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When is a death an “honor killing” and when is it not?

Honor killings in Pakistan, India, and Afghanistan, though they also happen in other areas of the world and in other cultures. Yesterday, Sunday January 29th, 2012, in Ontario, Canada, three members of an Afghan family were found guilty of killing three teenagers and a woman. It was named an honor killing. The people found guilty were a man, his second wife and their son who were said to have killed their three teenage daughters because the daughters had dishonored them with their behavior. The man’s first wife who couldn’t have children, was made to live with the family in a polygamous marriage, and was said to be an advocate for the teenagers, was also killed.

The evidence stacks against them, though this article is not meant to defend them or the verdict. It is to question when something becomes an “honor killing.” Culturally, in Afghanistan and other countries, the term “honor killing” is used to explain or give reasons behind certain murders of family members, often women and girls.

The four women killed in this Canadian case were said to have brought dishonor to the family. In Canada, they were using this as evidence in the case, to say the family saw it that way and that was why they killed the women. I would argue that this is a perfect excuse to kill women. In the U.S. too or wherever. A woman does something that is not standing perfectly in line with what someone wants, so that person kills her. I’m thinking primarily domestic violence cases. It’s about power and control. If the perpetrator doesn’t like what his victim is doing, what he imagines she is doing, or what he wants her to do, he may kill her.

Honor killings and domestic violence aren’t strictly confined to women, of course, though the majority of the cases are women and for the sake of my argument right now, I’m referring to women.

In honor killings, the family says the person has brought dishonor upon the family and uses that rationale as justification for killing them. Obviously, that’s horrible. It is also a very persuasive way to keep girls and women in line. If women know there is a possibility that they will be killed for their behavior, they probably won’t misbehave. It’s pretty likely that the girls and women didn’t think anything like that would happen in Canada. I mean really, it’s Canada.

It also happens in domestic violence, and I’m sure in honor killings, that a woman does not behave in the way she is accused of behaving, but the perpetrator of power, control and violence believes she is “misbehaving” and uses their unfounded beliefs to kill her. Anything a woman does that is outside of what a perpetrator wants could be seen as dishonoring the perpetrator.

Examples: You didn’t make me dinner. Why didn’t you wash my shirt. My pants aren’t ironed correctly. I saw you looking at that man. You flirt with people when you talk to them at the store, especially that cashier. You’re such a slut, look at what you’re wearing.

People keep trying to control women. This includes how we dress, what we say, what we do, who we talk to. It includes our bodies: rape, molestation, sexual assault, forced sterilization, whether we have access to birth control, whether we have access to safe abortions, whether we have medical support for pregnancy and childbirth. It includes whether we have access to education, if we can drive, if we can work outside the home,… Women are free human beings. We are not to be controlled. We can make decisions for ourselves and control ourselves.

This case in Canada will hopefully make an impact worldwide, even as far as Afghanistan. It says, NO women cannot be killed for honor or for not being under someone else’s direct control.