On July 2016, Qandeel Baloch was strangled to death by her own brother in the name of ‘honour’ for her reputation as Pakistan’s Kim Kardashian with her sexy online videos.
The hypocrisy of honour killings is that in the very same nation where Qandeel was born, Pakistan topped searches for pornography of women like her. The hypocrisy lies in a society where the abusers and murderers of two teenage girls, who were gang-raped and hung from a tree in India, were set free and untarnished because ‘boys will be boys’. Why is this moral policing of honour only reserved for women?
An honour killing is a type of premeditated murder, intended to cleanse the dishonour that has been cast upon the perpetrator’s family as a result of the (real or perceived) actions of the victim. According to Human Rights Watch, honour killing is ‘the most extreme form of domestic violence, a crime based on male privilege and prerogative and women’s subordinate social status’.
Actions or rumours that cause honour killings are typically based on a woman’s sexuality, but there are many other forms of behaviour that are under such scrutinies. For instance, their communication with men is judged, as are their use of social media as with Qandeel Baloch. Such killings are usually found in patriarchal societies that prioritise the status of men and family over women. The UN has estimated that over 5000 women every year are killed by their own family in the name of honour and, whilst the vast majority of victims are women, about 7 per cent of honour killing victims are also male.
Such men have been found victims of honour crimes in the name of family honour, mainly arising from homophobia. For example, Ahmed Yildiz is one of Turkeys first reported gay honour killings, where he was shot by his own father for coming out as gay in 2008. Honour crimes are a global phenomenon and have been reported from countries like India, Iraq and Uganda to Sweden, UK and Brazil. However, it is still important to note that honour killings are grossly unreported as these crimes are viewed as private family affairs.
Why do men bask in honour and women bear the burden of shame?
Within these societies, there appears to be a hypocrisy or double standard between men and women. This is where when both women or men transgress societal or cultural norms, for example having a sexual affair whilst married, the man is rarely punished in comparison to the woman.
It is ironic that in private, Pakistani men search and seek for women like Qandeel Baloch in pornography online, but simultaneously displayed public moral outrage at her when she went public with her provocative photos and videos. As noted by an Arab Women’s group called Al Sisiwar, there is ‘a deeply-rooted double standard in Islamic culture that forbids pre-marital sex by both genders, but seldom punishes men who transgress’. However, recent reports of male victims of honour killings like Ahmed Yildiz show that whilst the burden of honour is not exclusive to women, they do still carry the majority of it.
It eliminates the woman who revealed the killer’s deficient manhood
Lebanese researcher Azza Baydoun found that when victims of honour killings challenge their family, community and society, it causes extreme disruption of the gender arrangement within their family relationships. This is because these women exhibit a defying attitude to conforming to the gender and sexuality arrangements imposed by their family or partner.
As a result, this becomes a huge problem of shame for the partner or family because their women are the embodiment of their honour. The failure for the man to meet their prescribed requirement of traditional masculinity, by not being able to keep their women ‘in check’, exposes a deficiency in their manhood. For example, in the case of marital infidelity, it results in the husband’s sexual potency being questioned or jeered upon.
Specifically to cases in the middle-east culture, the actions of the victim resulting in a failure of the male’s ability to uphold his responsibilities in the system of male guardianship. Thus, any threat to the role of men and their control over women ‘becomes a threat to the male’s sense of self-worth and masculinity’. Victims that have transgressed their gender and sexuality arrangements remind the perpetrator of their deficient manhood and their precarious authority over these women. Therefore, honour killings allow the perpetrator to restore the decorum of his manhood by eliminating the woman who threatened his authority and exposed his deficient manhood.
Honour violence is committed across the globe, and despite the severe nature of this violence, many cases remain unreported. In some nations, there appears to be a tolerance for honour based-crimes. For example, in Pakistani Law prior to 2016 (after Qandeel’s death), the victim’s family members could pardon the perpetrator. Beyond this, there appears to be a society that is so dehumanised to the violence against women, those assertions are made so that the victim’s behaviour made the murder understandable, and even deserved.
In times like this, it is important that we encourage and advocate states to pass laws recognising honour violence as a crime and to provide penalties for perpetrators that are commensurate with the severity of the acts committed. Such legislative change and law enforcement to combat honour crimes throughout the globe must also be accompanied by enabling the emancipation of women and providing them access to education and employment. It is important for us to stand up for ourselves, to stand up for our fellow men and women, and to be unapologetically ourselves.