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Human Rights Abuses Towards Women

by Hank Roth 

"Honor Killings" 

"Sirhan, a 35-year-old murderer, is cheerful and relaxed and happy to tell his story. He's especially proud to describe the efficiency with which he shot his young sister Suzanne in the head four times last March. "She came to the house at 8:15," he relates, "and by 8:20 she was dead." Three days before, the 16-year-old girl had reported to police that she had been raped. "She committed a mistake, even if it was against her will," says Sirhan. "Anyway, it's better to have one person die than to have the whole family die from shame."

"His is not a logic rare in the Arab world. For centuries, men of the region have engaged in "honor killing," the intrafamily slaughter of allegedly errant females. Women have endured the custom, while legal establishments have tolerated or even condoned it."

Honor killing has roots in the crude Arabic expression: "a man's honor lies between the legs of a woman." (1)

Women are regularly shot, strangled, and stabbed. These are hideous murders all committed by fathers, brothers or uncles and women who are of being sexually _impure_. This is one of the greatest human rights abuses carried on by individuals against other human beings with full legality and approval of Islamic governments.

On average in Jordan, a man who murders women in his family for an "honor killing" spends NO time in jail to only on average three months to a year in jail. Steal however and have your hand chopped off. Murder and "Allah be praised."

This is an actual case: Sarhan kills his sister. "He was sentenced to one year, but after just six months, the judge set him free. Here at his cousin's bachelor's party, he's a celebrated member of the family. In releasing him, the judge said Sarhan's "great anger when he learned that his sister was no longer a virgin" was justification for a short sentence." (2)

Not just Muslims, Druze, who are Arabs who left Islam about 1,000 years ago also kill their women. When this happens in Israel, Israeli courts are not lenient. This is a despicable custom and should be condemned. It is a crime against a woman's humanity.

"Penal Code"

Article 340 of the Jordanian Penal Code stipulates: "He who discovers his wife or one of his female relatives committing adultery (with a man) and kills, wounds or injures one or both of them, is exempt from any penalty." Another clause states: "He who discovers his wife or one of his female relatives with another in an adulterous situation, and kills, wounds or injures one or both of them benefits from a reduction in penalty." While there have been attempts at eliminating that provision, The Jordan Times discovered that 62% of the Jordanians oppose amending article 340. Most respondents claimed that it would lead to "moral corruption." (3)

"As is common in the Arab world, the law in Jordan winks at honor killers. If a man catches his wife or a close female relative in the act of adultery and kills her, he is exempt from punishment. If the situation only suggests illicit sex, he's entitled to a reduced sentence. In such cases, jail terms range from a few months to a few years. Sirhan served six months." (1)

"For women under threat, there is little recourse. Running away is next to impossible since Arab societies are close-knit and few women have the means to live alone. Jordanian authorities have a bizarre remedy: they jail endangered women. "Rafa," 20, was locked up in an Amman prison after her uncles and brothers vowed to murder her for having a three-day affair with a co-worker. At any one time, Jordan's prisons may house 70 such women. Sometimes they are released after their families promise not to harm them, though that is no guarantee. Suzanne's male relatives signed such a pledge before Sirhan killed her." (1)

In the Middle-East, it is not unusual for Arabs who murder for honor to be hailed as heroes? Can you imagine a custom anywhere else that rewards families for killing their own daughters and where fathers and brothers stalk the women in their own family, who they claim to love, and then they kill them? It is a strange world where there is honor in hurting and killing daughters and wives.

This morality based on a particular culture originates with the fact that men in those certain cultures feel that everything a woman in their family does reflects on their manhood. "Honor Killings" occur everywhere in the Muslim world, not just in Jordan.

Women's liberation has not yet fully reached the Middle-East, or more correctly, it has not yet spread beyond the boundaries of Israel to the Arab world.

In many Muslim communities a woman's purity reflects on a family's reputation. A family is shamed if there's even a rumor that a daughter is not a virgin, or if she refuses an arranged marriage, or has an extramarital affair or is disobedient. There have even been cases where a woman was murdered because she smoked a cigarette in public.

