15 Ways We Can Transform the Crisis of Honor Violence

May 15, 2014 | 5

Honor violence will not end until a lot more people recognize it as a global crisis and are galvanized to put an end to it. It will require courage, education, determination, leadership, stamina and solidarity across the globe.

This is a list I am always updating as I get new, better ideas. If you have any feedback about what should or should not be included, please share with me in the comments. Together, we can create a solution. Thanks!

1. Start by calling it what it is: a crisis. Demand government leaders across the globe end violence against women and girls in their own countries and put pressure on other countries to do the same.

2. Spread awareness locally and globally. In the US, police detective Chris Boughey who worked on the Noor Almaleki case in Arizona told me that police often don’t take seriously would-be victim’s complaints or fears because they don’t understand the concept of honor violence.

3. Remove the stigma of discussing honor violence due to political correctness or religious/cultural sensitivity. Detective Boughey, who trains police departments in the US on honor violence, said that is another reason police are reluctant to get involved until it’s too late.

4. Understand how it got this way. I think it would be useful for people in the Honor Killing Zone to know that it hasn’t always been this way; that, in fact, it’s barely been this way. If they aren’t already aware, how would these women feel to know their ancestors were queens who governed nations, priestesses who presided over the holiest ceremonies of the Great Goddess, inventors, scribes, warriors and mothers who were deeply respected? (When God Was a Woman, Merlin Stone. Barnes and Noble Books, New York, 1976. pp. 34-37, 45-47, 55, 61.)

5. Secularize and optimize legal frameworks to maximize punishments for honor violence – then enforce those laws fully.

6. Offer help. While those inside the Honor Killing Zone aren’t doing enough yet to create change in this context, neither are those of us outside the regions working collaboratively enough yet, possibly because we’re not being asked much. One recent independent study on strategies to combat violence against women found that across 70 countries “the autonomous mobilization of feminists in domestic and transnational contexts was the critical factor in policy change” which points to the importance of ongoing activism. (“New Actors, New Money, New Conversations: A Mapping of Recent Initiatives for Women and Girls”. Julia Miller, Angelika Arutyunova, and Cindy Clark. Association for Women in Development, 2013. p. 43.) Let established and fledgling indigenous women’s organizations trying to deal with honor violence know that you care and wish to offer assistance if it is desired.

7. Work to change the internalized attitudes and cultural norms that make honor violence acceptable. Other than Ayaan Hirsi Ali, I know of no indigenous activists working against honor killing who are really calling the patriarchy to task as the source of the problem. To stop honor killing is to destroy the key mechanism they have to control females: it’s systemic terrorism they use on half of their own people. In the Pew Forum 2013 survey of 38,000 Muslims in large Muslim populations, majorities rejected honor killing in only 14 out of the 23 countries surveyed. Support for honor killings appears to be highest in Afghanistan, Iraq, Egypt, Jordan and Bangladesh. (India and Saudi Arabia weren’t included in this survey.) Policy guidance helps to step up investments in prevention—the most cost-effective, long-term means to stop violence. (“Ending Violence Against Women”, UN Women website) The Pew survey shows that what people want for their society and believe about how it should behave is generally what they get. (The World’s Muslims: Religion, Politics and Society, survey by Pew Research Center, April 30, 2013) What they believe because of their enculturation changes their neurons and neural pathways. (Interview with clinical neuropsychologist, Mario Martinez, “Insights at the Edge”, Sounds True radio) Studies have shown that social pain and physical pain use the same part of the brain. People literally hurt when they feel dishonored because they are humiliated and ostracized (“Why rejection hurts: a common neural alarm system for physical and social pain,” Naomi I. Eisenberger and Matthew D. Lieberman. TRENDS in Cognitive Sciences, Vol. 8 No.7, July 2004), so some social scientists suggest long-term societal reprogramming.

