Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Today 13 women will be killed in the name of Honour

Well, The Sydney Morning Herald views the recent 1.7% increase in the gender pay gap as the most pressing wome's issue and The Age fret about the lack of time mothers spend with their children but back in the real world i received this e-mail from the International Campaign Against Honour Killings reminding us that today 13 girls will be killed in the name of honour. Take some time out to read it.


Today is International Womens' Day, a day when women worldwide celebrate their achievements and take stock of the challenges against them. Today is a day like any other, and as such, 13 girls and women will be murdered in the name of honour, like the three women murdered in Gaza on the 27th of February where honour is the suspected motivation, a women murdered in Sindh on the 26th, the woman choked to death in Jordan on the 23rd, and the two young women hacked to death in Pakistan on the 22nd.

Today in London, numerous defendants will stand in the dock in the Old Bailey, accused in what police have termed the honour killing of Banaz Mahmoud Babakir Agha, a twenty-year-old girl from Iraqi Kurdistan with a sweet heart-shaped face and the temerity to end an unhappy marriage forced upon her at a young age, and to seek to rebuild her life with a partner of her own choosing. Her dismembered body was found buried in a suitcase in a garden belonging to her relatives.

For families that follow the doctrine of honour, women are possessions of the males in their family. Her honour resides in submission and chastity. Her role is ancillary: as a daughter, a wife, a mother. At all stages of life she is defined and controlled by the males within her circle, and any attempt to express her personhood and particularly her sexuality must be violently controlled. The shame brought to a family by female autonomy can only be erased by her murder.

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International Campaign Against Honour Killings

Even rumour is enough to sound a death-knell for some young women: Hamda Abu-Ghanem, whose death was reported on the 17th January, was the eighth woman of her Israeli Arab family to be murdered in the name of honour in six years. She was deemed to have dishonoured her family by holding long conversations on the phone and having once met her cousin.

United Nations Population Fund estimates that over 5000 victims a year are killed in the name of honour, however gathering any reliable statistics is hampered by the fact that female children are often not registered at birth and so live and die without leaving any records, and by the conspiracy of silence created by the family and by collusion by police, judiciary and medical services who are sympathetic to the culture of honour. Even more uncountable are the women and girls who live constrained lives under what Nyamko Sabuni has termed honour oppression, where the threat of honour crime leaves women as virtual prisoners, too afraid to assert their independence and enjoy their full status as human beings in their own right.

A phenomenon which has been hitherto veiled in ignorance and obscurity has been forced into the light and various countries have been forced into confronting this brutal, patriarchal form of violence and oppression. Even so, much remains to be done to mobilise society against such crimes. Banaz Mahmoud Babakir Agha reported her fears on numerous occasions to the London Metropolitan Police, even providing the names of the men who are now standing trial. Protection was not extended to her, a failure in which British society is culpable along with the murderers. Revulsion against these acts of brutality must not be used to feed into racist attitudes. Racism in society against minorities and may discourage the majority who oppose these acts from speaking out for fear of increasing prejudice. For change to happen all parties must feel able to approach each other in the spirit of co-operation, with openness, honesty and a straightforward wish to address the issues.

Investigating the murder of Hamda Abu-Ghanem, Commander Yifrah Duchovny said "The hardest part at these crime scenes is the quiet: Each time my stomach turns over in finding the body of a young girl, and around her the house is quiet. Everyone stands silent. There is no crying, there is no shouting and there is no cooperation

But this silence was soon broken by a wholescale revolt of the women of the Abu-Ghanem family. Twenty women came forward and gave statements to the police and plan to testify against the males of the family, in spite of the dangers they face for so doing. The solidarity of these women in their decision to unite against their oppressors is a symbol of women's strength that should be celebrated today, on International Womens' Day, a day like any other, a day in which 13 women and girls will be murdered in the name of honour.

Best Regards, International Campaign Against Honour Killings Staff