Honor-Based Violence
In 2020, family members murdered two women after a video from the previous year surfaced online of the women kissing a man. This murder is just one of 5,000 “honor-based” killings that happen every year. Girls as young as 15 have died just for helping neighbors elope. Here is some information about honor-based violence.

What is Honor-Based Violence?

Honor killings are one type of honor-based violence. Honor-based violence is any violence that occurs with the purpose of restoring the honor of a family or community, and thus, the victim’s family members or community members usually commit it. Violence, in this case, includes any physical or psychological attack. The most common forms of honor-based violence are acid assaults, genital mutilation, forced marriage and murder. Girls or women typically face the most honor-based violence, but men can be targets as well.

Honor-based violence frequently occurs due to the desire for female purity. The practice stems from cultural ideologies that women belong to men or are a symbol of their family’s honor.

Traditionally, some cultures consider men “guardians of female value,” and therefore, experience dishonor if a woman becomes worthless by destroying her virtue. A woman can experience condemnation for ruining her “value” even if she suffers rape or assault.

History and Statistics of Honor-Based Violence

The practice of honor killings dates back to ancient Babylon, connecting to tribal traditions of burying baby girls alive. Although honor killings have undergone justification in the name of Christianity, Islam and Sikhism, the practice does not have any basis in religion. On the contrary, religious leaders frequently condemn this violence.

Estimates have determined that about 1,100 people die in honor killings per year in Pakistan. This is only slightly more than in India, which is about 1,000 people. While Pakistan and India record the most honor killings, they are not the only places where these murders happen. Records of honor killings exist in the U.K., the U.S., Sweden, Germany, France, Italy, Turkey and Uganda. Many places do not document honor killings or record them under other types of violence. Therefore, it is hard to know exactly how many honor killings occur and where they happen.

Activists and Artists

While thousands of honor killings happen each year, many activists have been working to change the culture. For one, they are trying to end the legal and colloquial use of the phrase “honor killing” and instead make sure people use the word murder.

Activists and artists throughout the world have made documentaries about honor killings. In 2016, journalist and activist Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy won an Oscar for her film “A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness.” The movie follows the story of Saba, a young woman from Pakistan who survived an attempted murder against her after she married without her family’s permission.

The film was so influential that the Pakistani Prime Minister vowed to change the laws surrounding honor killings. In fact, that same year, the government passed the Anti-Honor Killing Bill. The bill states that families can no longer pardon people who murder their family members due to “honor.” Before the enactment of this bill, a family could forgive someone for murdering their family member out of honor. In such a case, the murderer would not receive a charge or penalty.

Obaid-Chinoy is not the only one who has created influential documentaries. In 2021, filmmaker Safyah Usmani worked with MTV and Obaid-Chinoy on her documentary “A Life Too Short,” which follows the life of Pakastani star, Qandeel Baloch, and her death by her brother. While many well-known documentaries have emerged in Pakistan, it is not the only country that features in these films. ITV aired a documentary in 2020 about the murder of a London woman, Banaz Mahmod.

Honour-Based Violence Awareness Network

In addition to films, activists have collected resources to help teach people about the tradition. One such project is the Honour-Based Violence Awareness Network that “intends to advise professionals in how to identify and provide an effective response to these forms of violence, and to provide links to [organizations] with expertise in providing help to people at risk.” Founded by activists Deeyah and Joanne Payton, the website provides training and other informational resources for anyone interested in learning more about honor-based violence.

With films and advocacy groups, awareness about honor-based violence has increased. Increased awareness of the issue, along with an increased pressure to cease such harmful patriarchal practices, will hopefully continue to include policy change.

Sophie Shippe
Photo: Flickr

Awareness About Honor KillingsHonor killings and honor violence are still common practices in patriarchal societies. The practice involves an act of violence, usually murder, perpetrated against a woman by a male family member as punishment for bringing “dishonor” to the family. Behaviors that bring dishonor almost always relate to the woman’s sexual activity or relationship: sex outside of marriage, seeking a divorce, refusing an arranged marriage and being a victim of rape. These are all actions that supposedly justify honor killings because of the shame they bring to the family. Though archaic and cruel, honor killings happen all the time. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) estimates that, in 2017, intimate partners or family members killed roughly 50,000 women, many of them victims of honor killings. Several books hope to raise awareness about honor killings in order to reduce the occurrence and bring about change.

