(September 2009) “Honor Killings” claim the lives of at least 5,000 women each year in traditional societies around the world; many more women live under the fear of these attacks. Honor killings are effectively the murder of girls or women by their fathers, brothers, or other male relatives to “cleanse their family honor,” on the belief it has been disgraced by their behavior, often on the basis of gossip and rumor. What beliefs and social forces push families to such extreme measures? More importantly, what can be done to prevent these murders? How do women cope under the threat of an honor killing?
During a PRB Discuss Online, journalist and activist Rana Husseini answered participants’ questions about this important issue. In her research, writings, and activities, Ms. Husseini has broken the silence about these killings and challenged society to help end them.
For more on Rana Husseini and this topic see:
- Rana Husseini, Murder in the Name of Honor: The True Story of One Woman’s Heroic Fight Against an Unbelievable Crime (www.ranahusseini.com)
- 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence, Nov. 25 to Dec. 10, 2009 (www.cwgl.rutgers.edu/16days/home.html)
- Interagency Gender Working Group, Femicide: What Is It and Why Isn’t Anyone Talking About It?
- PRB podcast, The Fight Against ‘Honor Killings’: Interview With Investigative Journalist Rana Husseini .
Oct. 23, 2009 2 PM EST
Transcript of Questions and Answers
Mary Chapman: How can you change the mind set of a religous group.? It is not just individuals but their religious leaders who must take the lead in confronting this terrible crime. All counties must act and all governments must take responsibility to make sure the changes happen. Will this crime be defeated? One day perhaps but not without an acceptance by men that their women have rights. How do you propose the recognition by governments the need to confront all honor crimes.?
Rana Husseini: I believe that all religious leaders have a big responsibility within their own communities to address the issue of violence against women in general and explain how all religions call for the respect and equal treatment of women. I am an optimistic person and I am hopeful that this crime will end one day. It will take some time because we have to work on changing people’s attitudes towards these crimes and encourage more people to speak out against violence against women. And governments have a big responsibility to address violence against women and children and to keep it a priority on its agendas.
Richard Cincotta: This is a broader question than you might be expecting. I’m married to an Indian woman who is an academic professional. Despite her training and accomplishments, I’ve noted that her brother has. from time to time, interceded without invitation into her financial and social lives and those of her sister’s (often destructively, but always with “the sister, or family’s well-being” allegedly the primary motivation). While much, much less serious than an “honor killing”, to me it seems that he considers himself the traditional arbiter of family affairs — as do other brothers in the extended family, vis-a-vis their sisters’ lives. Do think this ‘gendered license’ is one aspect at the core of the honor killing problem? And if so, what specifically could be done, at the legal, social and familial levels, to deter the physical and psychological harm that “brother power” perpetuates on women?
Rana Husseini: I think this is part of the patriarchal society that these women and men come from. Men are brought up to think they they have powers and control of their female relatives’ rights. And because they think so, sometimes their control could lead to a so-called honor killing. Again, this is an issue that needs to be addressed from a broader manner and we have to encourage governments that have school text books that are filled with stereotypical images of women to work on it and improve women’s images. In the meantime, focus should be also on teachers as well who are victims of the weak education system. So it is a long battle but things will also change eventually because women are going out much more to work because of the family’s need for money. As one sociologist once told me, violence and killing of women will decrease before it increases, because of the changes that the world is witnessing on all levels and women going out to work and perform other activities.
Henry Tagoe: Is there any link between religion and honor killing or this is purely within the traditional cultural milieu. The phenomenon of honor killing is an ancient practice and to eradicate this call for holistic interdisciplinary approach. Education and female empowerment are the tools available to prevent such practice.
Rana Husseini: I agree with you. There is no connection between religion and so-called honor killing. Most people kill because of “wrongful” cultural beliefs and traditions. And this phenomenon is ancient and occurred during the ancient civilizations times.
Jane Roberts: What would have to happen at a very deep level make honor killings totally unacceptable? Would ending the climate of impunity help? And how would you end it?
Rana Husseini: I believe we have to work on all aspects of the problem. Not just the lenient punishments. It is a comprehensive process that starts with improving education, to increasing the level of awareness to encouraging religious and community leaders to speak out to improving services to help women in need, amending laws that discriminates against women and continue to address the issue in the media and elsewhere in the society among school and university students.
