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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Battle for Mosul: will this be the end of Islamic State?

The militant group's grip on power is slipping but it has proved resilient in the past.

The battle for Mosul is the latest stage in the long struggle to defeat Islamic State. The group has been around since the late 1990s in one form or another, constantly mutating in response to its environment. Undoubtedly its ejection from Mosul will be a significant moment in the group’s history, but it is unlikely to be its final chapter. The destruction of the group will only be complete when some fundamental changes occur within Iraq and the war in Syria comes to an end.

IS’s roots go back to a training camp established by the militant Islamist Abu Musab al Zarqawi in the late 1990s in Herat, Afghanistan. Founded as an army to overthrow the apostate regimes of the Levant, it fled to northern Iraq in the wake of the US-led invasion of Afghanistan post-9/11 where it re-established itself as a force alongside Ansar al Shariah, a hardline Salafi jihadi organisation.

As American attention shifted from Afghanistan to Iraq, the group was ideally placed to become one of the leading lights in the post-Saddam Iraqi insurgency. Brutally announcing itself to the world in August 2003 with successive attacks on the Jordanian Embassy in Baghdad, the UN headquarters and a Shia shrine in Najaf — the latter being the deadliest attack in Iraq that year with a death toll of 95 — the group grew to assume the mantle of al-Qaeda in Iraq. By 2006 this brand had become somewhat damaged through the brutal sectarian campaign the group waged, and when its founder, Zarqawi, died it sought to reinvent itself as the Mujahedeen Shura Council. This incarnation did not last long either, and eventually it assumed the title of the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), alongside a more Iraqi leadership.

This was the start of a diffcult period in the group's history. Its excesses in Iraq (including indiscriminate slaughter of Shia Muslims to stir sectarian hatred and filmed decapitations of prisoners) lost it local support and led to the tribes in Sunni Iraq rising up and supporting the government in Baghdad's fight back against the group. By 2009, when the west abruptly stopped paying attention and withdrew from Iraq the group was largely perceived as in decline, with the Shia Muslim-led Iraqi government appearing to slowly assert itself more effectively across the country.

The terrorist attacks by the group continued. And the new government started to advance an increasingly sectarian agenda. These two played off each other in a downward spiral that was given a fresh boost of blood when the civil war in Syria erupted in 2011. Drawing on its existing networks (that were leftovers from when Syria was used as a staging point by the organisation to launch attacks into Iraq), the leadership sent a cell to Syria to explore what opportunities existed within the emerging fight there. This cell became the seed that grew into Jabhat al Nusrah and ultimately IS – a label the group adopted when in June 2013 IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi decided it was time to reveal this link between his Iraqi group and Jabhat al Nusrah. This led to divisions and the breaking up of the two organisations.

For IS, however, it was the beginning of an upward trajectory, building on this division to grow itself substantially in Syria (with Raqqa as its capital) and in 2014 taking over Iraq’s second biggest city of Mosul. We then reach the apex of IS’s success and the biggest expansion of the group yet.

It now seems that this growth had a shelf life of just two-and-a-half years. As the group appears to be losing Mosul, it is likely that we will see the beginning of a period of retraction. But this will not be its end – rather, it will flee back to the hills and the ungoverned spaces in Iraq and Syria from where it will continue a persistent terrorist strategy in both countries. Here it will bide its time until the moment presents itself to rise up. Waiting until the governance in Iraq and Syria fails its people again, the group can paint itself as the protector of Sunnis and once more build on that group's disenfranchisement to win supporters and occupy a space vacated by local governments.

IS's grip on power might currently be slipping but as history has shown, it has waxed and waned depending on the context it is operating in. We are now going to see a period of withdrawal, but unless attention is paid by the global community, it will expand again in the future.

Raffaello Pantucci is Director of International Security Studies at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI). Visit his website at