“Honor killings” - a horrific injustice deep rooted in centuries of established cultural norms, expressive oppression, and patriarchy. These killings are a manifestation of extreme violence against women that seems prevalent in South Asia and in several Muslim-majority countries.
Innocent women are often stoned, poisoned, shot, or beaten to death by their own families in the name of “family honor,” but we rarely hear about such barbarity in western mainstream media. It seems as if human lives in PoC majority countries are of lesser value than western lives. Why else do first world journalists explicitly highlight atrocities’ occurring in western countries, but shrug off the ones occurring on the other side of the planet? We seem to be living under the impression that if it is not happening here, it is not happening at all.
According to the United Nations, around 5,000 women are murdered every year for defying marital parameters set by strict traditional society, but since the majority of cases are not reported, this number could be closer to 20,000. Whilst avoiding stereotypes and misinterpretations, it is important for us to remember misogyny knows no religion.
Now, a multitude of reasons can change a family’s opinion to deem their daughter’s life less important than an action she committed, however, it all comes from the same place – the notion that you can control women. A history of misogyny and sexism have created unnecessary barriers and parameters for women across the globe, but this issue in particular needs more attention. Persistence of honor killings can be linked to discriminatory attitudes about women, particularly around their sexuality. Due to the rarity of being tried and convicted, intentionally flawed police investigations, and unsettling pardon from victim’s relatives, it is no surprise that this crime is on the rise in some countries like Pakistan.
The idea that a woman’s body and brain needs to be in the hands of someone else is almost silly. An individual’s actions should be a reflection upon themselves, not an entire community. But in societies latched on to obsessive self images, one wrong move can cause an entire family to turn against their daughters, their sisters, their mothers, or even their wives.
Although over 1,100 killings have been reported in Pakistan alone, experts believe most cases go unreported. It’s sad that is takes the savage murder of a young girl to occasionally make national headlines to bring to light an issue that happens all too often.
Recently, 15-year-old Ambreen was strangled, drugged, and burnt to a death for a universally common crime: secretly helping her friend elope to a man that evoked defiance against customs. Thousands of similar situations cost women their lives for defying conservative marriage traditions, and consequentially, discrediting their family reputation. How absolutely illogical; isn’t having a reputation of using acid or burning your daughter alive worse than anything she could’ve done?
Let me be painstakingly clear, there is no such thing as killing for family honor, only cold blooded murder. Murder is a serious crime deserving of harsh penalties, but when it comes to violence against women involving this supposed “honor,” the law lacks justice. It wasn’t until the recent screening of an Oscar winning documentary about honor killings, “The Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness,” that Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, condemned such crimes. Interesting that it took an entire documentary and inflamed media attention, pressure, and outrage for any real action to take place.
It would be galvanizing for young girls and women alike in certain areas of South Asian countries to have access to better educational opportunities, essentially giving them employment, and life in better economic conditions. But more importantly, instead of focusing on female culture, we need to focus on changing male culture. To understand misogyny means to acknowledge the frequency amongst men as well as society to normalize the oppression and sexualization of women for a sense of “entitlement.”
Even with stricter laws and penalties, not much has changed. A fundamental part of equality is having free will over you body, brain, choices, and emotions. I think it’s about time we stop referring to this crime as “honor killings” and stick to murder. The fact that most women still have to fight for this basic freedom is daunting. Even with varying circumstances, the dire need for massive reform in attitudes towards women is clear. It is our job to speak out against injustice until respect for all men and women is achieved. The concept of honor must be reconstructed and uplifted by valuing lives, not ending them.