Across Oceans, Violence is Violence

Honor killing. Domestic violence. Murder. Spousal abuse. “She made me do it.”

There may be different names for the murder of women by men in their families, but as first-time filmmaker Mary Ann Smothers Bruni tells Ms., “We’ve got to stop the killing of women in every place.”

In her debut film, Quest for Honor, which premiered last week in New York and opens today in Los Angeles, Smothers Bruni and a team of Kurdish journalists, filmmakers, activists and translators follow three reporters from the Women’s Media and Education Center in Iraqi Kurdistan as they investigate an honor killing.

A young woman, Nesrin, had been found dead, clad in blue jeans and clutching her hair, in a small town near the Turkish border. The motive for her murder is unknown, but after the death of her husband she was homeless and wandered from house to house for shelter. This “wayward” behavior could be considered a dishonor to her family, making the men in her family likely culprits. None of Nesrin’s kin have claimed her body or pressed charges for her death, so the case is unlikely to be resolved–like so many other honor killings around the world.

Such “she made me do it” logic behind honor killings echoes rationalizations for domestic violence. Smothers Bruni describes the archetypal misogynist’s mentality: “It’s women as property, women to be disposed of as man wants.”

Smothers Bruni, who wrote and produced the film as well as directing it, said she could not complete the story without the voice of a woman who had survived. So Quest for Honor tells the story of Sefin, who we see recovering in a secret location following several attempts on her life. Sefin’s husband found she had a cell phone he didn’t know about, which he saw as “evidence” of her infidelity, and an honor killing was attempted by men in her family. She fled to a women’s shelter, but several men appeared there in the night and shot her three times–miraculously she survived.

Smothers Bruni described watching the film with a friend who was shocked and horrified to learn the safe space of the shelter was riddled by bullets. But the filmmaker’s sister-in-law, who founded a women’s shelter in San Antonio, Texas, was not surprised at all. “She said ‘Are you kidding? We had to put bullet-proof glass in the shelter in San Antonio because of men trying to shoot women.’ So I saw parallels,” Smothers Bruni said.

To drive home the universality of this problem, Smothers Bruni included several screens of text at the end of Quest for Honor. The second-to-last screen reads:

Honor killing is not a Kurdish problem.

It is not an Islamic problem.

The killing and trading of women is a universal problem.

And on the final screen:

Domestic violence kills four women everyday in the USA.

“You have to say it’s happening here, you can’t just have it one way,” Smothers Bruni said. “One thing I wanted to do with this film though was show that there are people over there fighting it, there are people against it.”

Smothers Bruni believes human rights activists globally must learn from each other, share our journeys and work collectively to end the killing of women:

We’ve got to have international cooperation…Maybe [by] bringing some of them over here [to the U.S.] to work with us and see what strategies we’ve used, and also going over there and learning their strategies to make this an international fight against the killing of women.

ABOVE: Photo of Nesrin in Rewan, a newspaper published by the Women’s Media and Education Center. From Quest for Honor.


  1. Men's attitude toward women has not changed as much as we want to think it has with the emancipation of women in the last 50 years. There is no safe place in the world for us, not in our home, our automobile, community, institutions, on the street; certain of the male population are still utterly insane. Until women get into politics globally and become the lawmakers it is not going to change enough to make any difference to our security. As long as men have power, they will wield it over women.

  2. I work as a volunteer for a women's human rights organisation in Germany and we have a lot to do with so-called honour killings and domestic violence. So-called honour killings are not per se Kurdish, Turkish or Islamic. They can also occur in Italy e.g.. However, they are perpetrated mainly in Islamic communities and Islamic countries where women are massively discriminated against especially by Sharia law which allows violence against women. We have many filmmakers, mainly women, who have made films on the subject of forced marriage, and crimes in the name of honour. I personally think that all religions I know help to uphold the patriarchy as they generally reinforce male power and set women up as second-class citizens. This applies to Christianity, the Jewish religion, Islam, Hinduism and even Buddhism.

  3. In America it's legal to terrorize and kill poor women because the same religion that protects pedophile priests has influenced Republican politicians to impose their misogynistic dogma on the new health care reform bill, and their tax-supported hospitals will allow the woman to die to save a fetus.

    The federal government is allowing states to forbid insurance companies from covering abortion in their state and high-risk pool insurance plans are prohibited from covering abortion. Therefore, the women with serious health problems that make pregnancy dangerous to their health are not permitted to get an abortion. In America we have state-sanctioned killings of poor women without the benefit of a trial or appeals from their death sentence.

    The religious freedom of pregnant women is being denied by our own government, while allowing men the freedom to make their own government-funded medical decisions.

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