Why honour killings will keep on happening, over and over again


Every few months there's another horrible headline. A young woman murdered by her own family because she dared to choose her own husband. A woman set on fire by her male relatives. Teenage girls murdered near their own village after vicious assaults on them.

A ten year old child set to be killed by her family after being raped by a religious teacher.

Yeah. You read it right. 

Age ten. Raped. Murder planned by her own parents.

It hits facebook and people share the story with their shocked comments underneath.

"How could parents do this to their own child?"

"This is sick."

"I can't imagine how this could happen."

Well I can.

This happens because the culture of honour and shame, a culture that hates women, objectifies them, traps and covers and makes them completely invisible in every single way; that culture is stronger than individuals. Honour and shame are stronger than feelings parents have for children. Honour and shame are more important than a child's rights, than a girl's life, than a need for justice and punishment and naming of the perpetrators.

In an honour and shame culture that hates women, rapists are not to blame. It's always the girl's fault. Always the lavisciousness of the tempting female, who, just by existing, just by being there, just by the very fact of her femaleness, is the one who tempts, who cajoles, who Asks For It.

And when girls are considered sexual objects from the age of nine, hey, age isn't an issue.

Ask me. I know about this.

No, I'm not part of the culture. But I grew up in it. I saw what happens when boys grow up expecting their sisters to bring them tea and wash their socks, give them the meat, eggs and fish on the table, being the ones to give permission for them to leave the house, of course, never, ever without a male escort. 

I felt what happens when men tell a girl or woman in a public place that she shouldn't be there, that she should be home behind four walls and a curtain, that her X-chromosomes are out of place where other people can see them. Age nine: being told that I should begin to 'cover up' and wear ankle to neck clothing. Age eleven: groped in a busy bazaar while I walked along next to my father. Age 12-16: photographed, catcalled, insulted and laughed at while walking anywhere. Age 14: stopped on the road near my home by a middle aged man who touched my face and said something I couldn't understand. Age 15: Scared by the fear of a rape that I believe would have happened had my parents not been within shouting distance of me. 

But that's just fiddle-de-dee stuff. That's just oh, poor me, I suffered in a tiny way.

The *real* problems come about, the killings and the hiding of the killing, because culture and community, honour and shame, trumps all.

In a place where the births of boys are celebrated because they add to the wealth and prosperity of the extended family, and where births of girls are mourned because they are expensive and cumbersome to marry off, a girl is a commodity. No more, no less. She's there to be useful around the house until she's old enough to get married, at which point she's there to bear babies (boys, preferably) and be useful around the house. 

Feelings of girls? Irrelevant. Education of girls? Unnecessary. Self-determination of girls? A threat to the honour of the family, which is completely reliant on the family being seen to control its women.

If a girl is raped, she's unmarriageable because the virginity of a family's unmarried females is its honour. Plus it's either her fault for being there, or her family's fault for not keeping her 'safe'. If a girl is unmarriageable, no matter what the cause, she becomes a stain on the family honour. She's also a financial burden on the family. She could cause ongoing problems for other members of the extended family. Who wants to marry their son to a girl from a family with a dishonourable reputation? 

And although parents love their children, and feel a natural affection for them, they've still got to live in their village, do business in their town, attend their place of worship or go to family weddings and parties where Everyone Has An Opinion.

And so, you see, it works this way: it's better for everyone if the girl who has brought dishonour to the family is disposed of. It's better for the community, better for the family, even better for the girl herself. After all, how can she live as a black sheep in her community, despised, talked about and shunned. Everyone else thinks she'd be better off dead. And where everybody else's voices are king, you listen.

How will honour killings be stopped?

Massive, radical culture change. That's the only way. If and when girls and women are seen as people, as human beings in their own right, honour killings will stop because 'honour' won't be dependent on one gender controlling the other gender. Yes, individuals can and should try to change things, a bit at a time, but it's not going to be quick and it's not going to be easy. 

What can we do, we who decry the practice as terrible, unthinkable, horrific? Start treating our own girls and women as people, for a start. Examine the small, daily, invisible ways we belittle, pigeon-hole and relegate girls to the sidelines. Think through the concepts of rape culture, modesty culture and male privilege and how much or how little we buy into them in ways we've never realised. Teach our sons about violence, manipulation and the wrong of throwaway jokes about the supposed 'place' of women. 

If you want bigger action, start supporting charities and groups that provide specific help to women in countries around the world. Help out at a shelter for victims of domestic violence. There are plenty that provide women with micro-loans for small businesses, or help rape victims of war rebuild their lives. 

And pray.

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