Understanding Honour Based Violence

By Jane Wairimu

At some point in your life you might have come across news stories about members of a family colluding to ‘punish’ or kill another family member who they perceive has brought ‘shame’ on the family. Or perhaps you or someone you know, either a friend, work colleague or family member has been a victim of Honour Based Violence but you didn’t quite know what it was or how to explain it.

To start with, ‘Honour’ based violence or HBV, a form of gender violence, describes violence that is committed within the context of the extended family due to their perceived need to repair or re-establish their standing within their community which has been ‘lost’ due to the behaviour of a family member. Most victims of HBV are women and girls but men may also be at risk.

In addition, HBV can also be described as a set of cultural practices used to control behaviour within families as a way of preserving their perceived religious and cultural beliefs. This form of violence can be manifested when a relative/victim is perceived to have shamed the family by breaking the code of honour.

Honour based violence can exist in any community or culture where males, who predominantly hold positions of power and authority, establish and enforce women’s behaviour.  Hence, women and girls may lose their ‘honour’ through expressions of independence especially when it comes to expressing their sexuality.  Men, who can also be victims, experience HBV due to having a relationship which might be termed as inappropriate. For instance, if the man is suspected of being in a gay relationship or is found to be helping a victim of HBV.

Below are some of the common triggers for Honour Based Violence. This list is not exhaustive;

  • Loss of virginity (applied to women)
  • Having a relationship outside of one’s ethnicity
  • Education and Employment (applied to women)
  • Pregnancy outside of marriage
  • Refusing an arranged marriage
  • Attempting divorce (applied to women)
  • Refusing to divorce when ordered to do so by family members
  • Reporting domestic abuse (in the case of a woman in an abusive marriage)
  • Behaviour and contact with the opposite sex without supervision of a family member

It is worth mentioning that HBV is a familial collective crime where many members of an extended family conspire in an organised way through a council of male family members and senior women within the family. In extreme and tragic cases, HBV can result in an ‘honour killing’ where as the last resort the family will decide that a woman or man within the family should be killed for bringing ‘shame’ on the family.

The family may assign a family member or even to the extreme and pay a hit man to carry out the killing in an attempt to avert blame or responsibility for the killing. Honour Based Violence is a violation of human rights and there is never any justification for perpetrating this type of crime.

Passive and active forms ‘honour’ can be linked to the expectations of traditional feminine and masculine behaviour. For instance, women are meant to maintain their honour by completely conforming to the social norms of feminine behaviour while men are expected to be assertive and respond with violence to perceived violations against their own or their family’s honour.

Honour based violence is typically associated with countries in South Asia and the Middle East. Incidences of HBV have also been reported in parts of Europe. Incidences of HBV which do occur across the African continent are yet to be identified, reported and quantified as HBV.

Many of the victims of HBV tend to be people in their late teens and early twenties. This is considered the age of marriage. The victims of HBV are usually the most vulnerable members in our community therefore it is paramount that we defend their human rights. Apart from enacting and enforcing laws that prosecute the perpetrators of HBV, in the end people within the families that commit  crimes linked to honour based crimes need to adjust and change their attitudes in order to help end this practice. We can all play a role in putting a stop to this practise. How?  By raising awareness through community-based campaigns and putting pressure on our lawmakers to develop applicable laws that are enforceable and putting systems in place that will help the survivors and potential victims of ‘honour’ based violence.

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