Break the Silence on Honor Killing

“I am sharing this reluctantly: last night’s shooting gun sounds were so close that it turned out a family from our neighborhood killed their daughter after an unsuccessful forced marriage. My only plea is that they could never see the light of day again.”

The update of one of my Kurdish friends on Facebook called for many comments. Mostly shocked, some depressed with the state of development. “How can someone do this to his child?” “A brutal father who needs to be sent to jail for the rest of his life” and “This happens every day in our society, and yet we are silent!” were just a few of them.

Honor killings are still part of the reality in Iraqi Kurdistan and in the Kurdish diaspora. On the one hand the Kurdish region is developing rapidly, and Kurds in the West have access to modernity. On the other hand, old habits die hard.

It is good that the issue is no longer swept under the carpet. A special government organization has been set to work, and has, amongst others, organized two conferences about violence against women. And at both instances the Kurdish Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani spoke out clearly in favor of more respect for women.

“It is good that the issue is no longer swept under the carpet.”

There is a law that prohibits honor killings – and family members behind the murder my friend reported, have already been picked up. Police have been briefed in special courses, and the same is being done for those working in the courts.

But this is the other end of the problem; the crime has already been committed. What is needed most now is to educate people and to prevent these horrible crimes from happening.

Parents want the best for their children. Those who have been brought up to believe that parents choose their children’s partners, and that “love will come later,” are not going to give that up just because modernism dictates it. They still feel that it is good to marry their children to someone in the family, or to use their children’s marriage to connect two families.

Yet at the same time, they no longer sleep on the floor, their sitting room has couches and they eat mostly at the table. They don’t move around by foot or even by donkey, the SUV is always ready next to the house.

It is time the older generation in Kurdistan understands that development does not only show in wealth or wellbeing. It also shows in respect for women. That now women study, graduate and work, and that marriage and children are not their whole lives anymore is to be respected.

It is a clash of generations, and of modernity and tradition. You cannot prevent that clash, but you can try to make people realize that the rules have changed, that society can no longer agree to women being forced into marriages and killed because they threaten the honor of the family.

Communication is the key in this battle. First of all: all incidents should be recorded and published. The media should report on the punishment that is given to the perpetrators, so the message gets out that honor killings are not accepted.

Set up a special organization where women can safely go for help when they feel threatened. Not to take them away from home – although that might be necessary at times too, but to see what can be done to solve the issue before it is too late. The organization should advise them, give them strength and at the same time send the message that their parents or husband will not get away with any action against the woman.

“It is time the older generation in Kurdistan understands that development does not only show in wealth or wellbeing. It also shows in respect for women.”

There might be a role for other family members to get out of the crisis. I have seen how, in a conservative family, one of the more modern sons was able to influence the traditional forces and got them to avoid violence, when his sister had chosen a partner the parents did not like.

I am calling on those men and women not to be silent, but to use their influence. And if they think they cannot do it themselves, to get help. The silence surrounding violence against women has to be broken.

Part of the problem is education. It seems the message that the government is trying to transmit is not arriving at all levels of the society.

Television can be a very good tool to get it across in a simple way. At the same time, TV stations should be more careful what they broadcast, for foreign soaps that make it look like honor killing is normal and acceptable send the wrong message.

Kurdish TV series that show how despicable the deed is could help to slowly push honor killing out. When enough people speak out and break the silence, hopefully the much needed change can begin.

A link to the article can be found here.