Dr. Anima Sharma: I am an Indian and to me the practice of Honour Killing is neither new nor difficult to understanding, though personally I am at a loss to imbibe this concept. But then this is the land where women of few caste groups perform ‘Jauhar’ to save their honour or commit ‘Sati’ with their deceased husband. ‘Jauhar’ and ‘Sati’ are voluntarily done by the females while Honour Killing is synonymous with the act of murder, where the male as well as the females both could be ‘assassinated’ by their own kinsmen and people of their own community. I think it is more prevalent in the societies where kinship networks are very strong and the people are egotistic. They associate everything with self-esteem and self-respect to an extent that that an individual becomes non-existent entity within that framework. Mostly, the causes of Honour Killings are related to women, land, money, power and authority. We can remotely mention the cases of the mass- suicides done by the people in grief or when they are deprived of something. I think, since the death is considered to be the ultimate loss, personally as well as socially, hence taking life either one’s own or anybody else’s could be associated with the highest level of emotional disturbance. The emotions override the feelings of physical hurt and people take it as a punishment to the culprit because he did not adhered to the rules and regulations and to themselves because they blame themselves for not being able to enculturize or socialize the person as per the socially prescribed norms.
I want to know that is this cocept of Honour Killing is associated with the orthodox ways of life only and what other types of behaviours and concepts are prevalent in the societies outside India?
Rana Husseini: I think most of what you said could be the same inmost countries. But in the Arab region, men are not usually killed. It is very rare for a family of a female relative to kill a man (presumably her partner) because of the legal complications. The victim’s family might refuse to drop charges and demand money instead. Also, they might want to revenge so most families try to avoid killing the man. Now on many occasion men do not exist because the murders are committed for financial or inheritance reasons or because the woman was a victim of rape, rumor, suspicion or incest.
Cletus Tindana: Dear PRB, Thank you for this opportunity. For me in Ghana, it’s the first time I’m hearing of “Honour Killings”. It sounds so strange and sad. May I know which regions of the the world this practice is most common? Are the governors of such countries/states aware? What is the human rights records in those countries like? Please do intensify the awareness!
Rana Husseini: Hi dear, I believe the killing of women happens in all societies and is not restricted to one society or religion. Violence against women is an international phenomenon and one in three women is subjected to some form of violeence during her lifetime.
J Kishore: Root of Honor killing is social system and religious scriptures that do not allow people (including gender) to have equal status. There is need of social reform that includes discarding old and orthodox system of inequality (Ref. The Vanishing Girl Child-J Kishore 2005).
Rana Husseini: I think we need to always focus on moderate religious leaders and encourage them to address issues that are related to gender equality in their societies.
Françoise De Bel-Air: Dear Rana, Thanks for your courageous involvement in this issue. I have a question regarding the legal punishment to so-called “honour crimes”. For instance in Jordan, the Kingdom’s modernity, promoted by its leadership, did not lead to amendment of the Penal Code in order to put such crimes under the label of first category murder. Considering the fact that the members of the royal family do not support such practices, how do you explain this legal inertia? Why did Parliament reject the amendment of the law? Also, how are those crimes tackled in other Arab states? Françoise De Bel-Air, PhD.
Rana Husseini: Changes in Jordan are happening. Although the law itself was not changed, we see more awareness among judges and criminal prosecutors regarding this matter. Now killers are getting tougher punishments and almost 10 days ago a court sentenced a man to 15 years in prison, the highest so far for killing a sister in the name of family honor. So there is hope, but we have to constantly work on it. On the other hand, most of the deputies are conservative and when the issue was up for debate in the late 1990s and the government then offered some amendments, it was done in the wrong manner and many deputies thought that we were backed by the west to destroy the morals of the society and sexually liberate women. And were immediately attacked and the draft bill was defeated. Most countries in the region have similar laws.
Ernest Nettey: I never realized that so many women lose their lives to “honour killings”! Ms Husseini,from your research, which factors have you found to be important determinants of whether a particular woman is killed? Also, what makes “honour killing” more likely to happen in one country compared to another?
Rana Husseini: Well women could lose their lives for several factors that includes becoming pregnant out of wedlock, being a victim of rape, incest, rumor or suspicion, marrying the man of her choice, taking to a stranger, being involved in an affair, gone missing from her home and sometimes for financial or inheritance reasons. There is no indicator of it happening in some countries over others.
Vijay Aryal: What are the major causes of the ‘Honour Killing’? Can we stop the prevalence of the very crime? What are the probable consequences of the honour killing and which forms of societies have been affected so far?
