Her Life In Exchange for His Honor: The Epidemic of Honor Killings in Today’s Society

Protest against the killing of women in patriarchal societies | Source: Fempower Movement
Protest against the killing of women in patriarchal societies | Source: Fempower Movement

  The increase of vehemently violent crimes against women sweeps every nation on the face of the planet. These heinous acts manifest in a multitude ways resulting in the unethical loss of innocent life and suffering due to gender inequality.

Perpetuation of inferiority as a descriptor for womanhood makes these deaths seem minuscule in the grand scheme of life. However, it is clear through the substantial casualties due to gender that this issue runs through the core of our society. Honor killings or shame killings are the murder of a woman or girl by male family or community members seeking to protect what they see as the dignity and honor of themselves and others close to them.

There is a disproportionate number of deaths related to honor killings riddling the Middle East, North Africa, and South Asia in particular. The alleged “crimes” girls and women commit against “family honor” can range from rejecting a marriage proposal to simply having a TikTok account.

Countless women are faced with a lose-lose situation as they navigate existing in an extremely restrictive environment constructed to tear them down.  It is imperative that we as educated civilians understand, acknowledge, and recognize the raging epidemic of honor killings and the overall honor culture they are birthed from. 

          As previously stated, honor-based violence (HBV) is any form of violence or abuse that is committed to preserve the honor of a family or community. Although boys and men can be victims of HBV, women and girls are primarily subjected. A number of factors manifest a perfect storm which results in the undeserved death of an innocent woman.

In a patriarchal society where the man is heralded as the defender of honor, women are faced with an immense amount of pressure to preserve the reputation of the family or community in question. Illiteracy, economic disadvantages, lack of legal knowledge, and minimal support systems contribute to the possibility of falling victim to HBV as a woman.

There are a multitude of reasons why a woman or a girl would be targeted for an honor killing. Acts such as getting pregnant out of wedlock, being a sexual assault victim, and refusing an arranged marriage are the most common. Additionally, if a woman requests a divorce for any reason, asks to marry a person of her choice, or attends college without family consent, she is fair game. Even speaking to a man can result in her suffering.

The sense of entitlement male family and community members have for murdering women can be traced back to the ideology that women are the property of the male and that they are required to abide by their standards of living. 

          Nazela, an 18 year old girl in Afghanistan, fell victim to an honor killing in the Baharak district of the province of Badakhshan on May 1, 2020. District governor Noor Agha Naderi explained that the reason for her murder was her rejection of a marriage proposal her family arranged. It was uncovered that Nazela had run away from home and hid in the police headquarters with her boyfriend to evade facing her family.

Her brother appeared two days later to pick her up. He promised the police that she would be safe and that nothing bad would happen to her. Her life was taken away from her an hour later. The brother then fled to an area controlled by the Taliban. Naderi then stated that the police involved in releasing Nazela were suspended and being investigated.

Many placed the blame on the police for mishandling the situation and allowing Nazela to be taken. This is one of the many cases of young women subjected to extreme violence all because they had a mind and identity of their own.

         In Iraq, Youtube star Tiba al - Ali was murdered by her father Tayyip Ali because he did not agree with her decision to move to Turkey and marry her Syrian fiance.

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The dispute occurred when she returned to Iraq to visit her home in Diwaniya in January. It is said that Tayyip strangled Tiba in her sleep on the 31st of January. He then turned himself in to the police. A local government member stated that Tiba’s father was sentenced in April for a short sentence.

This sparked an outrage which resulted in Iraqi women protesting against legislation around honor killings and HBV. The Iraqi Penal Code permits honor as a plausible reason for violent crimes committed against family members. It allows for lenient punishments as a result of HBV on the grounds of there being an “honorable” reason and provocation.

Iraq's interior ministry spokesman, Gen Saad Maan, chalked the murder up to an “accident” that happened to Tiba.“In the perspective of law, it is a criminal accident, and in other perspectives, it is an accident of honor killings." This way of thinking is extremely harmful as it gives grace to Tiba’s father and every other man that has committed HBV against a woman. 

            5,000 women and girls across the world are murdered by family members each year in honor killings according to the UN. In response, activists have come together worldwide to combat the raging epidemic of HBV. Back in 2022, An anti-caste coalition of activists and organizations by the name of the Dalit Human Rights Defenders Network (DHDRN) created a draft Bill to criminalize and put an end to honor killings.

The purpose of the Bill was to get legislature to impose nationwide protections against HBV.​​ This effort attacks the root of the problem which is problematic legislation regarding the topic of gender-based violence. In another instance, grassroots organizations inside Iran created alliances internationally that have been active through the campaign against honor killings.

The campaign’s primary focus is the message that no one’s worth and being is defined by another person’s perceived honor. This has resulted in conversations between Iranian women’s rights activists and men and families about honor killings. This helped to open people up to discussion surrounding the topic. Efforts like these are helping to bring awareness to this issue further eliciting change within our society.

           Honor - based violence and crimes surrounding gender have been around for centuries but that doesn’t mean it has to stay like that. What happens to these innocent women and girls around the world is a result of the complete disregard for the lives of women.

It is an extreme case of misogyny and ignorance that has violently affected the way women are treated. If we do not work to put an end to this violence, we will actively be perpetuating gender inequality and sending a message to young girls that they are susceptible to violence just for existing.

The fight against HBV starts with challenging legislature that allows the perpetrators to get away with it. We also need to remain educated on the topic.

It is imperative that we as aware citizens and open - minded scholars stay involved and up to date on this everlasting issue. The day that we empower ourselves with the knowledge necessary is the day that we can put an end to this struggle.


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