Tuesday, 7 September 2010

The toll of 'honour'

How can a man kill a woman simply on the grounds that she has sullied the family's "honour"? And how can so many people condone it as a religious tradition that can't be interfered with?

It's worrying that even in Britain there are now regular cases of honour killings, a practice that has been imported from other countries where it is rife.

There are estimated to be up to 20,000 such killings every year around the world, and many more brutal punishments short of murder. The offences that amount to "dishonour" are shockingly varied. It would be hard for any independent woman to avoid them. They include:

- Being raped
- Having a relationship with an unsuitable person (wrong religion, tribe, caste)
- Unmarried pregnancy
- Befriending boys
- Adultery (even if your husband is dead)
- Choosing your own husband
- Claiming a man's inheritance
- Leaving your husband
- Sex before marriage
- Not marrying your dead husband's brother
- Alleged prostitution
- Inappropriate dress
- "Western" behaviour

We don't realise just how lucky we are in Britain that all these perfectly normal activities aren't seen as "dishonouring" families but are at the very most described as unwise, reckless or unfortunate.

How lucky we are too that the authorities take honour killings seriously and act against those involved, as opposed to other countries where a blind eye is routinely turned.

And how lucky again that unofficial punishments for dishonour like rape*, acid attacks, stonings, lashings, facial mutilation, forced suicide or being set on by dogs, are simply not tolerated but prompt contempt and disbelief.

Despite those blinkered folk who maintain feminism is no longer needed, honour killings make it abundantly clear that many women are still struggling for the most elementary freedoms.

* Yes, you can be raped for allowing yourself to be raped.


Rummuser said...

I have blogged about this phenomenon in India Nick, and I think that it will take a couple of more generations before it will be completely eradicated. It is a barbaric custom, but yes, socially condoned in many parts of our land. Change is taking place, albeit very slowly.

Nick said...

Ramana - I'm glad to hear change is taking place, even if it's painfully slow. But the power of "tradition" and "custom", however barbaric, is hard to undermine.

Eryl said...

I can't respond to this at the moment, too many synapses firing all at once, like popcorn being boiled in mixed berry jam.

One thing I can say: it hasn't been that long since the police and courts here turned a blind eye to horrendous acts of domestic abuse, and rape still doesn't seem to be taken seriously enough in many cases but things do seem to be improving, so maybe there is hope for the women of these cultures.

And: you're right, feminism is still, and probably always will be, required. I was astonished to read recently (that could be anything from last week to two years ago) that local authorities were only just having to pay women equally, and in the states equal pay for women is still not the norm. I realise that when we're talking about thirteen year old girls having their faces torn off by their own parents, because some bloke couldn't keep it in his pocket, whining about equal pay seems crass, but this is a many sided coin.

Nick said...

Eryl - I know, this whole thing is mind-boggling on so many levels. You're right, domestic abuse and rape still aren't taken seriously enough. And it's hard to get convictions for rape if there is no clear evidence of resistance or coercion.

Yes, we're still a long way from equal pay, particularly for part-time workers. Secret pay top-ups for men are still routine in a lot of businesses. And for women who're systematically underpaid, that's just as important as the more dramatic and horrific types of misogyny.

Megan said...

In Los Angeles County, they have been trying for years to get through the backlog of rape kits that need testing.

There are thousands of them. :(

Nick said...

Megan - The whole legal system seems to be one big backlog. It can take years just to get a case to court. But thousands of outstanding rape cases, that's appalling.

Nick said...

Oh, for my British readers, btw, a rape kit can refer either to the items used to gather evidence, or the evidence itself. There is also a "Jane Doe" kit which can be supplied anonymously to women who don't want to involve the police.

Terra Shield said...

It's clearly very sick that women are treated this way in certain places. The laws all seem to have been made by men who seem to think that it is their duty to keep their women in place. Personally, I think it's partly religion's fault, and when laws are based on religious beliefs...

Nick said...

Terra - It goes further than the law. In several countries, there are now strict laws against sexual assault and honour killings, but in practice they're quietly ignored. Longstanding tradition still holds sway.

Religion and all its misogynistic dogma is certainly a key factor in honour killings.

Wisewebwoman said...

Patriarchy is alive and well everywhere Nick and so-called honour killings (murder) an extreme example of it distracting us from its rampant presence in all our lives.
There is very little respect for women everywhere. Just turn on the TV or look at the magazines on the rack. It is endemic.

Nick said...

www - Indeed, TV and magazines are still full of negative images of women, from disrespectful to totally humiliating. They're so common as to be routinely overlooked.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

I've read that honor killings are actually on the rise.

I managed a domestic violence shelter and much of what I heard and witnessed was indeed shocking.

I am presently very upset about the Iranian woman who was sentenced to death by stoning (after first getting 99 lashes for a photo published in the UK which may or may not have been of her w/o headscarf.) She was convicted of adultery, although her husband was dead at the time. The man in question was not punished at all. The whole thing is unbelievably barbaric, as is clitoral mutilation and a host of other punishments regularly meted out to women and girls for not being male.

Nick said...

Heart - Yes, they do seem to be increasing. I've read about the Iranian woman, it's a typical bit of savagery, and as you say there's no punishment for the man. Clitoral mutilation is equally inhuman. As you know, I've posted about that also.

Anonymous said...

It's incredible. Just before I got to Malaysia a woman there had been sentenced to a stoning for the great crime of drinking alcohol. No joke!

Nick said...

Conor - It's unbelievable. But presumably the men can drink as much as they like, no problem.

secret agent woman said...

As long as women are not afforded the same rights and privileges and protections as men, we need feminism. Only when we are equal will it become irrelevant. And although we don't have honor killings, I still see far too many cases in my work where men get away with physically assaulting or forcing sex on their wives. I'm working with a woman now whose former boyfriend tried to kill her two years ago - he'll be out in a year and has mad clear his intentions to come back and finish her off. We don't need feminism?

Nick said...

Secret Agent - I think the incidence of domestic violence is still vastly under-reported. And that's a kind of 'honour' killing in a way - the man is punishing the woman to restore his male honour.

Liz said...

Horrific, nick.

Nick said...

Liz - Women in an "honour" culture must be permanently terrified of doing or saying the wrong thing for fear of retribution.