Rana Husseini: Hi dear, I think I have answered your questions in the previous answers 🙂
OKPECHI FELIX-MARY UZOCHI: The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, article 5 states that ‘No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment’. Thus, my question is: Are the governments of these countries where Honour Killings are practised not signatories to the entire UN, 1948 declaration? If they are, what have they done to fulfill their aims as signatories to the declaration through the elimination of Honour Killings from sovereign states?
Rana Husseini: I think that most countries in the world have signed and even ratified many conventions, but this does not mean that they will abide by it. There are many violations committed by countries on many levels though they signed many conventions. We need to encourage governments that signed to abide by what is in the convention and others who have not signed and ratified to do so.
thada bornstein: Is there a recognition among people who work in your field that the struggles of women of all ages and ethnic backgrounds are connected to sexism (from society) and internalized sexism (that we as women have internalized and believe from having it put on us all our lives)? Sexism being defined (among other things) as females being somehow less than or unequal to males. Therefore honor killings are related to all the notions that women are “less than” or that their worth is connected to their productivity or looks or being a mother or wife or any of the standard “roles” of women. It is basic equality and personhood that must be fought for. All women must have decision-making authority for themselves, their lives, their families.
Rana Husseini: I agree with you and there is recognition towards what you mentioned.
NIna Cummings: Are there specific promising practices that you can identify that may have had some success in preventing honor killings? Where/what regions do they exist and what do you think were the key aspects to their success?
Rana Husseini: I think that the campaign that was conducted in Jordan was a great successful story. There is also campaigns in countries such as Turkey and Pakistan that also helped raise awareness there. I have included these experiences in my book for people to read and learn from other countries’ experiences, success and failures.
JUSTICE KANOR TETTEH: I believe that this Honor Killings of mostly women all comes down to the concept of gender inequalities. Majority of people still do not see the importance of women and do not value women in our local homes but we come out to pretend that all is well. Highly educated people and even gender activist all sometimes face the problem of role strain and role conflict when they go back to their trditional or local homes. I believe that if we want to stop Honour killings then we must start nurturing our younger generations with good and correct moral values in schools, religious, and social gatherings.All over the world even in worse villages, children are hungry for school and they now spend about 80% of their time in school so if we are able to engage their minds with these values and concepts, we will be wiping out this Honour Killings more rapidly. We must emphasise on gender equality for both sexes at all times. However my question is: How do we develop the idea of valueing human life to riches, honour and fame in the minds of people?From Justice Tetteh SS/PFL/06/0012
Rana Husseini: We strengthen the values of human rights among these generations with the many ways I have mentioned earlier to combat this issue, which a comprehensive manner that deals with all aspects of life and the society, starting with school children, of course.
Rawan: I am a Jordanian PhD student in the UK. For my research, I interviewed young adults who left residential care in Jordan. Many of whom come from ‘unknown families’. From experience, I know that children and young people under this category are born out of marriage (through pre/extra marital relationships, sexual abuse of birth mothers). They children are either abandoned or possibly taken away by authorities to protect mothers from honour crimes. A young woman (Massara – fake name) amongst my participants managed to track down her birth mother’s family, and the police station that handled her case. The mother was to be taken to prison until Massara was born, who was then taken away and placed in care homes. Massara had an arranged marriage through her care home, she agreed because she had no one. She was physically, sexually and emotionally abused by her husband. Later she ran away from him, as her care home (that arranged the marriage and convinced her to marry) refused to help her, since she was now ‘a married woman who must return to her husband’. Desperate for help, Massara found her maternal uncle. She was urged not to find her father (the cousine of the mother) as he does not even know she exists. I have a question and a comment – I would like to know how authorities handle these cases with the men involved, and also children born in these circumstances – who along with birth mothers – ultimately pay the price – as they are stigmatised throughout their life and considered ‘children of sin’, ‘illigitemate children by law’- and later often left to fend for themselves. Perhaps their voices should be better heard. This would shed much light, and strengthen the cause of honour crimes. Unfortuantely I will not be there, but I would appreciate a reply if at all possible.
Rana Husseini: Hi dear, I think what you have just said is a true story and most of the pregnancy that results from ‘illegitimate” or extra-marital affairs end in social homes where they are raised without knowing who their parents are. The result is a sad story as the one you said. I agree with you that their voices should be heard and their stories should be told.
