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The Patriarchy that Kills Women: ‘Honour’ Related Crimes

image via reuters

‘Honour’ killing is the label used to categorize the murder or attempted murder of female family members in order to recover honor in a household.

The women targeted are usually wives or daughters who have disobeyed familial ideology by defying archaic principles such as marrying outside of an arranged marriage, or running away from home. ‘Honour’ killings occur in various parts of the world like the Middle East, United States, and South America. Attention to cases in Pakistan require special attention since it is the region with the highest ‘honour’ related crimes rate. Because more than 1,000 females are victims of ‘honour’ killings in Pakistan, it is important to understand the deep-rooted influence of gender dynamics on conducting ‘honour’ killings.

In 2016, a new anti-honour killing bill started to gain momentum and was finally passed in 2017. Pakistani’s anti-honour killing law forbids family pardon on those guilty of ‘honour’ killings. However, it is crucial to acknowledge the gapes in the law that attempt to conserve the rights of those women affected in order to facilitate the proper means of helping them. One thing the law does not account for is the tactic some of the accused may now use to seek out innocence, which is to claim that the murder was not an honor-based crime. This would reduce the sentencing of an ‘honour’ killing to that of a regular murder. Apart from religious motivation, ‘honour’ killings are also condoned by the societal norms, which are propelled by male figures of authority.

Many who commit ‘honour’ killings perceive that there is religious justification because of their controversial text interpretations of the Qur’an and definitions of violence. For instance, some who have committed the crime directly reference the Qur’an and a religious obligation to murder their family member. Such a case is presented in an Academy Award winning documentary, A Girl in a River: The Price of Forgiveness.

Directed by Pakistani activist, journalist and filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, this documentary follows the story of a young girl named Saba who is an ‘honour’ killing survivor. Saba’s father takes it upon himself to punish his daughter for marrying without permission – her punishment being a shot to the head with the intention to kill her. Clips in the film show Maqsood, the father of Saba, saying he did nothing wrong in attempting to kill his daughter because she loved a man of which he did not approve. Maqsood’s rationalizes by contending, “Islam does not permit the girl to go out of the house…Where is it written that a girl can run away with a stranger? Please tell me where that is written in the Qur’an.” This line of thought vocalizes the elements of perceived religious affirmation that drives such a violation of women’s rights.

Many cases of ‘honour’ related crimes transpire because of the power of the men who believe in the practice. In the past decade, the Gender Empowerment Measure ranks Pakistan as number 82 out of 93 countries registered with the UN. While the Parliament of Pakistan does not support these crimes, one must turn to the patriarchal forces who hold most of the power in smaller Pakistani villages to account for this statistic.

Throughout Pakistani villages, Jirga tribal leaders and councils police their towns based on archaic traditions that look at women as property. Jirga tribal councils therefore marginalize women and place them on an inferior level than men. Two particular cases demonstrate the longevity of the Jirga’s power.

The Express Tribune

In 2002, Mukhtaran Mai went to the house of the Jirga Mastoi tribesmen to apologize for the alleged crimes of her brother. There, she was raped by four men, and then paraded down the streets naked. In 2016, the Jirga ordered the murder of Ambreen Riasat, a 15-year-old girl from Pakistan's northern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, for helping her friend elope. Ambreen was sedated, tied up in the back of van, strangled, and then burned.

These two, among the hundreds of reported and unreported incidents, exemplify how females are targeted by the outdated patriarchal hegemonies promoted by Jirga law. The Jirga councils contribute to the social factors that continue to oppress the autonomy of women in Pakistan. Today, ‘honour’ killings are not exclusive to the Middle East. There have been cases of ‘honour’ killings in the United States, Canada, and parts of South America. The new anti ‘honour’ killing bill is not enough to keep the women most affected safe. Countries with the highest rates of ‘honour’ killings fall short in providing the necessary resources for women to remain secure. Safe house, counseling, and judicial support are among the things that are needed in order to stop the prevalence of ‘honour’ killings.


Alexa Brady is a rising sophomore at NYU studying Journalism, Media, Cultures, & Communication.​

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