We understand the good intentions behind the attempt made by Nusrat Ghani MP in her Private Members Bill to ban the term ‘honour’ from official documents in respect of ‘honour’ killings or ‘honour-based violence. But the move is misguided.
The twin concepts of ‘honour’ and ‘shame’ remain central organising features of family life in many societies around the world. They underpin part of a powerful patriarchal canon by which the control of female sexuality is maintained. This is why violence perpetrated on women and girls in the name of ‘honour’ is increasingly recognised in international human rights laws and standards as a specific form of gender related violence. It is recognised in much the same way as other culturally specific forms of gender-based crimes like forced marriage and female genital mutilation. Human rights laws require states to understand the specific dynamics of, and risks associated with, such crimes: so that they can implement robust policies for their prosecution and prevention and provide sufficient support and access to justice for its victims.
Tinkering with terminology will not rectify the many failures of the British state to address ‘honour’ crimes adequately. What is essential is the provision of adequate legal and specialist services, and greater accountability from the police, prosecutorial and other state institutions. Currently, such institutions operate a culture of disbelief and indifference to gender-based violence. Banaz Mahmood, for instance, would not have been saved by a change in the terminology: but she might have been saved had the police learnt lessons from its systemic failures in other domestic related homicides.
Instead, we are witness to the decimation of the welfare state, the growing promotion of faith-based violence against women services and a proliferation of policies that seem to appease patriarchal and conservative religious ‘leaders’. Such leaders would, no doubt, support a ban on the use of the term ‘honour’. They deny their own complicity in honour-based crimes by viewing them as symptomatic of ‘malfunctioning cultures’ rather than the product of regressive religious values that are inseparable from culture. These developments have impacted disproportionately on black and minority women who are the most common victims of ‘honour’ crimes. These are the real issues that we should be making a noise about because paradoxically, despite progress made through feminist struggle, there are fewer and fewer options for exit and protection.
Perhaps the government could start by ratifying the Istanbul Convention and addressing the serious police failures and the issue of extra-territoriality raised in the specific case of Seeta Kaur. It could also re-think its relationships with faith-based leaderships and review the impact of the austerity measures and state policies that are proving to be major obstacles to achieving gender equality for all women.
Southall Black Sisters
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Supported by the following individuals and organisations:
Aisha Ali-Khan – Asian Mums Network
Ruth Appleton – Santé Refugee Mental Health Access Project
Bethany Davies – Industrial workers of the world
Hanan – HM Training & Empowering Consultancy
Emma Ritch – Engender
Julia Bard – Jewish Socialists’ Group
Sarah Green – End Violence Against Women Coalition
Rachel Krys – End Violence Against Women Coalition
Shakila Taranum Maan
Anjum Mouj – London Black Women’s Project
Malika Klara Shah
Umme Imam – The Angelou Centre
Bariza Ghiti – The Angelou Centre