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Human Rights Watch (HRW) defined honor killing as “(an act) of violence, usually murder, committed by male family members against female family members who are perceived to have brought dishonor upon the family” (HRW, 2001). Victims of this practise can be killed for reasons as flimsy as refusing an arranged marriage, experiencing sexual abuse, seeking a divorce (even from an abusive husband) or engaging in an extramarital affair (HRW, 2001). Even rumors or gossip over a woman’s supposed sexual activity is enough to warrant an attack (HRW, 2001).

The Perpetrators – The Family Common perpetrators of honor killing are male family members – fathers, husbands, brothers, uncles, cousins or sons (Emery, 2003). Asked why they conduct honor killings, they will simply reply that they are bound by duty and culture to massacre a female brethren who brings “shame” to their family (Emery, 2003). Honor killing is believed to have stemmed from Muslim society’s collective sense of dignity and identity (Emery, 2003).

Muslim communites in general are very insular – families live and usually stay together in one area for most of their lives (Emery, 2003). This condition led to the buildup of families esteeming their honor and reputation highly (Emery, 2003). Furthermore, Muslims observe a collated family identity embracing the fact that all of them are connected to one another’s character and stature (Emery, 2003). For them, the accomplishment or shame of one reflects on all the members of the family (Emery, 2003). As a result, an erring relative is dealt with harshly (Emery, 2003).

However, women are more likely to be punished for alleged misdemeanor (Emery, 2003). They are viewed as the producers of the next generation who will continue to uphold the honor of their respective families (Ruggi, 1998). A woman’s apparent misuse of her sexuality will permanently destroy the rectitude of her family – her children will forever carry the stigma of being born to an “unchaste” mother (Ruggi, 1998). Hence, Muslim society dictates that the preservation of a woman’s virginity is the responsibility of her entire family (Emery, 2003).

For her family to accomplish this obligation, she has to be placed under the dominion of men all throughout her life – first as a daughter to her father, then as a wife to her husband and finally to her sons (Emery, 2003). When a woman is suspected to be “immoral,” her brood (including her relatives) are affected by her “shameful activities” (Emery, 2003). Her unwed sisters will have difficulty in finding husbands for themselves, and her male relatives will be subjected to scorn and insults until they resolve the issue by killing her (Emery, 2003).

Backed by the Law The main reason for the continued existence of honor killing is that it is supported by cultural norms, as well as religious and common laws (Emery, 2003). Relatives of the victim not only encourage its practise; they even sometimes assist in the execution (Emery, 2003). Perpetrators of honor killings are never held accountable for their actions to the law (Emery, 2003). If arrested, they serve little or no jail time at all (Emery, 2003). Upon their release, they are regarded as “heroes” for “saving” the honor of their familes (Emery, 2003).

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