on “Honour Killings”

    1. adaaharoni06 says:

      This article by Dr. Sohail Khalid condemning Honor Killings of Women and girls, by fathers and brothers is a very actual and important one. In one family alone, in Kfar Kassem 9 women were recently victims of Honor Killings, and brutally murdered by male family members for having what they called “dishonored” the family. THESE HONOR KILLINGS MUST BE OUTLAWED IN ALL OUR GLOBAL VILLAGE!
      Prof. Ada Aharoni


      • Anonymous says:

        I fully agree with you Ada. Thank you for your support and generosity of spirit…sohail


      • Anonymous says:

        Clearly, wisely and rightly put. It is the men who kill them that are being immoral. Once women are allowed to open their wings and fly, especially with education they can help make a better, safer, more human world.


        • dr sohail says:

          You are right. Women need all the support they can get from their friends, families and communities to become financially, emotionally, socially and creatively independent to be the masters of their destiny. thank you for your insightful and inspiring comments. sohail


    2. Noah says:

      this is on going problem in the Middle east and most of Muslim society, it is unfortunate sad, old tradition still rule and alive in the 21 century, it will take a lots of effort and education, hard work to change those people who commit such crimes , which should start in the school from day one. till we succeed in building secular free democratic society.


      • dr k sohail says:

        dear noah…I agree with you that teaching children at home and school in early childhood to respect each other and resolve conflicts peacefully is a wonderful idea. peaceful parents and teachers can become wonderful role models. thanks for your wise comments…sohail


    3. York Lumsey says:

      None of this will ever change as long as fundamentalist religions and similarly neurosis-inducing practices continue. People continue to kill, maim and disfigure each other in the name of one deity or another, each one believing completely that THEIRS is the “one true religion”…. obviously a logical and empirical impossibility.
      Only when a religious practitioner of any faith can look out and understand that everyone ELSE believes as strongly as THEY do that they also have one eternal truth, they will see that fallacy, or outright lie, they have been inculcated with.


      • dr sohail says:

        Dear York, I once wrote that there are as many truths as human beings and as many realities as pairs of eyes in this world. We need to respect other people’s philosophy if we want them to respect our philosophy. Having a peaceful dialogue to resolve conflicts is one of the hardest things to learn. I deal with that issue everyday in my clinic dealing with marital and family conflicts. Thanks you for your thoughtful comments.


        • adaaharoni06 says:

          Dear Sohail,
          In addition to the list you give in your excellent article on Honor Killings, enumerating the reasons why women are killed by their male family members, you can now add a
          new reason – studies.
          The 9th woman who was killed in the same family, last month in Kfar Kassem, was MURDERED because she continued her studies as she wanted to have a second degree in Social work. She was a devoted wife and mother of three children, yet some of the males in her family considered it blasphemy for a woman and mother to continue her studies and she was brutally murdered when she ignored their threats.

          Ada Aharoni


          • dr k sohail says:

            Dear Ada, I 100% agree that internationally all countries of the world need to make ‘honor killings’ illegal and have special rehabilitation programs for violent men and families. It is also sad to see so many mothers joining fathers against their beloved daughters. peacefully, sohail


    4. Naomi Yalin says:

      Ada and Khalid please do not call them honor killings any more – this is a euphemism for murder in the family which exists in all cultures though sometimes it is falsely given the justification of “maintaining family honor”


      • dr k sohail says:

        Dear Naomi, I fully agree with you that it is a euphemism but we are trying to deconstruct that popular term by raising social consciousness. As a psychotherapist and a humanist I think there are two kinds of murders. There are murders in which people hate each other as they are enemies and there are murders in which people kill those that they claim to love. These are the worst murders. These murders are by men who kill their daughters they supposedly love. It is a very sad state of affairs. Thank you for your thoughtful comments. Do you suggest an alternative term that I can use to separate these murders from other murders? peacefully, sohail


        • Ada Aharoni says:

          Thanks Sohail, for explaining it so well, I fully agree with you.
          Naomi, “Honor Killings” is the official name given to this kind of brutal murder of women and girls by male family members. It is not Sohail or I who have decided to term those brutal killings “Honor Killings”, this term was coined and is used by judges and law institutions globally, as it designates the will of male killers to “save the family HONOR!”


    5. […] Related articles by Khalid Sohail: Honour Killings The last killing […]


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