It’s your sweet sixteen soon. You are excited. You are in your room, day dreaming and planning the ultimate party when Mum budges in and tells you that you have to marry your cousin in Pakistan. You are horrified: You want to go to college and get a job- you don’t even know him, how could you marry someone you haven’t met? You say no, Mum slaps you across the face and walks out.
You know you are grounded but are amazed by how long this ‘grounding’ is taking. You haven’t been allowed out in ages, your family thinks you are disgusting and because you said no you have shamed them. You father, mother, even your young brother beat you daily. Your body is covered with bruises and you haven’t been fed for days. Subsequently, you are increasingly paranoid and suicidal.
Diyabakir, Turkey — Desperately unhappy, 21-year-old Sahe Fidan leaves the husband she despises and seeks refuge in her parents’ home. They refuse to take her in. A married woman can leave her husband only in a coffin, they tell her. Fidan returns to the husband. Not so long afterwards, she leaves him in a coffin. She is found hanged in the bathroom, her infant son strapped to her back with a sheet.
Arizona, United States— Noor Faleh Almaleki is murdered by her own father, Faleh Almaleki, because “she was too westernized.” Noor dies from the injuries she receives when her father brutally mows her down with his car.
These acts are known as ‘Honour’ killings- punishment carried out by a male relative-usually a brother or father, against women who have been accused of bringing shame on their family. According to statistics obtained under the Freedom of Information Act such punishments include: abductions, forced marriage, mutilations, beatings and murder.
Additionally,UN reports rank domestic violence as one of the main cause of death or injury among women aged 15 and 44. Honour killings, increasingly evident in the UK, are a result of most domestic violence. These attacks are practised in Sikh, Hindu and Middle Eastern communities as well as in Albania, Kosovo, Montenegro and in the eastern parts of Turkey. However, just a few decades back, crimes in the name of honour were prevalent in Mediterranean countries like Italy, Spain and Greece.
In the United Kingdom, honour attacks reports are up by 47% in just a year, these figures are shared by the Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation (Ikwro). Two years ago, 2,823 incidents were recorded. Campaigners say that this is likely to be only the tip of the iceberg as so many incidents go unreported because of victims’ fears of recriminations.
In India, sociologists believe that the reason why honour killings continue to take place is because of the continued rigidity of the caste system. Citizens fear losing their caste status which often comes with many benefits.
There are also honour attacks and killings within the Muslim community. Islam is clear on its prohibition of sexual relationships outside of marriage. This prohibition does not distinguish between men and women, even though, in some countries, women are singled out for punishment of sexual crimes while the men, even rapists, may be exempted.
In order for a case to be worthy of a Muslim court hearing, several strict criteria must be met. The most important is being that any accusation of illicit sexual behaviour (zina) must have been seen by four witnesses; and they must have been witnesses to the act of sexual intercourse itself. Other forms of intimacy do not constitute zina and therefore are not subject to any legal consequences even though they are not appropriate and are considered sinful. In this case, it is clear that the woman alone bears the consequences of her actions and that she alone should be answerable to her god. Unfortunately, the legal system, the police and prisons have, for a long time now, considered such violence as socially acceptable and legitimate or even necessary in the defence of the family honour.
Good news, in Britain this month, as the government announces its plans to criminalise forced marriage which is seen by experts as the root cause of honour crimes. While it will be a crime under the new law, the Crown Prosecution Service will issue guidance to ensure that a prosecution is not pursued without the victim’s consent. The new law will also maintain the existing civil protection for victims of forced marriage while enabling those who want to seek justice through the courts to do so.
Although this is a step in the right direction, “honour killings” and other crimes that affect women require an immediate change in attitude. The key, in the future, lies in educating every woman and child.