Pakistani human rights activists protest against the killing of pregnant woman Farzana Parveen for marrying a man she loved. Photo: Getty
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Enough is enough: Putting an end to “honour”-based violence against women and girls

After a shocking week of violence, "honour"-based crimes must be recognised for what they are – crimes against women created and fostered by a patriarchal society.

It has been a shocking week for violence against women in Pakistan, reflected in the number of horrific cases picked up by international news networks. National and international outrage was first sparked by the murder of Farzana Parveen, who was stoned to death outside Lahore High Court. Footage of the murder was broadcast to the world by onlookers who videotaped it on their mobile phones. Police officers can be seen failing to intervene in the deadly attack, which reportedly lasted for around fifteen minutes. The attack began soon after Farzana arrived to testify against her father's claim that she had been kidnapped and coerced into marriage. Her father, the only person arrested thus far for the murder, told police that Farzana had "dishonoured" her family for marrying against their wishes. Meanwhile, in the Indian State of Uttar Pradesh, two girls (aged fourteen and fifteen) were assaulted, murdered then hanged from a mango tree. Protests against perceived police inaction in the case ensued: two officers have now been arrested and a further two fired for failing to investigate when the father of one of the girls first reported them missing.

These murders are only the latest among many crimes committed in the name of "honour". "Honour"-based violence encompasses a wide range of physical violence (including assault, maiming and killing), coerced suicide (including by enforced self-immolation), starvation, forced marriage of women (often to a man who has already raped her), forced abortion, removal of children, female genital mutilation, forced virginity, forced hymen repair, and the curtailment of liberty, basic rights and/or education. Reports submitted to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights document the continuing occurrence of "honour" killings in Bangladesh, Brazil, Britain, Canada, Ecuador, Egypt, India, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Italy, Jordan, Pakistan, Morocco, Sweden, Turkey, Uganda andUSA. The United Nations Population Fund estimates that between 5,000 and 10,000 women are killed in the name of ‘honour’ each year.

So called "honour" killings occur across a wide range of social, religious, ethnic and cultural groups. Although cultural and religious norms and traditions are often invoked to justify these crimes, it is imperative not to associate "honour"-based violence with one specific culture, country or religion. Instead, we must challenge popular stereotypes that suggest, for instance, that HBV derives from Islamic beliefs. Claims that honour killings are "unique" often result in the dismissal of these crimes as mere cultural aberrations; instead, these murders must be understood as part of a broader problem that affects all societies. Only by understanding that "honour"-based violence emerges from patriarchal beliefs and gender inequality can we begin to address this and other forms of violence against women and girls.

The vast majority of murders committed in the name of "honour" are perpetrated by men who use the trappings of religion and cultural tradition to legitimise the violence they perpetrate against female family members. In communities and societies that subscribe to codes of "honour", there are strict rules and norms dictating what people must and must not do. These norms are sharply divided along gender lines. Indeed, most norms focus on regulating female sexual behaviour and availability. Families and communities strive to ensure that ‘honour’ codes are strictly observed by all members because real or perceived transgressions are often seen to "stain" the "honour" of the transgressor’s entire family, kin-group or community. Violence against the transgressor is believed to "cleanse" the collective "honour" of the family and community, so it is often seen as necessary or even good. Thus, "honour" crimes reinforce and are, in turn, reinforced by patriarchal norms and traditions. One of the key traditions is a strict code of silence about such crimes when dealing with outsiders or the police.

My own research on gender-related killings of  women and girls in the Indian sub-continent and Iraqi Kurdistan shows that "honour" codes (and associated patriarchal views about the subordinate position of women) are embedded in broad and pervasive ways of thinking that revolve around gendered values and traditions that legitimise men’s control of women’s bodies and behaviour. These traditions and values heavily restrict the lives and activities of women, with any perceived "deviation" likely to attract some form of retribution or punishment. Punishment is often visible or public as it is only by punishing – and being seen to punish – those who transgress the "honour" code that a family’s reputation can be restored in the eyes of the wider community or society. Thus, "honour"-based violence, including ‘honour’ killings, do not just represent punishment for individuals but show other women and girls what is likely to happen to them if they do not conform to patriarchal social expectations as regards their behaviour and life choices. Until recently, practices that are harmful specifically to women have rarely been understood as stemming from norms and traditions that afford men control over all aspects of life while women are given little power to make their own choices. In the West, practices like female genital mutilation have often been viewed as an expression of the broadly atavistic nature of certain ethnic cultures. When the cause of "honour"-based violence is attributed to supposedly immutable and intrinsic traditions and religious beliefs, little attention is paid to the perpetrators of these crimes, either as culpable individuals or as part of male-dominated social structures.

To date, the norms and values associated with using violence to restore lost "honour" have only been recognised as a specific violation of human rights in specialist circles. However, there is a strong argument that states have a responsibility to prevent "honour"-based violence, including by taking action on the broader issue of how gender inequality often leads to the infringement of women’s human rights. While international treaties and conventions challenge both gender inequality and violence against women, the application of international law in individual countries is dependent on each state’s motivation to comply with their treaty-based obligations. To implement international human rights instruments, countries must amend their domestic legislation and develop new institutional processes (e.g. as regards how so-called "honour" killings should be investigated and prosecuted, much of which relies on police officers’ attitudes towards victims). However, for any of this to happen, there must be strong social and political commitment to establishing gender equality and protecting women’s rights.

Governments and other actors continue to differ in the degree to which they view "honour" killings as an issue that must be urgently addressed through preventative and educational initiatives. Thus, while attention to the issue has been growing since the early 2000s, this has rarely resulted in concerted or consistent national or international action.

