The harsh reality of honour killings must be addressed

In efforts to eradicate female murders in Central Asian societies it is important to distinguish between the honour killings and domestic violence

Faith and freedom need to be reconciled
Jamila Mammadova
On 1 November 2012 14:17

It is a shame, but we have to acknowledge that the 21st century world is still a place where a young woman can be killed because she adheres to human rights and secular values.

The number of women, suffered violence in Pakistan and Afghanistan in the last couple of years for having tried to access universal values, is a response to desires of democratisation in this part of the world. Deviations from the honour code in gender relationships are usually harshly punished where the justice system is reluctant to support women’s rights.

The clash can often occur between a man’s reputation and a woman’s freedom which can seem to contradict each other in communities where a woman’s role is cut down to a minimum.

These are mostly villages where the population is uneducated, with judicial institutions being largely absent or with the legal system not responding to female cries for help. The traditional system of justice is favourable to tribal male leaders when ruling over disputes. Hundreds are killed by their fathers, husbands or brothers which shows how catastrophic the issue is.

In 2011 report, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan found that at least 943 women were killed for damaging their family name. The numbers of women killed in the name of honour sometimes exceeds than those who are killed over property and inheritance disputes. Many women are left with no choice than to commit a suicide in order to escape popular condemnation. The police do not generally investigate these cases because they are hardly ever reported due to the disgrace associated with them.  

A couple of months ago, CNN reported how an ordinary 20 year old Pakistani citizen, Muhammad Ismail, shot his wife, mother-in-law, and sister-in-law. When asked if he regretted the murders, the man said he would do the same thing all over again. According to Muhammad, his wife was repeatedly flirting with other men and spending significant time outdoors. “My wife never made me happy. She was like a prostitute. She never took care of me.”

In July 2012, Reuters reported that a 15 year old Afghani citizen, Tamana, was beaten and killed for being a "disobedient" wife. She was forcibly married to her cousin despite having repeatedly refused him. Tamana’s mother said that her daughter was killed by her husband out of honour.

It is not only a maital relationship where murder occurs but parental and children’s ones as well. In August 2012, it was reported that a British Pakistani girl’s death was recognised by a British court as an honour murder committed by her parents. The girl, Shafilea, was opposed to a planned marriage which was to be arranged for her in Pakistan.

Around the same time, a father killed his two daughters because they ran away with a man and were absent for four days. He was detained on murder charges in Nad Ali district in the southern province of Helmand.

In efforts to eradicate female murders in Central Asian societies it is important to distinguish between the honour killings and domestic violence. Many Western feminists fail to understand that a Western domestic “femicide” differs significantly from an honour murder. The motives behind this Eastern mentality are justified by women acting "too westernized" and therefore that there is a need to keep a woman isolated and fearful.

The honour killings reflect a culture and it is aimed at regulating female behaviour and values associated with it. The victim's family in this case, is also expected to enforce such cultural values. The killers are not usually condemned by major religious and political leaders, further weakening the victims’ position. In the West, the use of violence against women does not reflect a Western cultural or religious value. It merely exposes the murderer’s psychological pathology.

Women's rights are central to the battle for democratic values and therefore, it is important for religious and judicial authorities to engage fully with education about the condemnation and prosecution efforts of honour killings. If this happens there is a good chance for faith and freedom to become reconciled. 

Jamila Mammadova is a Research Assistant at The Henry Jackson Society

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