An “honor killing” is a murder committed against a family member by their family based on the belief that the victim has brought shame to the family. Victims are deemed to have violated the moral principles of a particular community or region—having sex outside marriage or being a victim of rape could be cause for an honor killing, for example.
One might imagine that with increasing rates of education and conversations about sexism all over the world, the rate of honor killings would be on the decline—but that isn’t the case.
Last year, 25-year-old Pakistani social media star Qandeel Baloch was killed by her brother Waseem Baloch. According to CNN, Waseem was reported to have said “I am proud of what I did,” Waseem said to media after Baloch’s death. He said Qandeel “was bringing dishonor to our family,” and noted that “girls are born to stay home and follow traditions”—and that she “never did.” Waseem believed that he would be remembered with pride for murdering his sister.
Days after Qandeel’s murder, two Pakistan sisters—Kosar and Gulzar Bibi, 22 and 28—were shot dead by their brother on the eve of their weddings as they prepared to marry men they had chosen themselves.
Filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy produced the Oscar-winning documentary A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness in 2015 to tell the story of a Saba, a 19-year-old Pakistani woman who survived an honor killing by her father and brother who had shot her in the face and thrown her into a river to drown. Her crime? Marrying a man her family did not approve of.
These high-profile cases ultimately resulted in a law closing loopholes around persecuting those who commit honor killings. Obaid-Chinoy’s film challenged even the Pakistani Prime Minister to consider harsher penalties for the practice. The law instates mandatory life sentence for perpetrators—compared to the previous practice of those who commit honor killings receiving pardon after asking for forgiveness from other family members.
Honor killings are said to have increased significantly between 1989 and 2009, with women constituting 93 percent of victims. 5,000 honor killings occur internationally each year, with 1,000 occurring in India and 1,000 occurring in Pakistan. Although honor killings are prevalent among people in Islamic regions such as the Middle East and North Africa, they are not proscribed by Islam but instead are rooted in ancient tribal customs—and at the core of the practice is not religion, but gender bias.
In Libya, rape victims who become pregnant are murdered by their own families. In South Africa, queer women are subjected to honor killings or “corrective rape.” In Sialkot, southwest of Lahore, teenager Anum Ishaq Masih was killed by her brother because she wanted to marry a Christian. In Jordan, a minister was involved in the honor killing of his sister for marrying a Muslim man. In Turkey, the number of honor killings increased from 66 in 2002 to 953 in the first seven months of 2009.
“Fundamentally,” Heather Barr, a senior researcher on women’s rights at Human Rights Watch in London, said in an interview with W24, “honor killing is one of the most brutal expressions of patriarchy.”
Ultimately, an honor killing is the murder of a woman for having a voice or making a decision on her own. Even when the woman is the victim in cases of rape, it is up to her to secretly get an abortion or be killed for bringing shame to the family’s name.
It is time for this harmful traditional practice to be dealt with and treated like the serious issue that it is. The rate of honor killing should be on the decline—not rising yearly.