FEMICIDE, not honour killing by Alia Hogben

This column was originally published in the February 4th, 2012 edition of The Kingston Whig-Standard

The unusual but now Canadian names of Zainab, Sahar, Geeti, and Rona should be engraved in our minds, along with all those women and girls who have been killed because they were females. Zainab, Sahar, Geeti and Rona died together on June 30, 2009.

This week their parents and brother were found guilty and imprisoned for life. The rationale for their murders may be interesting and worthy in the courtroom, but I pray that they are remembered for themselves, and not as victims of “honour killings.”

The case drew a great deal of media attention for a number of reasons – the mystery of how four women could be murdered together; how the car could plunge into the locks; the charges against other family members and the sheer “exotic-ness” of the whole situation. The combination of the family originating from Afghanistan, and being Muslims, enhanced the intense interest in this case. Though Judge Robert Maranger did not name these murders as “honour killings,” he rightly stated that it was difficult to conceive of a more “honourless crime,” and he then addressed the accused parents and brother on their “twisted concept of honour, a notion of honour founded upon the domination and control of women, a sick notion of honour that has no place in any civilized society.”

Credit must be given to both the judge and the crown for their advocacy of these murdered women and girls.
My disappointment is about the constant focus on the rationale for the killings, naming them so called “honour killings” and allowing the media to further play up this sensational theme.

My sadness is that four women died dreadful deaths, not because they were Afghans or Muslims, but simply because they were females.

The twisted concept of honour may be present in some cultures, but more importantly it is integral to patriarchy, wherever it is practiced, and affects the lives of women and girls. We must address the underlying values of patriarchy; otherwise we will continue to deal with the aftermath in disjointed ways.

As Canadians, we uphold the U.N.’s recommendation that there be no invocation of custom, tradition or religion to justify violence against women.

For Muslims, the Quran makes no mention of any kind of death for adultery or unchaste behaviour, but we know that some cultures of Muslims are based on patriarchy and gender equality is not a norm. It is neither defensive nor plain naivety on the part of our organization, the Canadian Council of Muslim Women, to dislike the term “honour killing,” while condemning the barbarism of such murders.

Defining the murder by the rationale diminishes the death of the woman. Our argument is that no murder of a woman or girl should be categorized by the rationale provided either by the murderer or by those accusing him.

In Canada, by our refusal to label these murders as “honour killings” we are stating unequivocally that we reject the whole context and rationale for any murder of women.

This categorization makes these murders exotic, foreign, and alien to Western “culture.” Addressing these murders as such, excludes those of us who identify as being Western but also with non-European attributes of religion, ethnicity or race.

It encourages racism for some as it gives them permission to blame “those people” and demand their ousting from Canada. It makes others defensive or apologetic about their culture or religion, and blocks any acknowledgement that these murders do irreparable harm to religion and culture.

We are disturbed that the media and some academics have arrogated to themselves to categorise “honour killings” with their own lists of characteristics. This is wrong, because this is not an academic exercise and ignores the fact that the rationale for killing women and girls is because they are female. Why do we want to focus on any excuse provided by males for the murders?

It is incorrect to state that honour killing is characterized by premeditation and others are not, or that there may be signs of mental illness amongst those who commit honour killing but not a factor in other murders.

Also, it is important to note that Canada does not keep statistics on so called honour killings, nor hopefully will it distinguish these murders in a separate category.

As minority women we are often dismayed by many who use cultural relativist arguments to bend backwards to accommodate all practices, not understanding that they end up hindering our struggles for our gender equality.

To us, the yardstick to measure the limits of cultural tolerance is fairly clear. The universal human rights of citizenship must take precedence over membership of communities. This will not eliminate the contest between defending human rights versus the cultural or religious rights of communities, but we must try. Femicide will not disappear, but we cannot separate murders of women and girls by rationale, ethnicity, culture or race.

There is no honour in killing, let us banish this oxymoronic statement from our Canadian lexicon and from our understanding of violence against women and girls.

Murder is murder; there is no justification, so what more needs to be said.