Joanne Payton Co-founder of HBVA and works with Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation and International Campaign Against Honour Killings.
As a crime where the majority of victims are women, there is an obvious gender basis to Honour Based Violence (HBV). But we need to be careful about oversimplifying HBV as if all victims were female and all perpetrators were male.
While it’s often the case that violence is committed by a male relative of the victim, they may be actively or tacitly supported by her mother, sisters and aunts and other female relatives; and it not unknown for women themselves to be the perpetrators of HBV. Mothers have been implicated in several ‘honour’ killings, such as the first known ‘honour’ killing in the UK, the murder of Rukshana Naz – amongst many, many others.
In other cases, mothers may not be directly involved but still provide indirect support to their husband and male relatives and shield them from the criminal justice system, or may simply turn a blind eye to violence within the family. It was in recognition of this that IKWRO presented its ‘Real Honour‘ award to Hanim Goren, for breaking this cultural script by testifying against her husband who killed her daughter Tulay. Mothers who speak out are rare, and precious. There may be good reasons for this unwillingness to get involved:Leila Hussein‘s protests against her daughter’s ‘honour’ killing in Iraq led to her own murder just five weeks later. But not all women are cowed into silence through the fear of violent repercussions. Some genuinely support acts of violence, up to and including killing, to restore family ‘honour’.
Turkish sociologist Deniz Kandioyiti’s seminal essay ‘Bargaining with Patriarchy‘ provides some clues as to why this night be the case. In classically patriarchal systems, she says, referring to the power structures of the Middle East and South Asia, elder women gain status and power as mothers, particularly as mothers of sons, through the ability to control their own children and their daughters-in-law. Unlike younger women, who face the trauma of moving into the house of a man who may be a stranger to her, and where they are at the bottom of the family pecking order at the mercy of their husbands and mothers-in-law, older women with children around the age of adulthood are more deeply invested in the system and have accrued status and power within it which they wish to preserve.
As older women who often do the behind-the-scenes work of marriage arrangement, an important means of building influence and networks, it is in their interests to ensure that their family has a reputation for producing marriageable young women who conform to the gender roles expected of them. It is not just men’s ‘honour’ that is dependent upon the behaviour of young women, but also the reputation of her mother; suspicions of immorality on the part of a daughter reflect directly upon her mother, who is considered to have failed to instill the correct moral code into her daughter. Where the community rejects members who have perceived to have failed to redress a challenge to their ‘honour’, women are just as likely to face social exclusion and public opprobrium and therefore have just as much an interest in restoring their status.
So women, and older women in particular, may be just as involved in the system of ‘honour’ as men are, which means they can be just as dangerous.