This Is Why Honor Killings Need to Stop

In April 2020, Saman Abbas disappeared. She had been thrown out of her family home because she refused to go through with an arranged marriage to a man in Pakistan. In May of 2020, when social services arrived at her home, Saman was still missing, and her parents had returned to Pakistan. An investigation led to Saman’s dismembered body being found in Reggio Emilia in northern Italy. Italian authorities have detained Saman’s uncle, believing he murdered her by strangling her. Authorities believe the parents helped orchestrate the murder with Saman’s uncle.

The parent’s and uncle’s alleged reason behind this is Saman’s refusal to the arranged marriage. The implication of Saman’s refusal was a defiant act and a betrayal to the family. In other words, Saman was bringing dishonor to the family and the family name. Saman’s murder is deemed an “Honor killing” or “Honor based violence.”

Dishonor to the family can manifest in different ways…

Honor Killings are rooted in the perception of a woman or girl participating in inappropriate behavior that brings dishonor or shame to the family. Examples of this include premarital relationships, wearing revealing clothing, or rejecting cultural norms and traditions. Initially, the family or relatives place restrictions to try and stop this behavior. As the behavior pervades, their attempts escalate resorting to violence and abuse, often ending in the woman’s death. Dishonor to the family can manifest in different ways, the family name is ruined, they are often shunned from the community, and cannot get jobs or find spouses.

Contrary to popular belief, honor killings are not restricted to any specific culture, religion, or region. Claiming that honor killings are inherently a part of the Middle East or Islam is an ignorant claim that tries to shift attention away from world’s history of violence against women. On a larger scale, honor killings are a subsect of the global phenomenon of gender based violence against women. Gender based violence includes female infanticide, female genital mutilation, intimate partner crimes and honor killings.

This is just another example of men and male dominated societies exerting control over women and their bodies. These forms of violence share similar characteristics, where male figures control the daily activities, choices and livelihoods of the female figures in their lives through what they deem to be appropriate for the women. When the women fail to conform to these standards, the men often act out in rage, passion and anger. The men often claim they were “provoked” or “instigated” by the women’s actions and failure to conform.

Giving deference to the man’s narrative is rooted within our nation’s history of classifying women as men’s property.

A man’s defense of provocation, passion, or losing control is analogous to a man’s defense of cultural traditions or norms allowing the murder of a woman. These defenses are a cop-out for men to justify their behavior and societies’ lenience towards accepting this narrative is what allows gender based violence to continue. Giving deference to the man’s narrative is rooted within our nation’s history of classifying women as men’s property. It is allowing for a woman’s sexual history and reputation to tarnish her testimony in a case of assault. In all these situations our focus is on the women in these cases. We pick out every negative act or thing said about her and criticize her for it, give our opinion on how she could have made a better choice.

We are subconsciously trained to find the “bad guy” in the story, only it always ends up being a woman. Saman Abbas had her life brutally ripped away from her. Statistics for honor killings are not wholly accurate because these crimes often go unreported. These killings will continue and may increase so long as we continue to be complacent towards violence against women.

Men should not be given the freedom to control our stories, to control when they begin or when they end. Any violation of women’s rights is a violation of human rights. We must address and condemn these instances of violence if we want to provide a world we we are not living in constant fear for ourselves, our mothers, sisters, daughters and friends. We must remember Saman and all of the lives lost to these senseless killings.