“I Should Have Honor: A Memoir of Hope and Pride in Pakistan”

This memoir by Khalida Brohi reflects on honor violence and related systems Brohi witnessed growing up in Pakistan. Her mother was an arranged marriage child bride. Brohi was nearly subject to a similar fate. Brohi was part of an arranged marriage before she was even born. Her father refused to let her become a child bride because he believed in education. The honor killing of her cousin by her uncle prompted her journey to helping women become empowered. Brohi’s uncle murdered her cousin for being in love with a man she was not married to. Brohi tells this story in her memoir and the story of her subsequent activism: empowering women and educating men on how and why these systems must undergo dismantling.

“Honor and Violence against Women in Iraqi Kurdistan”

Unlike Brohi’s deeply personal memoir, this book by Minoo Alinia focuses on applying an intersectional perspective to research concerning honor violence in Kurdistan. Alinia analyzes cultural notions of masculinity and the individual actions that stem from it. This text offers a socio-political perspective and participates in a larger conversation about global gender studies and how colonial history, religion and poverty have an influence. Though less personal, the researched approach to a subject as urgent as honor violence is vital to change advocacy. Alinia attempts to understand the origin of the practice in this region in order to create a cultural conversation about eliminating the practice.

“Inside an Honor Killing: A Father and a Daughter Tell Their Story”

In this book, Lene Wold brings a journalist’s perspective to the subject of honor killings, particularly in Jordan. Wold chose to immerse herself: she spent years in Jordan documenting as many stories as she could. While she witnessed the gender and socioeconomic dynamics of daily life firsthand, she interviewed young women, village elders and men who had murdered a female family member in the name of honor. This book uniquely presents not only the victim’s perspective but the perpetrator’s. It is central to the advocacy surrounding honor violence because it tries to share every side of the story, allowing for the most holistic education and understanding.

“Bliss”

This novel by O.Z. Livaneli is unique because, unlike the others, it is fictional. Livaneli tells the story of a character who experiences rape by her uncle before his son arranges for her death as her rape has dishonored the family. The fictional story set in Turkey hopes to reflect the experiences of Turkish women and families. The most important aspect of this story is the overwhelming hopefulness it conveys. Education and understanding are essential to advocacy but so is hope. Livaneli’s novel brings hope as well as awareness to the issue of honor killings.

By bringing awareness to the issue of honor killings, these writers hope to reduce its occurrence and inspire advocacy and change.

Samantha Silveira
Photo: Flickr

Awareness to Honor KillingsThe Human Rights Watch (HRW) defines honor killings or honor crimes as “acts of violence, usually murder, committed by male family members against female family members who are perceived to have brought dishonor upon the family.” The practice is not specific to any region but is instead an international issue that goes largely unrecognized and is sometimes even condoned by the apathy and inaction of certain governmental bodies. Advocacy efforts by groups like the HRW have made strides in educating the public on the prevalence of this issue. Through filmmaking, individuals are also bringing awareness to honor killings. Films about honor killings detail the many facets of the practice and its impact on families and communities.

“A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness” (2015)

In this 40-minute-long documentary, director Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy tells the story of Saba, a Pakistani woman who was sentenced to death for falling in love and marrying a man who was once promised to her. Her story of survival is harrowing and heart-wrenching and the aftermath offers one of the most scathing indictments of honor killing in recent years. This Oscar-winning short film is undoubtedly one of the best stories about honor killings in the cinematic canon and is a must-see for anyone interested in international women’s rights.

“Sairat” (2016)

This popular Indian film tells the story of two star-crossed lovers on opposite sides of the economic and social spectrum. Parshya is the son of a fisherman while Aarchi is the daughter of a powerful politician who will not sacrifice his status in the caste system under any circumstances. This romantic tragedy is a slightly more macabre adaptation of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet but accomplishes more than simple entertainment. The film takes place in the progressive state of Maharashtra, disrupting the common narrative that honor killings occur exclusively in traditional states.

“A Regular Woman” (2019)

Based on a true story, “A Regular Woman follows a young, self-determined German woman of Turkish descent. Her deeply patriarchal family frequently stands in the way of her living her own life, rejecting her lifestyle as improper. Eventually, tensions escalate to the point where she no longer feels safe at home so she runs away with her child. She then reports her brother, the chief agitator, to the police. While primarily a story about an honor killing, the film also examines the greater threat of patriarchal oppression and a women’s struggle to be heard.

Artistic expression plays a pivotal role in giving voice to people silenced by oppressive forces in the world. It offers perspective and situates observers in a world that they would not otherwise understand. Cinema offers viewers visceral and visual experiences which become more and more important as we hear stories about the unimaginable. These three films are examples of how artistic expression can bring awareness to honor killings and give voice to victims as well as survivors.

