Honor Crimes

Honor crimes are acts of violence, often murder, predominantly committed by men against female family members who are perceived to have brought dishonor upon the family. A woman can be targeted for a variety of reasons, including: refusing to enter into an arranged marriage, being the victim of a sexual assault, seeking a divorce (even from an abusive husband), or allegedly committing adultery. The real or perceived violation of a woman’s chastity is enough to trigger an attack. Honor crimes are not specific to any religion or any one region of the world.1 Worldwide, 5,000 women die as a result of honor crimes each year.2 In Pakistan alone, more than 1,000 women are killed annually in the name of honor.3 In Jordan and Lebanon, 70 to 75 percent of the perpetrators of honor killings are the women’s brothers.4

Khalida’s Story

Khalida*, a native of Pakistan, had just finished medical school when she married Asad* through an arrangement made by their families. Asad was abusive and jealous from the start. Khalida’s movement was restricted and she had to be accompanied wherever she went. When Khalida was at the hospital for 24-hour emergency duty, her husband called her a whore, accused her of going to work to attract men, and told her she was dishonoring the family.

Khalida’s husband raped her repeatedly. He constantly scolded her for neglecting her “wifely duties”— cooking and cleaning. Asad even threatened to kill Khalida with the guns he kept in the house illegally. Khalida eventually stopped working, hoping that her being at home would calm him down. Even after she left her job and gave birth to two children, Asad continued to abuse her. He was angry that she had given birth to daughters instead of sons. Due to cultural restraints, divorce or separation was out of the question.

After years of trying to escape, with the help of her brothers, Khalida and her daughters fled from her husband in 2002 while they were in the United States visiting family. Tahirih successfully represented Khalida’s case and on December 31, 2003, she was granted asylum. Khalida was able to keep both her daughters with her; however, she still fears persecution in the form of an honor crime from Asad and his family for having worked outside the home and having divorced Asad. To this day, her husband and his family do not accept the end of the marriage and threaten to harm Khalida if she returns to Pakistan.

1Human Rights Watch, HRW Oral Intervention, 57th Session of the UN Commission on Human Rights, 2001, http://hrw.org/english/docs/2001/04/06/global268.htm, last visited June 11, 2007.

2UNFPA, Lives Together, Worlds Apart, 2000, http://www.unfpa.org/swp/2000/english/ch01.html, last visited June 11, 2007.

3Radhika Coomeraswamy, Integration of the Human Rights of Women and the Gender Perspective: Violence Against Women, Report of the Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, its Causes and Consequences: Cultural Practices in the Family that are Violent Towards Women, E/CN.4/2002/93 (January 31, 2002): 12.

4UNIFEM, Not a Minute More: International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women: Facts and Figures, November 2004. Quoting, UNIFEM Regional Scan, Arab Region, 2002.

*Client’s name has been changed to protect privacy