Kill Them Before They Breed

CW: murder

Qandeel Baloch. Samia Shahid. What do these two women have in common? They both shared a grim fate – they were murdered. Their crime? Bringing ‘dishonour’ to their families.

In Pakistan alone, 1096 honour killings were reported last year; that is three women a day.

Baloch was an outspoken Pakistani feminist activist, a model and an actress, known throughout the subcontinent for being brave, in control of her body, and speaking against misogynistic personalities. We, as feminists, perceive these to be characteristics of a powerful heroine, but they are viewed as negatives in many South Asian communities. She was strangled by her brother, who proudly admits to the crime.

Shahid was visiting family in Pakistan, when she was killed by one of her family members for divorcing her cousin and marrying another man. While the concept of inter-family marriages being perceived as wrong is heavily westernised, this woman was killed because she dared to make her own decisions about her own life. The family is still attempting to cover up the crime, but investigations into the murder continue.

The concept of ‘honour killings’ dates back to even before medieval times – men would commonly kill adulterous wives. It has now evolved to include daughters or sisters who bring shame to their family name, most often in forms of marrying out of choice rather than family approval, or acting in ways someone from their family usually would not. The practice, since day one, has bred an internalised heroism complex, allowing men to act as unnecessary saviours of their family name.

In Pakistan alone, 1096 honour killings were reported last year; that is three women a day.

If all of the countries in the Middle East and North Africa (areas where honour killings are considered most prevalent) had similar statistics, 24112 victims would have died in the name of ‘family honour’. There aren’t, however, many statistics available surrounding ‘honour killings’ – there are mostly estimates, which in itself proves that such crimes go unnoticed, slipping under the radar as ‘just another death’.

Families that hold such beliefs need to realise that women are not objects that can be exiled based on the fact that they choose to make their own decisions. A study conducted in Amman (Jordan’s capital city), shows that one third of all of the teenagers involved in the study believe that honour killings are justified. The same study also brought out the fact that teenage boys were more inclined than girls to support an honour killing. This culture normalises the process of killing one’s own sister, mother or wife because they have acted in a way which is viewed as wrong in the eyes of a male. The internalised heroism complex extends from this – society continually applauds these men for brutally murdering their female family members. While men believe there are acting as heroes, what they don’t realise is that they’re actually committing cowardly acts to rob heroines of their voice. In one case, a Kurdish man even murdered his girlfriend, because she became pregnant outside of wedlock. Situations like this prove how society allows men to act as heroes and steer the moral compass, being able to decide what is right and wrong – at the end of the day, that woman could not have become pregnant without the man, and it is immensely hypocritical for society to allow the man to get away with such a deed. The study, along with the case mentioned, proves that the concept of ‘honour killings’ is normalised in many countries in the Middle East, North Africa and the Indian Subcontinent.

While women continue to be perceived as lesser beings in the eyes of society, this crime will continue to happen; women will continue to be murdered in the name of family pride and honour.

The name in itself – ‘honour’ killing – is problematic. It is allowing male perpetrators to get away with crimes of patriarchal violence, in the name of pride. The fact that these murders are called ‘honour killings’ is fuelling the egos of families that choose to commit such crimes, and is allowing them to justify that they have killed their wife, mother, daughter, or sister in the name of family pride. Men have become scared of losing their power in society, causing them to commit such heinous crimes, to build an internal saviour image.

On numerous occasions, the UN has attempted to respond, and remedy these crimes. In 2002 and 2004 they vowed to end honour killings. But how? Websites have been created, and campaigns have been run, but are these really the solutions we need? The enforceability of the UN is an issue in itself, and the fact of the matter is that these campaigns are simply not reaching the real perpetrators. They are educating you, and I, and for this they deserve full credit, but they are not solving the issue.

The problem, however, is not limited just to honour killings – they are an extreme consequence of the internalised (and explicitly externalised) heroism complex that exists within much of the male population, in all backgrounds – be that western, Middle Eastern or South Asian. Unfortunately, even though the UN is no hero in this case, I can sit here and write about the issue, but even I do not hold the solution to this problem.

While women continue to be perceived as lesser beings in the eyes of society, this crime will continue to happen; women will continue to be murdered in the name of family pride and honour. Wives, mothers, sisters and daughters – heroines – will continue to be murdered for choosing to make their own decisions.

Ultimately, there is no honour or heroism in killing. It is a terrifying thought that so much of the world’s population is able to justify murder with the claim it is saving a family’s pride and honour.