Issues of violence against womyn are not tied to any one region of the world or to any particular religious or cultural groups. Violence against womyn is an issue that affects the entire human race. From an anarchist perspective the first group of humans to be subjugated by another group of humans was womyn. This violence takes on many different forms worldwide and is perpetuated in myriad ways. It is integral that this be recognized and that our understanding of misogyny and it’s deep roots in the development of societies worldwide resonate with us so that we can avoid perpetuating this oppression. Honor killings are but one extreme and unreported form of violence is manifest.
Honor killings are executed for instances of rape, infidelity, flirting or any other instance perceived as disgracing the family’s honor. Any action construed as disrespectful towards men or the traditional way of life warrants an honor killing. In the eyes of society it is not only expected but required.
A human rights report published in 1999 stated that honor killings took the lives of 888 womyn in the single province of Punjab in Pakistan in 1998. In 2002 461 womyn were murdered in Pakistan for immoral behavior ranging from being raped to cooking poorly. In Jordan published figures state that one womyn a week is killed for losing her chastity whether she is a victim of rape or rumor.
Honor killing began in the Middle East long before the birth of Christianity or Islam when Arabia was populated and ruled by nomadic tribes. The code of honor killing has its roots in the Hammurabi and Assyrian Laws from 1200 BC. which declared womyns chastity to be her families property. These laws evolved from an unforgiving desert and are common to Arabs of the region regardless of their religion. Shi’ite and Sunni Muslims as well as various Christian sects dwelling there today still believe in the towering importance of man’s honor. Sharif Kanaana, professor of anthropology at Birzeit University in Palestine explains that it is a “complicated issue that cuts deep into the history of Arab society.” The practice stemmed from the patriarchal society’s interest in maintaining strict control over designated familial power structures. “What the men of the family, clan, or tribe want is the reproductive power. Womyn are considered a factory for making men. The honor killing is not a means of control of sexual power or behavior but an issue of fertility and reproductive power,” explains Sharif Kananna.
In 1998 the U.N. conservatively estimated that over 5,000 womyn are killed for reasons of honor each year although it impossible to really say when many cases go unreported. 1998 and 2000 U.N. reports document the practice occurring in Yemen, Lebanon, Egypt, the West Bank, Gaza, Bangladesh, Turkey, Jordan, Israel, India, Italy, Sweden, the United Kingdom, Pakistan, Brazil, Ecuador, Uganda, Morocco, Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan. In the Turkish province of Sanliurfa, one young womyn’s throat was slit in the town square because a love ballad was dedicated to her over the radio. This behavior is considered a normal response and is often celebrated by the family and the community. The general feeling is articulated well by former Jordanian Minister of Justice, Abdul Karim Dughmi in August of 2001 when he responded to a question about honor killings in instances of rape with a smile and said, “All womyn killed in cases of honor are prostitutes. I believe prostitutes deserve to die.”(Taken from the Jordan Times).
“The honor of the family is very dependent on a woman’s virginity,” says Shadia Sarraj of the Women’s Empowerment Project at the Gaza Community Mental Health Project. A woman’s virginity is the property of the men around her, first her father, later a gift for her husband; a virtual dowry as she graduates to marriage. In this context, a woman’s honor is a commodity which must be guarded by a network of family and community members. The woman is guarded externally by her behavior and dress code and internally by keeping her hymen intact.”
Often burning the womyn or scarring them with acid are the preferred method of men committing such crimes. The Progressive Women’s Association, which assists attack victims, tracked 3,560 Pakistani womyn who were hospitalized after being attacked at home with fire, gasoline or acid between 1994 and 1999. About half of the victims died. Such crimes are also rife in Bangladesh where some 2,000 womyn are disfigured every year in acid attacks by jealous or estranged men. In most cases the men who commit the crimes go unpunished or receive reduced sentences. According to Rana Hussieni, a Jordanian Human Rights Activist campaigning against crimes of honor, today in Jordan, there are about 40 womyn who are spending time in prisons without any charge or court ruling because they became pregnant out of wedlock or were involved in immoral affairs. Some of the womyn have been in for 11 years because the authorities are afraid to release them due to the probability that they will be murdered by their families.
