By Karen Dickinson
So-called ‘honour’ based violence is defined as a crime that is committed to protect the honour of a family or community. There is no ‘honour’ in so-called ‘honour based’ violence; rather it is a method to control behaviour and exert power by punishing people, usually women, for actions that are perceived to bring ‘shame’ by not abiding by a certain set of rules. Typical infringements include having a boyfriend or girlfriend from a different religion or culture, unwillingness to take part in a forced or arranged marriage, pregnancy outside of marriage, wearing clothes that are considered unsuitable, loss of virginity, attempting to divorce, and reporting domestic violence. Women and girls tend to be perceived as losing honour through expressions of independence and autonomy, particularly within the area of sexuality, whereas men, according to the Honour Based Violence Awareness Network, ‘may be targeted either by the family of the woman who they are believed to have ‘dishonoured’, in which case both parties may be at risk, or by their own family if they are believed to be homosexual’.
Data obtained by the Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation recorded that more than 11,000 cases of so-called ‘honour’ crime were recorded by police forces in the UK between 2010 and 2014, including forced marriage and female genital mutilation (FGM). Other ‘honour’ crimes include abductions and beatings, but the crimes are not always violent and can include threats of violence, psychological abuse or being held against one’s will. However, some so-called honour crimes result in murder, such as the case of Shafilea Ahmed who was murdered by her parents for repeatedly refusing to submit to an arranged marriage and resisting their attempts to control her. Shafilea wished to wear Western clothes, go to university and make friends with whom she wanted, but her ultra-conservative parents wanted her to marry a cousin a decade older than her. Shafilea endured regular beatings at the hands of her parents and was eventually suffocated to death by them in 2003.
Charity Karma Nirvana, who have supported thousands of victims of honour abuse, disownment and forced marriage in the UK, began the Day of Memory for Victims of ‘Honour’ Based Violence, which is held every year on July 14th, chosen because it marks the birthday of Shafilea Ahmed. It is estimated that 5,000 women throughout the world are killed every year for bringing ‘shame’ on their families; at least 12 of these victims are British but many crimes go unreported and the true figure is thought to be higher. Karma Nirvana’s Day of Memory aims to raise awareness of honour based crime and celebrate the lives of victims. Every day leading up to July 14th, the charity tweets questions and answers from survivors of ‘honour’ abuse using the hashtag #WeRemember and #HBVAW17. You can also listen to their radio advert which highlights the dangers many British teenagers face of being taken overseas by their parents and forced into marriage.
If you are at risk or are concerned that someone else is you can contact Karma Nirvana on their UK helpline – 0800 599 9247. Bristol-based organisations that can help include Next Link, who offer crisis support and safe temporary supported housing to women and children experiencing domestic abuse and have a specialist forced marriage worker (0117 925 0680) and the Sky Project, who provide support on issues around forced marriage.