According to Human Rights Watch, “Honour killings are acts of vengeance, usually death, committed by male family members against female family members, who are held to have brought dishonor upon the family by, either refusing to enter into an arranged marriage, being the victim of a sexual assault, seeking a divorce—even from an abusive husband—or (allegedly) committing adultery.” While males are not exempt from honour killings, the overwhelming victims are female.
Jordan socially and legally makes it possible for men to kill women in a premeditated fashion if the female member of the family is found in the act of committing adultery. Syrian and Moroccan laws make it possible for men to kill female family members without premeditation. Countries where honour killings are technically illegal, but take place in alarming numbers, are: Turkey, Pakistan and Egypt.
And for those who may think this is only a Muslim issue, think again. The Quran doesn’t have the market cornered on sexism and misogyny. Until a few decades ago, in predominantly Christian countries Brazil and Colombia, wife killings were considered to be non-criminal "honour killings”. Living in Greece as a teenager, I heard ample stories of “honour killings” taking place in rural areas, and I know the same to be true in Italy and Spain. Basically, anywhere there is a dominant patriarchal status and the concept of women as family property, honour killings occur.
And what happens when people with such beliefs immigrate to a liberal country, unfairly and unrealistically expecting their children (who naturally will engage other communities and adopt other customs) to follow an antiquated form of conduct which is outdated and archaic? A major culture clash occurs; often, a deadly one. Enter the Shafia trial, currently playing out in Ontario.
"In Jordan, if a woman is afraid that her family wants to kill her, she can check herself into the local prison, but she can't check herself out, and the only person who can get her out is a male relative, who is frequently the person who poses the threat." Widney Brown, Advocacy Director for Human Rights Watch
I’ve been following the disturbing details of this investigation with extreme sadness. The methodical and cold-blinded calculation with which a father, a mother and a brother plotted to kill three young girls and the husband’s first wife is unfathomable to me. But also heartbreaking, because, while I know that there’s a very good chance that these killers will be punished, the perpetrators of 5,000 honour killings taking place each year (according to statistics from the United Nations Population Fund) most likely will not.
How does one even begin to raise awareness and change attitudes in deeply patriarchal societies where the concept of women's rights is not even remotely culturally relevant? Such brainwashing takes place that – mind bogglingly - the women themselves are either complicit in other women’s honour killings, turn a blind eye, or choose not to report the killers of what - in many cases- are their own daughters and sisters.
Four women found a watery death in the Rideau Canal locks in Kingston months ago (three of them mere teenagers) and for what? Because a man wanted to preserve his family honour? What’s so honourable about a vicious premeditated act that leaves four innocent people dead, three members in prison for the rest of their lives and the remaining children without parents? I see no honour in that. And I hope the Canadian judicial system makes sure to send the message that no one else in this country does either.