Taking out “honour” from “honour-crimes”
May S - 22/04/2012
Sitting at a roundtable with five other people, a 45-year-old teacher shared the story of ‘X’, a girl who was sexually abused by her cousin at the age of fifteen. When her parents found out, they were outraged and threatened to kill the ‘victim’ instead of the ‘perpetrator’.
Having a strong personality, X decided to challenge her parents’ definition of ‘honour’ and, at a moment of tremendous distress, decided to break her ‘own virginity’. After finishing the story, the teacher informed us that she was the heroine of the story, shocking us with her courage and bravery to share such a personal and sensitive story with complete strangers.
We were attending a workshop for a campaign entitled ‘No Honour in Crime’, that seeks to advocate for the rights of X and thousands of females who resemble her. The campaign seeks to end the murder in the name of ‘honour’ and raise the awareness of the public on this topic, urging people to take action before bullets are shot.
Statistics indicate that 112 females were killed in the last ten years due to the so-called ‘honour crimes’. However, this number does not necessarily depict all of the ‘patriarchal aspects of the society’, which inflict injustice upon thousands of females.
According to Reem Manna’, the coordinator of the campaign, the Jordanian press reports on the ‘honour crimes’ only when the woman is actually killed, neglecting those thousands who are threatened and whose liberty is at stake.
“I joined the campaign after an encounter with a close friend of mine who was threatened to be killed by a male member of her family”, says Manna’, adding that “this was the first time I could actually realize that honour crimes are real and can happen to a close friend and not just strangers in rural areas”.
Manna’ says that she was aware she would tackle a ‘sensitive taboo’, along with a group of activists and feminists, but she was still shocked by the ‘attacks’ against the campaign that continue to unleash. Commenting on the attacks, she says that “there are people who think we are promoting adultery and asking the males of the family to stay calm when they see their sisters and mothers committing sins”.
Dismissing this view, Manna’ says that the segment they are trying to protect does not fall into this category in the first instance, citing the fact that the overwhelming majority of these victims go to their tombs as “virgins”.
Furthermore, according to the organizers and activists of this campaign, “murder should not be the only option even if a female is guilty”. To this end, several workshops will be held in the coming months to encourage the participants to re-write scenarios of “honour crimes”. Manna’ explains that participants will be asked to “put themselves in the shoes of the perpetrator and re-write the scene to show that there can be other options and not just murder”.
The campaign has been gathering signatures for a petition, calling on the parliament to disable the family of the victim to drop their personal claim. Half a million signatures are needed to issue the petition and ask the MPs to push for this amendment under the dome.
What often happens is that the family of the victim drops its personal claim and therefore, the perpetrator receives a lenient punishment. Through the lens of the activists, this act promotes ‘injustice’ and facilitates murder.
Manna’ explains that “a female is killed by a male member of the family and then they are the same people who have the right to drop the personal claim and set the perpetrator free, so it becomes impossible to achieve justice”. That is not the only reason why Manna’ and her colleagues believe this clause should be amended. In their opinion, it should not be up to the family to drop the personal claim, as once the female is killed, the “damage and outrage that the whole society faces shall turn the issue into a public claim”.
According to the organizers of the campaign, this demand has been met by opposition even from lawyers who cooperated with the campaign at some points. They did not support this demand to amend the clause and thought that dropping the personal claim is “an act of tolerance” and “an inherited tradition” that should not be eliminated.
Undoubtedly, a campaign that seeks to change a decades-old definition of honour and challenge patriarchal concepts will face fierce opposition and attacks. But perhaps the worst of all is an incident that Manna’ recalls and remembers in perfect detail.
In one of the workshops, the organizers were discussing the issue with school students and asked them about their potential reactions if they were to find out that their sister was involved in a relationship. One of the “shocking” answers was simple, as one boy put it in very few words. Happily, he said “thanks God, I don’t have a sister!”