Thousands of women killed by their families in the name of ‘honour’ killing

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Warning: This article contains violence.

In July 2016, the world grieved the death of social media celebrity Qandeel Baloch. The Pakistani social media star who was strangled by her brother was regarded as the first social media celebrity in Pakistan. The 26-year-old dared the taboos, strict social bans and forbidden behaviours in Pakistan and for that, she was killed.

Quandeel’s murder was regarded as ‘honour’ killing because according to her brother, she had brought ‘shame’ and ‘dishonour’ to their family with her ‘wayward’ lifestyle on social media. However, to reclaim the family ‘honour’ back to the family, she had to be killed.

Three years later, in 2019, Quandeel’s brother, Waseem was found guilty and was sentenced to life in prison.

Although Quandeel’s murder gained attraction since she was a social media star, many other victims of the so-called ‘honour’ killing have gone unreported. Some families have also disguised some as suicide with falsified suicide notes.

‘Honour’ killing is an epidemic as there are up to 5,000 honour killings every year according to the Honour-Based Violence Awareness Network. What exactly is honour killing and why is it done?

The horror of ‘honour’ killings

‘Honour’ killing although not close to being honourable is the murder of someone by their family for the belief that the person has brought dishonour to the family. Honour killings are evidence of deep patriarchal cultures and injustices against girls and women.

Honour killings are mostly against girls and women who have or are falsely accused of pre-marital or extra-marital affairs, refusing to marry someone, attempting to get a divorce or marrying without family approval. For instance, in May 2020, 14-year-old Romina Ashrafi was beheaded in Iran by her father for an unapproved relationship with her 35-year-old boyfriend.

There are other reasons for honour killing such as seemingly wrong behaviours like Quandeel’s social media lifestyle. Another really senseless reason is rape. Rape victims and survivors are seen as shameful for being raped and so are murdered by their families. A very recent one in July 2020 is a 17-year-old girl who was strangled to death in India by her father after knowing that she was pregnant from the rape.

Although girls and women are the worst hit of honour killings, a few men have also been victims. For instance, in 2008, Ahmet Yildiz was murdered in Turkey by his family as an honour killing for being gay. Two of his Yildiz’s uncles were sentenced to life in prison for hiring assassins to kill for Yildiz.

The honour killing cases given so far have been either from South Asia or the Middle East. Although it is more in those regions, there are also cases of honour killings in Africa, Europe and America. In the US for example, 20-year-old Noor Almaleki was bashed and killed by her father while driving for being with a 43-year-old man.

It devalues women but some women support it

In spite of such devalue honour killing brings to women, some other women have also been found supporting it. A very clear example is Samia Sarwar who was killed indirectly by her mother for attempting a divorce with her abusive husband which was in turn against the family’s desire. As Samia was in a lawyer’s office trying to discuss the divorce modalities, her mother walked in with an assassin who then shot and killed Samia. Samia’s mother ordered that murder to avoid Samia from getting a divorce as such would bring disgrace to the family.

Women who support honour killings have been brainwashed and so, they see such madness as normal. This is also as a result of the prolonged systemic and cultural discrimination and injustice against women. Discrimination against women although prolonged remains abnormal and cannot be settled for.

Honour killing is in itself a shame and a question to the sanity of any community practicing it. Although legal provisions surrounding it are weak and the cultures nurturing it has deep roots, the solidarity of women and men to fight against honour killing and replenish communities with sanity is possible.

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