Honour KillingsPosted: 2014/10/27
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.”
REASONS GIVEN BY THE FAMILIES
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.”
CHANGES IN ATTITUDES
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.
CHANGES IN THE LAW
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.
WHAT LESSONS WE WANT TO TEACH OUR FUTURE GENERATIONS
In my family I would like to teach the following seven lessons to our children and grandchildren.
- Women themselves, not families and tribes, own their bodies.
- Men have no right to control women’s sexuality.
- A loving relationship between two consenting adults needs to be respected not judged and not punished by their families and communities.
- Violence against women is a crime against humanity.
- Killing a woman is a dishonourable and not an honourable act.
- Teachers need to teach boys to respect girls in their schools.
- 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.”