Sexism in All Shapes and Forms – Honor Killings Edition

[Updated below] The Independent calls it what it is: barbaric.

“At first glance Shawbo Ali Rauf appears to be slumbering on the grass, her pale brown curls framing her face, her summer skirt spread about her. But the awkward position of her limbs and the splattered blood reveal the true horror of the scene.

The 19-year-old Iraqi was, according to her father, murdered by her own in-laws, who took her to a picnic area in Dokan and shot her seven times. Her crime was to have an unknown number on her mobile phone. Her “honour killing” is just one in a grotesque series emerging from Iraq, where activists speak of a “genocide” against women in the name of religion.

In the latest such case, it was reported yesterday that a 17-year-old girl, Rand Abdel-Qader, was stabbed to death last month by her father for becoming infatuated with a British soldier serving in southern Iraq.

In Basra alone, police acknowledge that 15 women a month are murdered for breaching Islamic dress codes. Campaigners insist it is a conservative figure.

Violence against women is rampant, rising every day with the power of the militias. Beheadings, rapes, beatings, suicides through self-immolation, genital mutilation, trafficking and child abuse masquerading as marriage of girls as young as nine are all on the increase.

Du’a Khalil Aswad, 17, from Nineveh, was executed by stoning in front of mob of 2,000 men for falling in love with a boy outside her Yazidi tribe.”

I guess this war is money well spent, isn’t it? Congratulations, coalition of the willing, you have liberated the women of Iraq of the horrible oppression of Saddam Hussein’s regime, only to throw them into the worse, yes, worse, oppression of religious zealots who have been unleashed in this society because of your inability to see reality for what it is. And please, can we be spared the Rumsfeldian “freedom is messy”, the ethnocentric “some people don’t know how to be free” or the always popular cultural relativist argument. And yes, this is the real face of Islam: misogynistic, barbaric and murderous.

And don’t count on the Iraqi government to do anything about it. A recent attempt by a Kurdish woman MP to outlaw honor killings was defeated by religious fundamentalists. Another woman activist has a fatwa on her head for protesting the introduction of Sharia law in Iraqi Kurdistan. Being a woman in the public sphere, whether it is government or civil society, has become a very risky proposition for the women of Iraq. As she puts it,

“If before there was one dictator persecuting people, now almost everyone is persecuting women.

In the past five years it is has got [much] worse. It is difficult to described how terrible it is, how badly we have been pushed back to the dark ages. Women are being beheaded for taking their veil off. Self immolation is rising – women are left with no choice. There is no government body or institution to provide any sort of support. Sharia law is being used to underpin government rule, denying women their most basic human rights.”

And there are many more horrific stories reported in the Independent article. And of course, let’s not forget the contradictions present in the Iraqi Constitution that the Bush administration rushed through to claim some political success. This Constitution states that men and women are equal, but also mandates observance of Sharia law. Guess which interpretation religious fundamentalists will pick?

This will be the lasting legacy of this war: to transform Iraq into a hellhole for women.

And if that weren’t enough, we get this item from Amnesty International:

“Amnesty International has written to the Jordanian authorities expressing its concern over what appear to be disproportionately lenient sentences received in March by two men convicted of killing close female relatives. In separate cases the men were sentenced to six months’ and three months’ imprisonment by the Jordanian Criminal Court after the court accepted that they had killed their female relatives in “a fit of fury” in the name of family honour. Taking into account article 98 of the Penal Code, the court ruled in each case that the crime should be considered a misdemeanour and so would merit a much reduced sentence compared to the penalty for murder, which is 15 years’ imprisonment.”

Article 98 is always used in cases of violence against women by men, which, of course, flies in the face of the international standard of equality under the law. In one of the cases, the man shot his married sister because of her immoral behavior: leaving the house without her husband’s permission and talking on her cell phone with other men.

The Jordanian government has taken steps to protect women and Queen Rania has spoken up against honor killings. However, no one is willing to touch article 98.

Update: since Ellen Sheeley was kind enough to leave a comment, let me give a shout out to her book on the subject of honor killings: Reclaiming Honor in Jordan: A National Public Opinion Survey on “Honor” Killings.

2 thoughts on “Sexism in All Shapes and Forms – Honor Killings Edition

  1. Thank you for blogging about this subject.

    The Jordanian royal family has been “speaking out” about these crimes for years, at least going back to Queen Noor’s reign. But actions speak louder than words. Jordan is an absolute monarchy. One family rules. They are responsible for this state of affairs and, if there were sufficient political will, they could easily change it. A stroke of the pen would do it.

    Meantime, while we’re waiting. . .here are a couple ideas:

    1. Why don’t we start economically boycotting countries that continue to treat their women like this and the companies that do business with them? We could do for women what the boycott of South Africa did for blacks when they were living under apartheid.

    2. Why don’t we write to our representatives and leaders and demand that they withhold some meaningful portion of our aid to these countries unless and until they materially, measurably, sustainably improve their human rights track records?

    Ellen R. Sheeley, Author
    “Reclaiming Honor in Jordan”

  2. You’re absolutely right, Ms Sheeley (thank you for dropping by, it’s a privilege to have you as a commenter!). Especially in the context of the election, now is the time to press candidates at all levels on this issue.

    So, are you ready to pack your bags again and go conduct the same study in Iraq as you did in Jordan? It would probably be way more dangerous, though.

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