CJ Bahnsen: Hi Rana, Does your book include your own experiences or indirect accounts of honor killings in Iraq? Also, you listed that some women are killed simply for “talking to a stranger.” I assume that especially applies to talking to a man outside a family’s culture or religion, which leads me to my next question: Do you know of any incidents in Middle East where a woman has been killed for talking to an American soldier, or any other soldier from UN troops?
Rana Husseini: Hi dear, Yes the book does include my experience and some stories that I have reported for The Jordan Times. There are also some stories and examples from Iraq. I have never heard of or read a story whereby a woman was killed for talking to an American soldier or UN troops. but it could happen.
Issa Almasarweh: First, I want to thank Rana for her continued efforts on this unendurable issue. Second, I want to raise three points for those who believe that these terrible crimes are declining: One, many of what is classified as female suicides are in fact homicides or honor killings. Second, we need to find a more appropriate name for this type of crimes. Third, is a question “How much of these crimes are related to incest and the attemps to cover up family sexual abuse?”
Rana Husseini: Thank you very much for your encouraging words. I agree, these crimes are not on the decline and there are cases that could be forced suicide and accidental deaths that in reality are so-called honor killings. I believe that the term should be changed and that is why I call them so-called honor killing. And I do not have figures of incest.
Muhammad Aslam: I belong Sindh, a province of Pakistan, where honor killing is on top scale every day two to four women and men killed under this shameful tradition. our justice system is slow, murderer get gaps and almost become free. Govt. does not honor international agreements and convention, as Beijing 95, ICPD and so many others. How pressure can be developed on govt. to apply aggreed agreements?
Rana Husseini: i believe all countries should work on addressing domestic violence in a global perspective because if we pinpoint one or two countries we will face resistance.
Rune Bakken: Honour crimes, deeply rooted in any country where the practice exists, presents difficult and convoluted legal, social and perhaps economic challenges. Although Jauhar and Sati seems relegated to increasingly lower casts in India as society improves, the concept, and practice, continues in similar and higher casts and social classes across Pakistan, Afghanistan, the Arab world and certain countries of Africa, with a smaller number now also taking place in western societies as migrants carry their traditions to their new countries. Albeit honour killings are the most extreme measure, social pressure resulting in honour suicide and community violence is symptomatic of male dominated, financially unequal, uncompromising and violent society, where the victims are normally not given real chances to defend themselves against allegations. Given the convoluted and longwinded process of changing social perceptions and individuals’ mindsets, perhaps through attention, transparency and reporting untoward these hideous crimes, how may the UN and other countries and societies contribute to ensure that focus is directed at improving women’s rights, in otherwise predominantly violent circumstances, where day to day needs and survival comes before ensuring that a functioning legal framework is indeed in place. Secondly, what responsibility can religious leaders assume to discuss a practice that in its core does not align with the religion, nor benefit the stability or prosperity of society as a whole?
Rana Husseini: As mentioned before, this is an issue that needs to be discussed from a global perspective and we have to focus on moderate religious leaders to speak out and explain the true meanings and values of all religions.
rakesh chandra: I’m rakesh chandra pursuing my mphill from jnu new delhi. In acountry like india the concerned issue is of much importance now and then we hear news of this honour killing specially from north india. i would like to draw [to] your attention that those murdered include both male and female. in such a situation is it proper to say that these killings are related to gender disparity?
Rana Husseini: I do know that both men and women are killed in some parts of India, Pakistan and Bangladish. But this is not the case in other countries were these crimes take place.
Kantroo Chaman: Honor killing does no good to those societies, which practice it. But honor as such is not a rational concept. It is rather a sentimental issue which is historically outdated, illogical and intrinsically based in the belief that woman is sinful, wretched, source of temptation and fall which make her inferior in status as well as in religious standing. Add to this male ego and his personal convenience resulting from this position. Moral and legal systems are weak to give her sufficient support. Contrarily in these societies honor killing is justified as only moral and legal principle to guide them. Particularly when modern concepts of mainstream morality and legal system are no more than cosmetic in importance. Under such circumstances the opponents of honor killing of women have to fight on more than one plain. And fighting against a problem on many plains needs a delicately formulated plan lest the thing backfires at some point. What precautions are required to be taken to achieve success in this so called crusade? How do we de-link the political and economic interests of the civilized world from the civilizing process?
Rana Husseini: I believe the first part is answered. The second part I am afraid I did not understand what you meant by it. Sorry 🙂