8. Educate women about their human rights. The Pew Forum survey revealed that the majority of Muslim women in Muslim-dominated countries do not want “women’s rights”. (The World’s Muslims: Religion, Politics and Society, survey by Pew Research Center, April 30, 2013) Other studies show that most of the women in the Honor Killing Zone believe they deserve to be beaten by their husbands under some circumstances. (“TV is good for you, if you’re a rural woman in India, at least,” Joel Waldfogel, Slate, August 20, 2007; “Statistics by Area: Percentage of women aged 15–49 who think that a husband/partner is justified in hitting or beating his wife/partner under certain circumstances”, UNICEF: ChildInfo, Monitoring the Situation of Children and Women, Jan. 2013; “Turkish women believe they ‘deserve to be beaten’,” Mail & Guardian (Africa), Oct. 21, 2004; Palestinian Women: Patriarchy and Resistance in the West Bank, Cheryl Rubenberg. Lynne Rienner Publishers, Boulder, Jan 1, 2001. p. 140; “Survey of Young People in Egypt: Final Report”. Population Council. 2011).  An organization in Turkey has been educating women about their rights and 60% of women who take their course are able to end the domestic violence in their home. They may not want “women’s rights” but do they want respect, dignity, safety, education, health, employment, bodily integrity or to choose their spouse, if any? We need to put it in terms they value and relate to.

9. Grow leaders to speak out against honor violence. Women in the Honor Killing Zone must champion their own human rights more to transform honor violence. Most honor murderers are male but women also support and participate in the practice and are almost always the ones to do FGM. Men are virtually absent from the eradication side of this cause. The ones against honor killing rarely speak up, including the sheiks. In each community, those who are anti-honor violence – both men and women – should be identified, trained and supported to spread their ideas. A Cambridge University study concluded that for society to change its views, “coherent messages against honor-related violence [must come] from political and religious elites, and decisive action by the criminal justice system.” (“Third of teens in Amman, Jordan, condone honor killings, study says,” Laura Smith-Spark, CNN. June 20, 2013) If Islamic clerics spoke out against every honor killing, it would begin to help shift attitudes.

10. Provide much greater financial resources to eradicate this problem. Violence is lower on the list of private sector investments in women’s rights development as it takes longer to see results. Of 170 private sector initiatives for women’s rights that the Association for Women in Development looked at last year, only 11% addressed violence against women and girls. There are no stats on how much of that goes towards honor violence. (“New Actors, New Money, New Conversations: A Mapping of Recent Initiatives for Women and Girls”. Julia Miller, Angelika Arutyunova, and Cindy Clark. Association for Women in Development, 2013, p. 18.) Support your local shelters for women escaping honor violence.] 

11. Make your own country the best possible role model for women’s human rights starting with CEDAW — the Convention to End All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. Find out how much your country is fulfilling its obligations to this global convention (if it has ratified it) and push to close the gaps. (Convention to End All Forms of Discrimination Against (CEDAW) website) Contact your representative to push for the International Violence Against Women Act – in the case of Americans, call your Congressperson’s office ASAP and ask them to co-sponsor the bill (“The International Violence Against Women Act”, Futures Without Violence website).

12. Share a strong unifying vision for what we’re shooting for. Graeme Bowman, co-founder of Wise Women Will Save the World says, “We need to organize an unprecedented expression of massive solidarity across the globe in the tens and then hundreds of millions…a permanently connected, committed, confident and creative collective of women [and male allies] that is fully aware of their capacity to change the course of human history.”

13. Support the organizations that are doing the most to end honor violenceHere’s a list. Just pick one, or one that empowers women in general…The Global Fund for Women, The Malala Fund, Futures Without Violence, UN Women, Sisters in Islam…and commit yourself to doing something meaningful for them once a week. Our collective action could move the dial.

14. Speak out for the victims. Encourage and protect victims of all violence and abuse to speak out and hold their abusers accountable. We need to get over our fears around this – what will people think of me if I say something? They’ll think you are a leader trying to eradicate a pandemic crisis, that’s what.

15. Keep publicizing and shaming the honor killers. The bullies need to be called out and learn that their behavior is condemned by most of the world. Silence and non-action is read as tacit agreement.

Comments (5)

  1. Your work is admirable; I can see your passion and commitment to this cause. But why continue using the term, “honor killings?” This is the term that the perpetrators use to justify MURDER. There is no honor. Perhaps substitute the term familial femicide, or as the police call it capital murder. Honor killing as a term is recognizable, but please put some effort into changing this phrase. Think of this. We say, “FMG”; they call it female circumcision, which I view as also a human rights violation: chopping off pieces of boys and girls genitals. I hope you’re successful in your quest to stop violence against women and girls.

    • admin

      “Honor killing ” is the absurd term used in the countries where the practice originates and, while there is no honor in these murders, their idea of “honor” is the motive. And that is absolutely crucial to understand. I think it’s important that we use the same term the perpetrating cultures use so that we are clear on what crime we are fighting. I would rather spend my time trying to stop honor killing than trying to stop people saying “honor killing”, but if it bothers you, I encourage you to take the lead in this cause!

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