Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Shame in Honor

This post will deal with the very serious topic of honor crimes, so beware that some of it will be tough to read.

Imagine that you are a 16-year old girl living in a modern Westernized city called Amman. Imagine that you are then raped by your 19-year old brother, then married off to a man twice your age because you aren’t as appealing any more, and then divorced after a year to be killed by your other brother for bringing shame on your family for what another family member did to you. Imagine then, that the brother who killed you tells the journalist investigating the case that if he could go back in time he would do it again.

That journalist was Rana Husseini and the case of the 16-year old girl was what triggered her lauded career fighting the global issue of honor crimes. This past Tuesday I met this incredible woman and got to hear her give a lecture on her new book “Murder in the name of Honor” at the CIEE Study Center. The lecture came at a perfect time, since the day before I had discussed the very issue of honor killings with my very conservative peer tutor.

Let me first explain what a peer tutor is. CIEE has a peer tutor program that basically pairs you up with a University of Jordan student to improve your speaking skills in Arabic and immerse yourself more into the local culture. Last Tuesday we had an Urban Challenge downtown to get to know each other, which included activities such as eating kunefeh, interviewing a grocery seller, and trying fresh juice. We had a lot in common, such as that we both love mango and we both write poetry. However there are also huge differences. She comes from a conservative Muslim family where boys and girls occupy separate areas of the house. She told me that If she dated someone she would be killed, but she said it with a smile as if it was a fact of life.

Here is a picture of my peer tutor hiding behind an elyom newspaper in downtown Amman:

You could be killed by your own father, brother, or even son for such shockingly trivial reasons as:
• Dressing in a manner unacceptable to the family or community
• Wanting to terminate or prevent an arranged marriage
• Desiring to marry by own choice, especially if to a member of a social group deemed inappropriate
• Engaging in heterosexual acts outside marriage
• Engaging in homosexual acts

Over 20,000 women die annually across the world because of “putting their family’s honor to shame”, according to a 2000 survey, and the number has probably increased by now. Rana said that the more densely populated the area is, the more likely you will see honor killings, due to the increased importance of family reputation in the community.

Honor killings are also not restricted to one religion, ethnicity, or geographic location. Even men are victims in this crime, in that they are often pressured to murder the very person they have grown up with, and it isn’t rare to have a 17-year old do the job, since he can leave prison with no criminal record before he turns 18.

Jordan has been especially highlighted for its honor killings, but that is probably because the Jordanian activists and government are doing such a great job of addressing the problem. The prison sentence for someone who has committed murder in the name of family honor has been lengthened from a mere 4-6 months to a minimum of 12 years, an amendment that was passed through as recently as July 2012. However, in the Q&A session one student asked about possibly spreading the movement to the Gulf, and Rana explained that such a thing was nearly impossible at the moment because of the many cultural and religious hurdles in the way of a final solution to the honor crimes, both in Gulf countries and in families around the world.

Jordan is definitely at the forefront of this fight, as it also appeared to be in national water policy, which proves what a forward-thinking country this is in relation to some of its neighbors. Hopefully we can raise enough public awareness about the issue to change these fatal cultural norms.

Now I’m off on an adventure the Sharhabil Bin Hassneh EcoPark to lead 30 Jordanian teenage boys on nature excursions and in lectures on solar power, grey water, composting and more as part of my internship at FoEME. I’m both nervous and excited and will tell you all about it when I’m back!

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