The story of a brother and sister in Daliat al Carmel, a small Israeli Druze village in October 16, 1995 illustrates the societal pressure to carry on the tradition. forty-year-old Ittihaj Hassoon got out of a car with her younger brother on a main street of Daliat al Carmel where over ten years before Ittihaj had committed the unpardonable sin of marrying a non-Druze man. Now, after luring her back to her home village with promises that all was forgiven and her safety assured, her brother finally had the chance to publicly cleanse the blot on the family name with the spilling of her blood. In broad daylight in front of witnesses, he pulled out a knife and began stabbing her. The witnesses quickly swelled to a crowd of more than 100 villagers who approving, urging him onóchanted and danced in the street. Within minutes, Hassoon lay dead on the ground while the crowed cheered her killer, “Hero, hero! You are a real man!” Four years later when Suzanne Zima interviewed Ittihaj’s brother Ibrahim for the Gazette in Montreal he told her, “She is my sisterómy flesh and bloodóI am a human being. I didn’t want to kill her. I didn’t want to be in this situation. They (community members) pushed me to make this decision. I know what they expect from me. If I do this, they look at me like a hero, a clean guy, a real man. If I don’t kill my sister, the people would look at me like a small man.”
Avenging family honor is a product of societies in which womyn’s bodies have become a brutal tool in reproducing patriarchal control. How many of these crimes are based on tribal customs and how many are based on the frustrations of societal pressure? In Norma Khouri’s book, Honor Lost, recently published in 2003, she explains the culture of fear that womyn in the middle East grow up under. She says, “We are controlled by the fear that generations of male dominance have instilled in us, a fear reinforced by our mothers. Our only option seems to be to live within the rules, regulations, and beliefs of the men who govern us. We absorb from birth that breaking the code, is very, very dangerous.” Honor killings are not purely about men attacking womyn, in fact, oftentimes womyn aid in the honor killings because they see it as necessary in protecting the family.
Activists throughout the Islamic world are fighting to end the practice. Some of the most noteworthy work includes RAWA, the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan, an independent political/social organization of Afghan women fighting for human rights and for social justice in Afghanistan. RAWA has done work including meeting the immediate needs of refugee women and children, the establishment of schools with hostels for boys and girls, and a hospital for refugee Afghan women and children in Quetta, Pakistan with mobile teams. In addition, they have conducted nursing courses, literacy courses and vocational training courses for women.†
The Independent Women’s Center operates three shelters in the Patriotic Union territory of Kurdistan and is currently working on opening one more shelter in the capital of Erbil which lies in the Democratic Party territory. The number of honor killings in Patriotic Union territory has steadily declined over the decades due to the hard work of human rights activists in the area, from 75 in 1991 to 15 in 2003.
Even in Saudi Arabia, known to be particularly oppressive to womyn, there are emerging human rights groups that are independent from the government. They are currently struggling to determine their structure and striving to investigate human rights abuses without government interference. In Jordan activists are fighting to abolish Penal Codes that allows for the murders and protects the murderers.
The mere knowledge that people around the world are watching what is going on gives strength and provides support to the activists who are helping to educate and make change in their own countries. For those of us who want to help there are several avenues. Educating people in our own countries and raising funds to support regional projects that are providing assistance to womyn, gathering information for statistics, and through raising awareness internationally.
While it is essential that we examine the different ways misogyny is manifest worldwide it is integral that we direct our opposition toward the oppression of womyn everywhere and avoid contributing to the current anti-Islamic hysteria that is sweeping through the Western world.
Honor killings are only one form of misogyny that is endemic worldwide. Let us not forget the over 5,000 womyn in India who are murdered annually because their dowries are considered insufficient, deaths due to “crimes of passion” in Latin American where men serve minimal sentences for killing their wives on suspicion of infidelity, the unsolved murders of womyn in Juarez, Mexico, the one womyn raped every minute in America, and the numerous economies that are dependent on sex trafficking (700,000 to four million persons trafficked annually worldwide-mostly womyn and children.)
Clearly misogyny and violence towards womyn is a global issue and is not the doing of any one religion or culture. Misogyny is the consequence of something much more complex: power, greed, the commodification of womyn and the global belief that permeates cultures worldwide that womyn are the property of men.
To find out what womyn in the Arab world are working on check out http://www.arabwomenconnect.org/