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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Clinton vs Trump: How does the electoral college work?

A brief history.

If you have even the vaguest awareness of US politics, you'll no doubt recall the role Florida played in the 2000 presidential election. The result in the state was so close that arguments about recounts and hanging chads went on for weeks, before the result was finally settled – and the next president decided – by the US Supreme Court.

The odd thing about Bush v Gore, though, is that nobody questioned which of the two had more votes: it was Al Gore, by more than half a million. (The number of contested votes in Florida was something like a tenth of that.) To put it another way, it was always clear that more Americans wanted Gore as president than Bush.

And yet, the outcome of the election ignored that entirely. It turned instead on who had won Florida. That, the Supreme Court decided, had been Gore's opponent: George W. Bush became the 43rd president of the United States, and the rest is history.

So why did a man who everybody agreed had come second become president? Why did the whole thing end up turning on the number of votes in a few counties of former swamp?

History and geography

The answer comes down to that weirdly undemocratic American invention, the electoral college. The founding fathers, you see, did not actually intend for the president to be chosen by the people.

Much of the constitution was the work of the over-achieving Virginian delegation to the Constitutional Convention of 1787. Their plan, written by James Madison, suggested that the president should be chosen by Congress.

That idea was rejected on the grounds that it would undermine the president's independence. Some delegates feared that allowing a bunch of men who spent all their time locked in a room together arguing pick the head of state would lead to “intrigue” (yes), and suggested the president should be chosen by popular vote instead.

So they settled on a compromise. Each state would pick “electors” – how they did so was their own business – and these would in turn pick the president. Senators and congressmen were specifically barred from becoming members of this electoral college; but an aspect of the original plan that survived was that the number of electors in each state would be equal to the number of representatives it had it Congress.

Some of the oddities in this system have been ironed out over time. By the mid 19th century most states were choosing electors by popular vote: the presidential election may be indirect, but it's an election nonetheless. After the 23rd Amendment passed in 1961, those who lived in Washington DC, previously disenfranchised because it isn't a state, were given the vote too (it gets three votes in the electoral college).

But others anomalies remain. Here are three:

1) A lack of proportion

One of the big issues in 1787 was persuading the original 13 states to agree to the new constitution at all. Many of the smaller ones (Delaware, New Hampshire) were nervous that, by joining the union, they would instantly be dominated by their much bigger neighbours (Virginia, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts).

To keep them on board, the Constitutional Convention agreed the “Great Compromise”. The size of the delegations each state sent to the House of Representatives would be roughly proportional to the size of its population; in the Senate, though, every state would get two senators, whether it had several million people, or three old blokes and a dog. In other words, the US constitution had to deliberately over-represent smaller states in Congress, just to persuade them to sign up to the thing in the first place.

All this still applies today – and because size of a state’s delegation to Congress determines the number of votes its gets in the electoral college, smaller states are over-represented in presidential elections, too. The result is that a vote in California is worth less than a third of a vote in Wyoming:

Image: Fzxboy/Wikimedia Commons.

2) A lack of faith

The people don't choose the president: the electoral college does, with electors generally voting based on the votes of the people in their state.

But the operative word there is “generally”: while most states have laws requiring electors to vote with the popular will, or rendering their vote void if they don't, some 21 states do not. So, occasionally, there are “faithless electors”, who don't vote the way their state wants them to. In the 57 presidential elections between 1788 and 2012, there have been 157 incidents of such faithlessness (although, to be fair, in 71 cases this was because the electorate's preferred candidate was dead).

This has never affected the outcome of an election: the closest was in 1836 when the Virginia delegation refused to vote for vice presidential candidate Richard Mentor Johnson on the grounds that he was having an affair with a slave. (Being massive racists, they were fine with the slavery and the abuse of power; it was the interracial sex they had a problem with.) But Martin Van Buren's election as president was never in doubt, and even Johnson was confirmed after a vote in the Senate.

Even in those states which don't have laws to punish faithless electors, becoming one is still often a bloody stupid thing to do, since it generally means betraying the party that made you an elector in the first place, an act which will almost certainly wreck your career. Nonetheless, it is constitutionally possible that, when the electoral college meets after November's election, some of its members will ignore the result entirely and propose, say, Kevin Spacey as the next president. And those are the votes that count.

3) A lack of interest

The biggest oddity of the system though is the fact of the electoral college at all. The voters don't pick the president: the electoral college does. The result is that presidential campaigns need to focus not on individual voters, but on states.

Most states allocate their electoral votes on a winner takes all basis. There are two exceptions to this: Nebraska and Maine both hand out one electoral vote to the winner in each congressional district, and two to the state-wide victor. This rarely makes any difference, since both states are small, and any candidate who carries the Maine 2nd is likely also to have carried the whole of Maine. Just occasionally, though, it does: in 2008 Obama narrowly carried the Nebraska 2nd (Omaha, basically), prompting grumpy local Republicans to redraw the boundaries to dilute the local Democratic vote and so ensure this wouldn't happen again.

In the vast majority of states, however, winning 50.1 per cent of the vote will be enough to get you 100 per cent of the electoral votes. In an election with more than two candidates, indeed, you don't even need to do that: a simple plurality will get you 100 per cent of the vote, too.

This, combined, with demographics, mean we already know how something like 363 of the 538 electoral votes on offer will go. Only around 13 states are considered competitive this year. In the other 37, plus the District of Columbia, we might as well already know the result.

The result is that, for the next few weeks, there will be endless reports about Florida, Virginia and Ohio. But you're not going to hear so much about how voters are feeling in California or Delaware or Arkansas or Texas. The first two will go for Clinton; the last two will go for Trump. The campaigns will ignore them; the voters may as well not show up. State-wide demographics mean the result is already clear.

In a true popular election, every vote would count equally. In the electoral college, they do not. The result, 16 years ago, was four weeks of legal wrangling over a few hundred votes in Florida. The result, this year, is that it’s entirely possible that Donald Trump will become president – even if Hillary Clinton gets more votes.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric. He is on Twitter, far too much, as @JonnElledge.