A Muslim (Rana Husseini) put it this way: "In many families, they believe that once she tarnishes the image, it's just like breaking glass. It can't be fixed. And the only way to fix it is to kill her. (2)

"For Arab women, virginity before marriage and fidelity afterward are considered musts. Men are expected to control their female relatives. If a woman strays, it is widely thought, the dignity of the men can be restored only by killing her." (1)

"In Jordan the 25 or so cases of honor killing documented every year constitute a quarter of all homicides." (1)

"The slightest sniff of scandal can be a death warrant. The director of Jordan's National Institute of Forensic Medicine, Dr. Mu'men Hadidi, says that in 80% of the cases in which he conducts a hymenal exam, which is routine in Jordan when a girl has gone missing, the same girl will be returned to him soon after as a corpse, even if she proved to be a virgin. "Once the story is out in the community," says Asma Khader, a lawyer and feminist, "they have to kill." Forbidden sex isn't always the issue. Marrying or divorcing against the family's wishes can also provoke murder." (1)

Women have borne the blunt of oppressive worldwide during economic upheavals, during wars, and during times of peace by popular and repressive cultural practices.

And, it seems, no matter how much attention we and others give to this problem, there has been little to no progress made in ending this heinous crime against humanity.

Sexual Abuse

Everywhere women are subjected to sexual abuse, raped, beat up, and murdered. They are physically assaulted in their own homes and they are raped by their husbands and their relatives (on their side and the relatives of their husband) and this happens everywhere. It won't end until men become just as enraged as women about this violation of their human rights.

We are witnessing today in many countries situations where women are being subjected to various forms of inhuman treatment and deprivation. It may stop when enough people are aware of these things? It may stop when the international community begins to focus on them? It starts here.

These women are suffering permanent physical disability and many die from their injuries. Think about it. A women who feels unsafe with those who are supposed to keep them safe is a women who is being tortured and is a women who is living her own death.

Women are those who must carry the burden of pregnancy and child birth and are told she cannot abort when she doesn't want the child which may result from her being raped. She is forced by other women and by men to have an unwanted child. That is also abusive.

Women toil on farms and in their home to provide for their families and they often get neither respect nor recognition.

In some countries there are women who are murdered by their relatives for not bringing enough money or property (as a dowry) to their marriage. Women are forced to commit suicide from the trauma of bad marriages and no way out. Honor killings are practiced in South East Asia and in Arab countries. In Bangladesh alone, death of women due to honor killing averages over 100 yearly.

The law in Egypt protects from prosecution men who kill their wives for engaging in extramarital affairs. And, in Arab countries there are established laws which deny women the same rights as men. They cannot vote and in many Arab countries, they cannot stand for election to legislatures or any elected offices.

Women are treated as sex objects whose duty it is to bear children and perform domestic chores.

In another Muslim country, Afghanistan, the ruling Taleban movement has withdrawn girls from school and stopped women from working outside the home. They are also sexually and physically mutilated in Afghanistan.

In Nigeria women are often blamed for the deaths of their husbands which they were not responsible for and they have all of their husbands property taken away from them when he dies, by the relatives of their husband.

It is women who have suffered the most from HIV/AIDS. When a woman is raped by a man, apart from the physical and psychological injuries suffered, the woman is at a high risk of contracting the AIDS virus but the ugly truth is that most women contract AIDS from their husbands who are the ones who visit brothels and keep other sexual partners.

In some countries, like Africa and Asia women have even been denied the right to choose when, how and where to have sex.

In East Africa, it is assumed that a man with HIV/AIDS can get 'cured' by sleeping with a virgin.

Trafficking in women has been going on forever and is particularly bad in Asia, Africa and in Arab countries. These women are forcibly used and objectified in an industry which brings in billions of dollars. Women and young girls from Africa, Asia and Eastern Europe (the former Soviet Union) and Arab countries are taken to western Europe and North America every year to work as prostitutes and sex slaves. There has literally been an explosion in this illicit trade. We need to protect the women and children.

