“Honor is the inner garment of the Soul; the first thing put on by it with the flesh,
and the last it layeth down at its separation from it.”
- -Akhenaton, Egyptian king, 14th c. BCE
“Honor killing” is the practice by which someone murders a female member of their family for her perceived disobedience, promiscuity, immodesty, being raped or otherwise violating their cultural gender norms. This “misconduct” on the part of the female causes such loss of good reputation for the family in the eyes of their community that sometimes the only way they see to recover is to kill her.
Honor killings occur in parts of the Middle East, the Indian subcontinent and North Africa where honor is the highest value and hinges on the control of female family members. Most of the killers go free because of lenient laws or traditions in their countries. Some immigrants to Westernized countries have also committed honor killings, some receiving maximum punishments and others finding more sympathy from the courts.
The United Nations estimates there are about 5,000 of these homicides annually, but those are only the ones that are reported, so the number might be much higher. The victims are typically women or girls 15-30 years of age; usually a close male relative is the perpetrator.
The countries known to have had honor killings occur include Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Kurdistan, Iran, Jordan, Syria, Israel, Palestine, Lebanon, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, Oman, Morocco, Uganda, Sudan, Yemen, India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Brazil, Ecuador, Peru, Venezuela, Turkey and Albania. Some of their immigrants to Europe, Australia, Russia, Canada, the USA and the UK have committed honor killings, too.
Honor killings have become a human rights issue because the governments in the cultures where it occurs have repeatedly failed to protect their female citizens from it. International attention needs to be put on this issue in order to motivate a transformation, which will, ultimately, have to come from within.
Honor killing is only one form of cultural violence against women around the world. There are also bride burnings/dowry deaths, female infanticide, crimes of passion, female genital mutilation, domestic violence, acid attacks, forced and child marriage, rape as a weapon of war, sexual trafficking and more.