Matthew Hayden
Photo: Flickr

Honor Killings of Women in the North Caucasus
Women in the region of the North Caucasus face abuse and violence from members of their own families due to rumors of immorality in a cultural practice known as honor killings. In April 2015, Sultan Daurbekov of Chechnya stood trial in the District Court of Grozny Staropromyslov for the alleged honor killing of his daughter, Zarema. The court learned about Zarema’s life with multiple witnesses telling of her divorce, alcohol consumption and how she wore her hair uncovered. On a night in 2013, Daurbekov sat in the back of his daughter’s car, strangling her with a rope around her neck while she struggled in the driver’s seat. Daurbekov’s lawyer, Timishev, stated “A father who killed his child after enduring 20 years of humiliation from her, the amoral behavior of a Muslim daughter, cannot, in principle, face responsibility for murder.” Daurbekov received a seven-year sentence in prison, but while his crime is common, punishment for honor killings of women in the North Caucasus is a rare instance.

About Honor Killings

Honor killings are a common occurrence worldwide, particularly widespread in regions of Iran, Pakistan and Russia. Honor killing is a cultural practice including close male relatives (fathers, brothers, husbands, etc.) murdering women because of the rumored violation of certain cultural boundaries.

Concerningly, honor killings of women in the North Caucasus are spreading at an alarming rate. The U.N. Human Rights Committee reports that relatives and intimate partners conducted a total of 1,447 femicide crimes in 2020. In 2018, the number of known cases was only 39 for the passing decade.

A source of constant fear for many women, these killings occur frequently and often go unpunished. Honor killings stand as one of the cruelest and most extreme forms of gender-based violence. This violence can take many forms, including direct murder, stoning to death, disfigurement with acid and forcing women into unwilling suicide.

A Project Justice Initiative study was the first to investigate honor killings in the context of a respected cultural practice. According to the report, tradition or Sharia law do not motivate these killings; rather the ‘self-styled’ ambitions of an individual or family drive them. Facts of transgression are often not necessary for justification; the suspicion of possibly disgracing a family’s honor is enough reason in and of itself. In cultures of regions of the North Caucasus, a woman’s honor has strong connections with that of her entire clan due to her duty of passing on values to the clan’s children. Male members of the family control a woman’s entire existence, and therefore, many believe it is in their right to commit the murders.

The Victims

Victims of this tradition are most often young, unmarried girls, as well as women from ages 20 to 30, either divorced or married. In 100% of honor killings, the perpetrators of the crimes are men. Project Justice Initiative’s study revealed that 33 incidents resulting in 39 murders occurred between 2008 and 2017. Among these murders, only 14 underwent trial in court. This custom, a violation of women’s rights to freedom, life and self-expression, escapes the attention of media and local law enforcement due to the belief that this is a cultural practice deserving of respect.

Field researchers find it difficult to determine the rate and frequency at which these killings occur due to a number of factors including:

  • The taboo nature of the crime within close communities.
  • The fact that many consider the crimes a ‘family affair.’
  • The fact that villagers are frequently unwilling to risk implicating themselves by disclosing information about crimes that their relatives and neighbors commit.

Reasons for Limited Justice

Many factors contribute to the lack of judicial and media attention regarding honor killings. Oftentimes, the absence of gender-sensitive initiatives is due to the perseverance of harmful gender stereotypes in these regions. The North Caucasus rarely implements punishments for these murders and the rare sentences that it executes are significantly less harsh than those for crimes that are equally serious.

Women of this region lack access to justice because of their unequal status in society and courts often mitigate the murders as crimes committed as a result of provocation by the victim and emotional distress from the perpetrator. This discrimination occurring at the social, cultural and legal levels of society, sends the message of tolerance and acceptance of male violence against women.

The most important factors that may contribute to the eradication of honor killings in the North Caucasus include the intensification of human rights activities, the enforcement of inevitable punishment for such crimes and the reinforcement of non-harmful religious structures and government.

General Comment No. 28, Article 3

In the 68th session of the Human Rights Committee of the United Nations in 2000, the HRC established General Comment No. 28, Article 3, proposing that honor crimes that the legal system does not punish serve as a violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. For example, in 2011, Rashida Manjoo, a special rapporteur working on behalf of the United Nations, held a meeting in New York to address the issue of gender-related killings of women. During her time reporting the killings, she sent press releases to various governments detailing current instances of discrimination and violence against women in respective countries.

