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The Horrors Of ‘Honour’ Almost 5000 Women Are Subjected To Every Year

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Qandeel Baloch, a Pakistani celebrity, was strangled by her own brother in July. The woman was a fighter, calling herself “a modern day feminist” who wanted, as per her own words, “to be able to stand on my own feet, to do something for myself.” Unfortunately, that’s enough reason for you to be brutally tortured and killed. Because, as Baloch’s brother said, “girls are born to stay at home and follow traditions.

Baloch was not the first victim of honour violence and won’t be the last. But the question is, how many women out there should die or experience different types of abuse just so people notice there is a serious problem? How many girls should be beaten, imprisoned, have their bodies cut, be forced into marriages or brutally murdered because a bunch of sick people believe that “their women” should follow their commands.

Sadly, women around the world continue to suffer such a fate and the abuse they face is justified citing question of ‘honour’ and ‘tradition’.

Honour Violence: What It Stands For

Honour violence is the type of abuse against women that is committed by a family member and/or supported by society and law under the motive of ‘preserving’ or ‘regaining’ the ‘honour’ of the perpetrator, family, or community. The idea of honour violence exists in cultural or religious communities that have roots in tribal or other conservative traditions, and it can be committed in many forms: verbal or emotional abuse, threats, emotional blackmail, stalking, harassment, imprisonment, physical violence, sexual abuse, and may even lead to murder. There are common actions and behaviors towards which honour violence is directed: expressions of autonomy (especially sexual autonomy), dress, refusing an arranged marriage, education or employment, divorce, loss of virginity, pregnancy, having a relationship outside of the approved group, and more.

There are around 5000 honour killings globally every year, 1000 occur in India, 1000 in Pakistan, and 12 in the UK, and the real numbers may be higher, but due to a lack of attention, we know very little about it. So it is important for us to recognise the various forms of honour violence:

Female Cutting

The turning point in my life was my first period […] After Friday prayers a man came to our house […] my mother ripped my clothes off forcefully. The ugly man looked at me with unmistakable lust. Then he opened my legs and with a razor blade sliced off the front of my clitoris and gave it to my mother. She threw it away carelessly for the chickens to eat,” one victim says.

I kept reading these words over and over again, and it made me shiver. Regardless of all the prohibitions, all the risks, and the trauma it causes women, Female Genital Mutilation is still performed widely because it is believed that it reduces female libido and therefore preserves her “honour.” It’s not about the importance of a person’s life, it’s about dominance. A woman’s sexual desire threatens the dominance of the patriarchal system, it threatens the precious “manhood,” and even many women accept this degradation and humiliation and force it on others.

Forced Marriage

This is when a woman is forced or threatened or tricked into marrying someone she doesn’t want. There are many motives for forced marriage: cultural and religious traditions , a ‘solution’ for rape victims, to control unwanted behaviour or unsuitable relationships, improving the economic status of the family, domestic servitude, and more. Forced marriage may be the beginning of different forms of abuse against the woman. This includes physical, emotional, and sexual abuse in addition to marital rape.

Kidnapping And Imprisonment

In many communities, if a woman runs away from her family, this is thought to bring shame upon the family which resorts to different kinds of abuse including kidnapping or locking the victim up. The laws of some countries support this form of honour violence; “In Afghanistan a girl running away from home is considered to have committed a crime and may be imprisoned and returned into the hands of her family.” In other scenarios, a woman may be imprisoned in order to keep her or her behaviour under control.

Honour Killing

Honour killing is the most severe form of honour violence where a woman may be savagely killed for any of the above-mentioned reasons. In some cases, an honour killing may be organised, where in some countries like Pakistan a “family council” or “a council of tribal elders” plays a role in deciding what should be done regarding the “shameful” act. Most of the perpetrators don’t feel guilty or regret the killing, and they don’t even care about punishment.

For Whose ‘Honour’?

India, a man killed his 4-year-old daughter by throwing her against the ground many times, because her headscarf slipped while she was eating lunch.

UAE, a father of Asian descent let his 20-year-old daughter drown. He literally prevented the rescuers from saving her because he believed if a stranger touches his daughter, she will be dishonoured.

Germany, 20-year-old Syrian woman named Rokstan M. was killed by her family two years after being gang raped in her home country Syria, because they believed she was unclean. Seems like being raped is a crime!

Egypt, a 26-year-old Muslim woman, Marwa Ahmed, was slaughtered by her family for marrying a Christian man. In order to make sure their other children do not follow her footsteps, her sister was forced to slit her throat; however some reports said that it was her uncle.

Pakistan, 17-year-old, Umbreen, was burned alive for secretly helping her friend marry a man of her own choice! Umbreen was lynched by the order of a group of tribal elders, who took her from her home and set her on fire in front of a gathering who were all smiling and shouting.

Pakistan again, 19 -year-old Saba, was shot in the face and the arm by her father and uncle, then thrown in a river, because she married a man without their permission. But Saba was lucky enough to live and tell her story. “Why should she go? Was she dying of hunger? Didn’t she get fed three times each day? She got everything,” said Saba’s father. That’s what they believe in?!

Sounds more like how you would treat cattle. Unfortunately, that’s how many even today see women.

And then there’s the issue of women themselves believe that they deserve to be punished or disciplined. Saba’s younger sister said what her “family did was to preserve their integrity and honour.” Saba’s perpetrators are free now because her community elders forced her to forgive them, and because Pakistani law permits families of honour-killing victims to ‘forgive’ the killer. The father now believes he has regained his honour and people’s respect, and is proud of what he did!

We all hear about those experience different types of violence and abuse every day, but do you know that about every 90 minutes an honour killing is revealed somewhere in the world?

How Can We Help?

I know laws aren’t that effective, but those stupid laws need to change! Concerned institutions, like United Nations, must impose penalties on countries that still have discriminatory laws against women, as a first step.

What we must do is to listen and educate those around us; is to speak up for every woman out there who is suffering this, and to report and try to keep record of all the cases. We must teach girls that they own their bodies, that they’re not some kind of property! We must teach them that their bodies aren’t something to be ashamed of, or be covered without their consent. We must be able to say ‘no’ and report any act of violence no matter how minor it is, because small acts of violence may escalate into serious ones.

Till then, we remember Qandeel Baloch, and others like her who die every day in the name of a misplaced notion of honour.

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Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

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The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

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Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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