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Beyond Tradition: The Complex Threads of Honor Killings

Introduction
Woman signaling for silence
Picture: Woman signaling for silence

Honor killings are known as the murder of a family member or relative to restore the family’s “honor”. The victim of this type of honor-related killings is a female from a family or tribe and it can be a daughter, wife, sister, or mother.[1] It is believed that a woman creates mortification for her entire family when she commits adultery and/or premarital sex or if she behaves in any way to resist or undermine male honor.[2] Even if a woman is a victim of any form of sexual assault, she is still considered to have brought dishonor to her family. Other forms of dishonor include divorce, abortion, pregnancy out of wedlock or incest, prostitution, and resisting an arranged marriage.[3] According to this barbaric custom, the only way for a woman to erase her dishonor is to sacrifice her own life. The rule is that a male from the immediate family, either a father, brother, or husband must carry out this murder. Sometimes more than one male will commit this heinous act. Studies have revealed that honor killings are done through stabbing, forced suicide, stone throwing, strangulation, being buried alive, and are not limited to the use of weapons such as a firearm or axe.[4] These male perpetrators are not viewed as murderers, nor do they face the consequences of their actions because they are considered heroes.[5] 


praying in mosque
Picture: Father and daughter praying
Societal and Cultural Norms 

Honor killings stem from patriarchal societies where women are considered a man’s property and family honor is tied to women’s sexuality.[6] This means that men are held responsible for safeguarding this honor by asserting control over the female members of their household, particularly by controlling the female body.[7] The practice of killing women for the sake of honor is common in Muslim communities, not only in the Middle East and Africa, but in Western countries such as the United States and United Kingdom.[8] In Arizona, twenty-year old Noor Almaleki was intentionally ran over by her father for being “too Americanized” because she had chosen to move out to live with her boyfriend.[9] Noor Almaleki’s case is proof that antiquated Arabic cultural practices continue to spread universally. There is a worldwide misconception, even within the Muslim community, that Islam condones honor crimes against women and that it restricts women’s rights. It’s important to note that culture and societal norms can highly influence religion itself, but the lines separating them tend to be blurred. Often, the inability or the ability to separate culture and religion explains why there are multiple versions of a religion practiced throughout different parts of the world.[10] Cultural differences also explain why some practices are acceptable in certain places and why others are not. Intertwining Islam and culture that favors extremist patriarchal values can lead to use of Islamic beliefs to justify female subordination and male superiority. Honor killings are not a religious practice, they are a cultural practice and even when done under the name of Islam, it is un-Islamic.[11] 


Legal Actions Against Honor Crimes
Justice symbol
Picture: Lady Justice holding the Scales of Justice

In certain countries there are laws that do not recognize honor killings as murders, crimes, or even femicide. Honor crimes may be legally justified, even if there are laws that clearly state that killing is illegal.[12] The act of killing is prohibited and there are extreme punishments to address it. However, honor killings are not in the same category and if a murder becomes categorized as an act of honor, then the punishment is reduced and sometimes the perpetrator is exempted from the crime.[13] This is the case in Jordan, where killing in the name of honor is justified and there is a lesser punishment on the murderer.[14] In Kuwait, a perpetrator is punished by no more than 3 years in prison and a fine, or only one of the two punishments.[15] Iraq law also states that a perpetrator should only be imprisoned for 3 years or less.[16] Additionally, Iraq justifies the murder of a woman if it is done by her father or grandfather, and they do not need to face any legal consequences.[17] In Egypt, the Penal code states that a perpetrator is liable to a prison sentence instead of the death penalty.[18] The United Arab Emirates law states that a perpetrator will be punished with a prison sentence.[19] Although there are laws that state legal punishments against honor killings, there is no actual guarantee that they will be arrested. For instance, studies in Pakistan have revealed that only a few perpetrators have been arrested for honor killings, despite having legal action taken against them.[20] Culture also plays a huge role in the ways that government and local authorities go about honor crimes. The silence culture in certain countries has caused authorities to avoid honor killing cases, meaning they have chosen to look away instead of tackling the issue. For example, in Palestine cases that did reach the judicial system were found to have been silenced. Soon after reporting what they saw, witnesses were found to have disappeared and they were never found again.[21] Other times, witnesses would change their statements and would contradict what they had originally said.[22] There has been a lack of evidence as well due to the destruction of crime scenes and sometimes cases have been silenced with money.[23]


Woman holding megaphone
Picture: Woman protesting with megaphone
Media Coverage of Honor-Related Crimes

Honor-related crimes and murders against women are not being spoken about in news outlets, nor are victims' stories being told truthfully. Families and communities that participate in these horrific acts will cover up the death of victims. These deaths are commonly camouflaged as “firearm cleaning accidents” or suicides to create cover up stories and continue to be reported as such due to the majority support from men.[24] Police investigations on honor killings are also discouraged since they are known to be” routine”.[25] It is rare for victims to be reported on the news, but when they are their stories are addressed with negative associations. For instance, the reports will state that a woman” ran away from home to get married” or that ”she had illicit relations with someone,” which only labels her as a culprit.[26] This labeling is used to justify her murder because of her actions and only paints a negative picture to the public. In addition, there is a lack of accuracy in honor killing statistics because of cover-up stories, resistance to address these murders in households, and the cultural and social support for these killings.  


Conclusion

Honor killings are a form of gender-based violence that violates human rights, specifically women’s rights as they are the most common victim.[27] Research has shown that social media has played a crucial role in bringing social awareness to honor-related violence and murders. However, social media platforms are not considered reliable media, which is why there needs to be continuous research on this topic to unveil this human rights violation. Most importantly, there needs to be willingness for societies to change unjust patriarchal structures to end female subordination.With more social awareness and factual research, effective policies against these honor crimes can be implemented in more countries and women can have better to access to legal protection.


 

Endnotes


[1]AlBader F, ‘Cultural Oppression Disguised as Religious Obligation: A Fatal Misrepresentation to the Advancement of Muslim Women’s Rights in the Context of the So-Called Honor Killings’ (2020) 24 UCLA Asian Pacific American Law Journal


[2] ibid


[3] Naseem F, Khawaja A and Choudhry I, ‘Reasons and Victims of Honour Killing in Pakistan: An Analysis’ [2019] Journal of Political Studies


[4] AlQahtani SM and others, ‘Honor Killings in the Eastern Mediterranean Region: A Narrative Review’ (2022) 11 Healthcare 74


[5] AlBader (n 1)


[6] Malik H and Rukhsana Iftikhar R, ‘Honour Killing in Punjab: Reasons and Implications’ (2021) 22 Journal of Pakistan Vision


[7] ibid


[8] AlBader (n 1)


[9]ibid


[10] AlBader (n 1)


[11] AlBader (n 1)


[12] AlQahtani et al (n 4)


[13] AlQahtani et al (n 4)


[14] ibid


[15] ibid


[16] ibid


[17] ibid


[18] ibid

[19] ibid


[20] AlQahtani et al (n 4)

[21] AlQahtani et al (n 4)

[22] ibid

[23] ibid

[24] Nasir MH, ‘Does Killing Restore Honor? Perspectives of Male University Students of Punjab.’ (2022) 21 From: Journal of Gender and Social Issues

[25] Malik, Iftikhar (n 6)

[26] Malik, Iftikhar (n 6)




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