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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 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

Women War and Peace
When resolving conflict in the face of war, women are noticeably absent. Throughout history, however, women have occupied important roles during wartime, including as soldiers, politicians, factory workers and even baseball players. People often exclude women and under-represent them among the governmental and conflict-resolution side of the war. Between 1990 and 2017, 92 percent of all peace negotiators were male. Accordingly, the perspectives and interests of women are disproportionately missing, even when war affects women just as much, if not more than men.

Evidence suggests that including women in peace negotiations significantly reduces the presence of violence and aids in bringing peace. Some evidence goes so far as to say that when others include women in negotiation, there is a 70 percent chance that peace will stay for 20 years, compared to a 25 percent chance if only men participate in the conversation.

The “Women, War and Peace” Docuseries

“Women, War and Peace” is a docuseries that began with the idea that when women are part of peace processes, the outcome is often more peaceful for a longer period of time.

Produced by Abigail Disney and a team of all-female executives, the first season of “Women, War and Peace,” which first premiered in 2011, follows female peace negotiators in Afghanistan, Liberia and Northern Ireland. With tactics ranging from sit-ins, mass rallies and negotiating around a table, despite challenges and doubts of their legitimacy, the women attempted to convince leaders of their worth and usefulness in wartime proceedings.

Season two, which premiered in 2019, follows the stories of women in Gaza, Haiti and Egypt. In one episode, directors Geeta Ganbhir and Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy told the story of one of the only all-female peacekeeping units in the world. One hundred and sixty Bangladeshi women traveled to Haiti following the 2011 earthquake where they encountered devastating poverty and ravaged health care systems and attempted to stabilize peace in the country. Another episode followed three Egyptian women in the height of the Arab Spring, struggling to restore peace in the crosshairs of the military and the Muslim Brotherhood.

What Disney Hopes the Docuseries Achieves

In addition to the general public, people use the series for educational purposes, teaching women and all individuals about political advocacy, female empowerment and gender equality. Most of all, the docuseries is a look into the realities of war.

In an interview for Women and Hollywood, the interviewer asked Abigail Disney what she would like viewers to take away from “Women, War and Peace.” She responded, “I would love people to take a moment and ask themselves what they understand about war. What do they believe happens in war, and what is war about to them?” “Women, War and Peace” is a look at war through the perspectives people usually ignore. Disney and the production team of the docuseries aim to dispel the heroism and nobility that many perceive in war through movies, stories and myths. Rather, through the eyes of women working towards peace, viewers of the docuseries see what victims of wartime see. In Disney’s words, the “high-minded view of war” is impossible “through a woman’s eyes.”

– Orly Golub
Photo: Flickr