The Russian Justice Initiative

The Russian Justice Initiative is a nonprofit organization that concentrates on legally deterring human rights violations associated with counter-terrorism operations, torture, armed conflicts and gender-based violence in the Russian territory.

On a domestic level, the organization advocates for systemic reformation of policy and the legal system. According to the Russian Justice Initiative, the organization won more than 120 cases in the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) by 2014, regarding violations in Chechnya and Ingushetia of the North Caucasus. It has developed a program focused on enforcing a judgment in the North Caucasus region, which includes international advocacy and domestic litigation for human rights cases.

Honor killings of women in the North Caucasus are one of the most violent forms of gender-based crime, but few details surrounding the exact number of cases exist. It is important for these cases to gain media attention and for projects like the Russian Justice Initiative to advocate and champion women’s rights in the North Caucasus.

– Nina Eddinger
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

Honor KillingsThe concept appears as a relic from a distant, barbarous past: “honor killings” of young women. In contemporary Russia’s Northern Caucasus, however, honor-based violence remains a persistent scourge. Honor killings are premeditated murders of young women by close male relatives, committed under the guise of restoring or preserving a family’s “honor.” Honor crimes occur when a woman is perceived to have overstepped established sexual and gender-based boundaries.

 An Underreported Injustice

Incited by rumors, slander and outright falsehoods, honor-based attacks victimize women for trivial, seemingly inconsequential acts. These acts could include a skirt hemmed above the knees, a wayward glance, or an air of obstinance. These murders are generally planned by more than one family member, and carried out in many different forms such as including stonings, forced suicides and acid burnings.

A 2018 report by the human rights lawyer Yulia Antonova found that from 2012 to 2017, there were at least 36 reported honor killings in the Northern Caucasus. That number only includes, however, documented and cross-referenced honor killings. The majority of the killings go unreported, un-investigated, or are dismissed by the authorities. Therefore, there is a lack of accurate data on this type of violence in not only the Northern Caucasus, but the entire world. The United Nations Population Fund estimates that 5,000 women are murdered every year by relatives in the name of protecting family “honor.”

 The Intersections between Violence, Gender Inequality and Family Ties

Honor-based violence is a tool to perpetuate gender inequality and a manifestation of female sexuality being coerced and curtailed through brutality. These killings are not spurred by tradition, custom, or sharia law, but rather are motivated by the ambitions of the individual or group. According to Svetlana Anokhina, a journalist and human rights activist in the Northern Caucasus, men hide behind skewed notions of honor to justify cold-blooded murder. These killings are meant to convey the control men wield over women, determining life or death through extra-judicial, subjective reasoning.

The state implicitly condones honor-violence by failing to adequately prosecute cases involving honor killings. These killings are rarely reported, and even the exceptions hold no guarantee that the cases will be investigated and sent to trial. Indeed, another 2018 report found that over a period from 2008 to 2017, only 14 cases involving honor killings went to court. Defendants are often protected by the courts, who justify honor killings by arguing that the accused was acting under a state of emotional duress.

In addition to the state, family members also will frequently protect the murderer, unwilling or unable to give their relative over to the authorities. The family may also rally behind the murderer, believing the honor killing has enhanced their social status in the community.

Thus, the victims of honor killings oftentimes do not get justice or retribution, and the cycle of violence is allowed to continue.

Making a Change

Over the last decade non-governmental organizations, such as the Honour Based Violence Awareness Network (HBVA), have sought to coordinate international groups working to end the scourge of honor-based violence. HBVA is a digital resource center promoting awareness of honor killings through research and documentation, enabling experts to better understand the extent of the issue. In part due to HBVA’s research, the international estimate of 5,000 honor killings per year is now thought to be grossly short of reality. HBVA has also created an international network of experts, activists and NGOs intent on using a collaborative approach to educate the public about and support the victims of honor killings. The training HBVA provides has improved responses to instances of honor violence in migrant communities in Europe and North America.

Honor killings continue to be an underreported and misunderstood phenomenon in many corners of the world. Victims of honor killings are subject to arbitrary fits of violence, intended to perpetuate gender inequality. This form of violence is vastly underreported, with many killings either ignored or lightly prosecuted by authority figures. There are, however, reasons to be optimistic that honor killings in the Northern Caucasus and other parts of the world are becoming less socially acceptable. Non-governmental organizations seeking to end honor killings are working across international borders to pool resources and data, giving hope that this form of violence will one day be better understood, more thoroughly documented and less frequent.

Angus Gracey

Photo: Flickr