Honor killings are one of the most violent manifestations of patriarchal power over women. When a woman is seen to have dishonored her family in some way, she is punished by a member of her family, while the police and community often do nothing to prevent the act of violence against her or punish the perpetrator.
Often times the act that supposedly brought dishonor was not a crime at all. If a women tries to escape from her abusive husband, that could be interpreted at bringing dishonor. If a woman is widowed and seeks a new husband, often her family sees that as a dishonor.
Sometimes it might be grounds for divorce, such as cheating or committing adultery, but certainly not grounds for the violent extra-judicial punishment that is meted out.
While many human rights groups, media outlets and politicians focus only on honor killings in Islamic countries or honor killings committed by Muslims, the fact is that honor killings can occur in any country where there is the presence of patriarchy, even in the heart of the United States of America.
Amnesty International has documented scores of honor killings in countries like Pakistan, Iran, Afghanistan and Iraq. In these countries a woman is often forced by either the law or her family to abide by certain practices which are seen as traditions. When they refuse, whether it be by not wearing a Burqa, by seeking a divorce from an abusive husband, or other ways, they are punished by having acid thrown at their face, beaten, or even murdered.
This is only a part of Amnesty’s larger campaign against all violence directed towards women. On their website Amnesty explains that it is against violence against women in custody, acid burning and dowry deaths, “honor” killings, domestic violence and female genital mutilation. While those are all important human rights violations to oppose, the question of how much honor killings and domestic violence are interrelated is ignored.
It seems as though domestic violence is Amnesty’s term for when a woman in the US or another “western” country is subjected to the same violence as a woman in Pakistan is subjected to what is called “honor” killings. Consider the case of Florida citizen Christoper Offord. He murdered his wife because she wanted to snuggle with him instead of watch sports. In another Florida case, Michael Jenkins murdered his wife Felicia during a heated discussion about getting divorced.
These cases sound strikingly similar to cases in Islamic countries like Pakistan. Another excellent example of how western honor killings take place is with the bombings of anti-choice crusader Eric Rudolf. Rudolf used bombs to attack abortion clinics, and killed several people. What’s the difference between what Rudolf was doing and a woman who is murdered by her brother for obtaining an abortion in Pakistan?
It seems by labeling such violence as domestic, Amnesty International is taking these crimes out of the public sphere and into the private sphere. This is playing into the hands of reactionary governments that wish to do the same thing for all such honor killings and violence. Even though many countries where such killings take place have outlawed such practices, the reality is that they rarely prosecute the perpetrators of such hideous crimes. We must demand that all people recognize that the personal is political and that such crimes are not family matters to be dealt with in private, but are issues that concern all of civil society and must be fought against.
Violence against women in the name of honor occurs all over the world, if we are to oppose it in one area, we must oppose it everywhere.
Some try to argue that these acts of violence are manifestations of local culture and should be allowed to stay. These claims are as stupid as they are irrelevant. If we were to accept this logic, then we would have to accept the idea that the Southern states of the US had a right to manifest their local culture by keeping slavery or Jim Crow laws. These claims of local cultures right to be degrading should be laughed at whether they be from Pat Robertson or Mullah Omar of the Taliban.
Besides, there is a culture of feminism in all countries. There are human and women’s rights groups fighting against honor killings and other violence against women in almost every country of the world. This is the kind of local culture we should be promoting. Granted these movements have made further gains and in-roads in some countries compared to others, but we should stand with all progressives and feminists the world over.
Furthermore Women’s civil rights should be respected and as a class they should have equal status as men and trans peoples in all areas of life. Their ethnicity should not be a reason to deny them the rights afforded white privileged women.
Their human rights should be given without hesitation. Women and progressives should be trusted with their own emancipation in their own cultural context. The US should not carry a “white man’s burden” as it would not be exporting feminism, and even if it were, it would be stripping Afghani women, Pakistani women or whomever of their autonomy.
In the first two weeks of the US invasion of Afghanistan, more Afghani’s were murdered than in the 9/11 attacks. While US oil companies lined to install their point man Hamid Karzai, they claimed that this invasion would improve the conditions for women, who were brutally oppressed under the Taliban. Even many western feminists supported this invasion with those promises, the Feminist Majority being one of them.
If they bothered to listen to actual Afghan women in groups like the Revolutionary Association of Women in Afghanistan, they would realize that Afghan women did not want their country to be bombed. They did not want patronizing western so-called feminists to tell them that because of this invasion Afghan women would get McDonalds, cell phones and cable TV with Sex and the City, (if they could afford it all) and that then they would be liberated. In actuality, what these so-called feminists from the US were doing was justifying mass murder and imperialism. Opening up Afghanistan to the global capitalist economy is not freedom and liberation for women.
Both RAWA and Amnesty International have criticized the lack of improvement for women’s rights in Afghanistan. For all the rhetoric about liberating Afghan women, they are still attacked if they don’t adhere to the dress code. They are still murdered for being accused of adultery, and now they have to deal with an occupation army that is more concerned with protecting foreign investors than women’s rights.
Such violence against women is global and impacts us all. I know at least two close female friends of mine who have been in abusive relationships where if their male partner felt as though they were challenging his authority, it was dishonoring him and cause for violence. The advent of the internet has allowed men with vile in their heats to express how they feel about women in a way so the whole world can see, consider this post in response to an article about a Japanese man who decapitated his wife:
“Actually, head chopping isn't a new thing in Japan, that was an old practice done by Japanese men a long time ago, something America needs to adapt for our wifes… It doesn't mention what she did in order for him to want to chop her head off… They aren't as good, as many foreigners think they are, some of these women are very disrespectful, don't listen, and do many other vile things. You gotta keep them in line sometimes, and Japanese men know there own women, better then foreigners do… I've known so many Japanese wifes that cheated, out of revenge in an argument, they think an argument is a ticket to cheating behind your back. Even a little argument with the husband, the Japanese women is looking for revenge, and thats cheating. Black Americans might not be into head chopping, but we do pull out the gun, if we gotta cheating wife,” (sic).
One must wonder how they can defeat such hatred and violence. How can we make sure that they will never be honor killings again? A three pronged approach makes the most sense:
Education is key. People all over the world should be educated about feminist philosophy, and women’s issues. Women and men should be educated about their rights and how to assert and use those rights as equals.
Support for progressives, human rights groups, survivors feminists and women’s clinics all over the world. We can’t carry a “western burden” but must see ourselves as equals, as brothers and sisters in solidarity and community against all forms of patriarchy.
Fight for prosecution and rehab of honor killing perpetrators by society, not governments. We can not rely on the same governments that ignore honor killings to honestly change their ways. Since we can’t have those who commit violent crimes going unpunished, walking the streets and being a danger, they should get treatment and if rehabilitated reenter society.
With this approach we can change the world for the better and eliminate honor killings and similar violence.