"Honour"-based crimes must be recognised for what they are - crimes against women created and fostered by a patriarchal society. They represent a gendered form of violence not unique or specific to certain cultures or ethnic/religious groups,  but the product of social environments where the control and subordination of women by whatever means necessary is not only acceptable but even often encouraged. Programmes to prevent violence against women and girls cannot succeed until societies challenge the unequal power structures governing relationships between women and men. In other words, effective preventive work must address the root cause of the problem: inequality and discrimination.

Dr Aisha K Gill is a Reader in Criminology at University of Roehampton.

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Lost in translation: what we lose when we leave the EU

From learning Irish to studying in Switzerland, my richest memories are all in Europe. What will happen to our creative culture after Brexit?

I’m rubbish at languages. Worse than rubbish, actually; hopeless. (You can ask my old German teacher, if you like. Sorry Frau Sarcher.) I don’t have the ear for inflection or the memory for grammar. I don’t have the patience for diligent vocab lists. I can barely spell in English, let alone in French.

So it was with some trepidation that I headed to West Donegal a few weeks ago to do an immersion course in Irish. I know: Irish, of all things, a language which is famed for sounding entirely unlike how it looks on the page and is spoken only by a small number of people, almost all of them in places I don’t live.

Well, I had to do it: I’m working on a novelist for my PhD who wrote in the language. But alright, fine, I also wanted to – wanted to at least grasp at the bones of the thing, even if I’d never be fluent.

I moved around a lot as a child, although always within the UK, and like a lot of people I know I never really had a proper and precise sense of origin. (Irish classes, replete with diaspora, handled this one fast: I am from here; now I live here.) I’m happy in most places, yet no geography has the ring of home. Yes, I’m undeniably English, but I always felt like I was looking at my own Englishness through glass.

I’m aware this might be the most English thing of all.

After my BA, I was awarded a grant to do research in Switzerland, and after that given a grant to do an MA, and everything changed. Suddenly, I was travelling across the continent, able to afford solo trips on the Eurostar to Paris and long months in a sticky Swiss summer, sending photos of the suspiciously clear rivers and cuckoo clocks back to England. In my early 20s, this became my home: always feeling slightly out of place, as ever, but willingly and joyfully so, stumbling through language after language. A whole world of pleasant unfamiliarity opened up on the continent.

A Swiss professor I met said that the very impossibility of translation is its greatest gift, because it reveals native quirks. I’m not sure I fully became a person until I started translating myself in those European summers – until I had to give an account of myself, as an English woman and as a person, out there in the world. Which is why, this morning, I found myself close to tears on the Tube.

I’m no more informed than you are as to why exactly Leave had such a good result. It might have been the headlines, or the promises of NHS funding, or simply long, dulled anger finding an outlet, however counter-intuitive.

But it was undoubtedly something else, too: an opportunity to wield power.

Feeling part of a movement is a seductive thing. This was a campaign entirely run in the negative, by both sides. I mean that in the most literal sense: not that there was no “positive” option, but that there was no option that offered a yes in relation to Europe – only a no more, thanks or a continuation of the same. Remain had no chance of promising us more. Leave, at least, could try, and even if it didn’t quite all ring true, it still offered action over inaction.

Getting ready for work this morning, I couldn’t get the words of sociologist and broadcaster Laurie Taylor out of my head. A few years ago, I went to a lecture he gave on popular culture, and saw him tell an audience of academics what he knew from growing up in Liverpool, and from watching the Dockers’ Strike: that turkeys will vote for Christmas if there’s a chance to stick two fingers up at the middle class while they do it.

That’s trite, perhaps, but less trite than pretending voters necessarily bought every promise from Leave. True, not everyone knew the ins and outs of trade negotiations, but most people were able to twig that Boris Johnson isn’t exactly a working class hero. As tends to be the case, there’s very little to be gained from calling the electorate stupid.

If the same communities that voted Leave are also those likely to be hit the hardest by a Brexit-induced economic downturn, they are also those who might reasonably have wondered: what have we got to lose?

Well, who knows. I’ll speak responsibly and say that I’m worried about EU funding to Cornwall (whose council is already scrabbling to secure a promise for alternative funds, after the population there voted Leave); about the medium-term prospects for the UK markets; about how we will handle cross-border security initiatives both in these isles and across the continent. I’m worried because I know where the money came from to regenerate Northern cities, and it wasn’t a Conservative government.

But I’ll also speak with feeling and say that something less tangible has been eroded. British culture is watchful and insecure, sarcastic and subtle; it has a class system awkwardly incomprehensible to outsiders and a sense of humour loved for being the same.

And the thing that makes it all beautiful, the Midas touch that takes the British bundle of neuroses and double-edged banter and endless, endless griping about the weather and turns it to gold, is openness – however grudgingly given. I won’t pretend we ever enjoyed a Halcyon age where we welcomed immigrants whole-heartedly. It would be an insult to history and those who fought to come here. But we are a mongrel country, in spite of our intentions, and most people, most of the time, cope. It is at the moments where we shrug and decide we’re not too fussed about difference, actually, that we shine most strongly.

Over and above the economy, even over the personal fear I have for European friends and lovers of friends and parents of friends, I worry about the loss of culture we may have triggered by choosing this course; what a Keynesian might call the “negative output gap” of creativity. We won’t ever be able to know precisely how much talent and creative joy we’ve effectively just told to fuck off, because you can’t measure pop songs or novels or new dishes like you can expenditure.

But that doesn’t mean that right now, across the country, hundreds of small stories forged from difference aren’t being foreclosed. A hundred little acts of friendship, or love; a hundred chances to look at Britishness through someone else’s eyes. The essential richness of being forced to translate ourselves, and receive others’ translations in turn, is being lost from our future. And our culture will undoubtedly be a little the worse for it.

Stephanie Boland is digital assistant at the New Statesman. She tweets at @stephanieboland