Women are the victims of exploitation and oppression. These are human rights abuses which we do not hear enough about because they are often cultural practices. Women deserve better.

"In sharia there are theoretical and practical rules related to women. Theoretically, all the rules concerning women derive from the slavery system . . . a man can buy a woman with his money [dower], and she becomes a thing, not a human. With his money he can do anything with this thing. Islam knows two sorts of male/female relationships (1) buying her--as a slave--and he can do anything with her he likes--violate her in any way . . . he also owns his own children and can sell them . . . and (2) marriage: in Islam the relationship is based solely on buying and selling . . . he owns her . . . he owns her sexual parts . . . to such an extent that, if she is ill and cannot give him what he wants at any time he wants, she cannot collect alimony. So, with the dower (mahr) he buys her sexuality." From Interview, (10 July 1988) Khartoum North Referenced in "Gender Politics in Sudan: Islamism, Socialism, and the State" by Sondra Hale; Westview Press, 1996 "I see religion as a potent and very dangerous weapon, a double-edged sword. It is true that the backwardness of the Arab person whether male or female has many roots, but the fundamental root is religion. From it come the conventions, customs, and practices that dominate the Arab person. It has strong chains that pull backward, especially the Arab woman. . . . She finds herself at times considered to possess half a brain and [half the] religion. At other times she is a rib from the ribs of man. In whatever she does she is evil, obsessed with that which is forbidden. . . . Unless we find a new modern interpretation for religion, and a way to distance religion from forming the Arab person, we will not be successful in changing the social structures." Amira al-Durra, Director of Family Planning in Damascus, in response to a lecture, as quoted in al-Marah wa-Dawruha fi Harakat al-Wahdah al-Ambiyah, ed. Ali Shalaq et al. (Beirut: Markaz Dimsat al-Wahdah al-'Ambiyah, 1982), p. 82) Referenced in "Islam, Gender and Social Change" by Yvonne Yazbeck Haddad; Oxford University Press, 1998 "The Egyptian Ministry of the Interior reported that of the 775 cases of homicide in 1988, 49 of them were to "wipe out shame," a euphemism for honor killing. Honor killing may occur when a family has been "shamed" by the premarital or extramarital relations (even if they are only rumored) of a female member of the family. Typically, the girl/woman who has committed the illicit act, and especially if she has become pregnant as a result, is killed by her father, brother, uncle, or male cousin. If the man who has dishonored her is known, he may be killed by her relatives, also. Although honor killings are relatively rare, they still occur today in culturally conservative areas of Egypt, including Said and the rural Nile Delta. When they occur, they are reported, often sensationally, by the news media. Thus, most poor urban Egyptian women have heard heinous stories about honor killings, which probably serve to dissuade them from pre- and extramarital sex, as well as other forms of immoderate behavior." "Infertility and Patriarchy: The Cultural Politics of Gender and Family Life in Egypt" by Marcia C. Inhorn; University of Pennsylvania Press, 1996

Among Muslims there is culturally encouraged and sanctioned "honor killings." There is female mutilation. And there is also slavery. Civilized people and progressives should condemn in the strongest terms this terrible inhumane treatment and behavior. A willingness to savagely disregard a women's rights in the name of "family honor" is not honorable, it is insane. This custom, whether Islamic or pre-Islamic and is still traditionally practiced today. The world community, through individual states, and through the United Nations, must demand restoring the dignity of womanhood and an end to this inhumanity towards women.

End Slavery and "Honor Killings
End Wars of Aggression
Stop the Killing!
Demand Sanity by Hank Roth Code of Hammurabi 

Honor killing is a concept which has it's roots in the the 1752 B.C. Code of Hammurabi and as far back as the Assyrian legal code of 3000 B.C., wherein men who committed rape were punished themselves (indirectly) with the rape of their own wives. (1) Source: Time/1-18-1999 (2) NPR Transcript (3) The proportion of women's representation in Arab parliaments is only 3.4% as opposed to 11.4% in the rest of the world. In addition, 55% of Arab women are illiterate

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