Several politicians have said that we should never let a good tragedy go to waste. Sadly it is common for groups on all sides of the political spectrum to try to manipulate tragedies to further their agenda. The problem of honor killings is not immune to this. Dr. Phyllis Chesler studies the role that women play in honor killings in the world today and her findings are heart breaking.
The reality of this kind of violence needs to be faced for the darkness that it is. What is fascinating about Dr. Chesler’s research is that several of her findings do not fit into the standard narrative about honor killings. These events have been used to reinforce the idea that women everywhere are victims of men in general. Sadly while there is some truth to this, it is different than we might think, and it is not in the area of honor killings.
First, women play a significant role in honor killings through gossip, conspiratorial support, and even direct participation in the acts of killing. Additionally when women perpetrate an honor killing it is more commonly the drawn-out-torture variety. In close to 40% of the cases she studied, the act was carried about by a woman, or women.
Secondly, her research indicates that while they tribal roots, honor killings today happen predominantly in Muslim cultures. (87% Muslim, 13% Hindu-Yazidi-Sikh).
Thirdly, when women participate in honor killings, they view it as a kind of social self defense. In their minds they are preserving the reputation of their family in the community. This is obviously twisted, but shows that people can generate plausible motives for the worst kinds of evil. These women actually believe they are killing their child for the good of the rest of the family. Sounds crazy, huh?
None of this is good news. But this information does challenge some elements of the popular narrative. And that is important to understand if honor killings are to be ended. If we only talk about men, or we fail to talk about the versions of Islamic culture that advocate this we will be off the mark.
Some interesting points from the article:
“The study found that “women play a very active role in honor-based femicide, both by spreading the gossip underlying such murders and by acting as conspirator-accomplices and/or hands-on-killers in the honor killing of female relatives.”
“Honor-killer females are known to kill infants, spouses, and strangers, including other women. Dr. Chesler found that honor killings remain a crime conducted by Muslims against other Muslims…”
“Female-on-female aggression is wrongfully viewed as a minor problem but such aggression can have serious, even lethal consequences. Like men, women have also internalized sexist and tribal codes of behavior. Thus, a mother, grandmother, mother-in-law, and sister can instigate, serve as a conspirator-accomplice in, or perpetrate the hands-on honor/horror killing of her young daughter or granddaughter. Female hands-on killers and conspirator-accomplices are, like their male counterparts, often calculating, brutal, and without remorse.
“Tribal culture dictates that if an allegedly deviant daughter is not eliminated, then the family will be shamed and shunned; no one will marry its daughters or sons. It will be condemned to poverty and ostracism. From the honor killing family’s point of view, they have been forced to kill—in self-defense.”
Want to read more on this topic? Here is an article from the Washington Post that discusses how 1,000 women per year are the victims of honor killings in Pakistan