An Absence of Autonomy: The Disturbing Rationale Behind Honor Killings

By Mansi Garneni



I once heard a joke that women love shopping because it’s the only thing in their life they have absolute control over. A while after I acknowledged the comment, the reality of the statement set in. After all, aren’t all good jokes based in truth? Let me explain.

For centuries, women have served as symbols of their family’s values. Producing a daughter that makes for a good wife and mother reflects well on her upbringing and, by effect, her family. In many cases, taking on these roles to respect one’s family resulted in a life of domesticity. Fortunately, Western society has progressed - a marriage isn’t a death sentence to a woman’s career anymore. Despite this, in many communities in South Asia, North Africa, and the Middle East, the revolutionary ideals of the Enlightenment have not been integrated into their status quo. The sacred right to autonomy that Western society so proudly boasts is not granted to millions and millions of women. Their fundamental human rights are infringed upon in the most grotesque ways possible, one of which is the practice of honor killings.

Prevalent and largely accepted in the regions previously mentioned, victims of honor killings are primarily teenage or adult women that are murdered by fathers and other male relatives for conducting “immoral actions.” What constitutes an act of immorality is far from concretely defined, for women have been targeted for conversing with men in public or even seeking divorce during an abusive relationship. Anything that may tarnish her image of purity and propriety can be seen as deserving of death; one daughter having a negative reputation reflects poorly on her family.

An even more horrifying truth is that the murderers are rarely punished to the full extent of the law. In Jordan, for example, these offenses often go unpunished, and court cases often focus on the woman’s actions that prompted the violence. Legally, honor killings are considered an “ends justify the means” murder.

It’s easy to group honor killings with all other violence against women, but it is imperative to understand the dark truth that lies under the surface. From her education to her husband, “choice” is not a concept that many women are familiar with. They are to simply do what is best for their families and their reputations. However, there is a difference between removing autonomy from a woman’s life and justifying an act of violence because she does not adhere to your idea of what she should be. The former is a characteristic of a patriarchal society while the latter is a manifestation of internalized misogyny protected under the law. For the victims and those in danger of becoming ones, “patriarchy” is not just a concept that is discussed and debated in classrooms. Patriarchy is constantly living in fear of acting out of line when the lines were drawn based on a man’s idea of what a woman should be. An imposed identity is forced to become her own, punishable by death. Though justice may turn a blind eye, it’s essential that the world does not.