Would you consider it "honorable" to slit your teenage sister's throat because she refused an arranged marriage? It may seem an outrageous question, but as many as 5000 women and girls a year are murdered by members of their own family in the name of family "honor."
These so-called "honor" killings occur mainly in Western Asia, North Africa and parts of South Asia, but they have also been reported in Bangladesh, Brazil, Ecuador, Egypt, India, Israel, Italy, Jordan, Morocco, Sweden, Turkey, Uganda, the United Kingdom and Pakistan, in which 1000 women were murdered in 1999. In certain countries, the merest suspicion or appearance of pre- or extra-marital relations, including rape (often committed by a member of her own extended family) can mean a death sentence for the woman accused.
In some countries, there are laws that mitigate or completely waive any punishment for murders when women have "disgraced" their families. Jordan, for example, despite publicly condemning the rampant killings, soundly defeated a recent bill that would have imposed harsher penalties upon perpetrators of honor crimes. Yet, these so-called "honor killings" account for more than half of Jordan's female murder victims.
Dowry Deaths/Bride Burnings
In some countries, there are additional justifications for killing women, even if they aren't suspected of sexual activity. In 1997, 5,000 Indian women were murdered by someone in the family of their betrothed in retaliation for having insufficient dowries. In a 1995 report, Indian police told CNN that a woman is killed over dowry every two hours.
The most popular method of dispatching the offender is to douse her with kerosene and burn her alive, giving rise to the term "bride burnings" for women killed over dowries. A young woman lucky enough to escape one of these fates by fleeing to another country is often tracked down and killed abroad as desperate bids for asylum demonstrate. The basis for supporting a custom of murdering females at will is the view in many cultures that women are somehow sub-human, the property of men, and undeserving of the most basic human rights.
Attempts to use religion, particularly Islam, as the basis for excusing these murders are unfounded. "It is not linked to religion but status is emphasized," says Regan Ralph of Human Rights Watch. Attention has been newly focused on the shocking tradition of dowry deaths and bride burnings by a recent upswing in reportage and public awareness. Many people were reached in 1998 when Olympia Dukakis narrated a documentary entitled "Crimes of Honor", which documents the "terrible reality of femicide," telling the true stories of Islamic women who fear for their lives, the men who commit femicide and the women who are fighting for change.
Every year, hundreds of women in Bangladesh are permanently disfigured by acid burns that are deliberately inflicted by men who go unpunished. The attacks have been occurring with increasing regularity; between 1996 and 1998 there was a four-fold increase in reported acid attacks from 47 to more than 200.
In addition to hideous scarring on the face, hands, throat, and any other part of the body that's exposed, the victims are frequently blinded by the nitric acid thrown into their face and eyes. Among the reasons used to justify acid attacks are a delayed meal and rejection of a marriage proposal.17
Although previously shielded from world scrutiny by the code of silence that shrouds horrific practices like this worldwide, the last several years have brought a surge in public awareness of what has sometimes been called "beauty hatred." A new twist is that this act is being perpetrated on women by other women. In Cambodia, unlike other countries where men usually do the acid burning, women are responsible for some two-thirds of the attacks. Bigamy and the keeping of mistresses have become commonplace in the country, with powerful men often having young girls "on the side." These girls then become the victims of outraged wives, as in the recent case involving a teenage model who was horribly scarred for life by the wife of her government-official lover.
In 2000, Carol Bellamy, Executive Director of UNICEF, issued a statement linking acid attacks with other "culturally-sanctioned homicidal violence against women and girls" including "honor" killings, female infanticide and bride burning and called upon all nations to outlaw such crimes and swiftly prosecute the offenders.
Dowry Deaths/Bride Burnings
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