Honor Killings by Women by Phyllis Chesler


Conclusions and Recommendations

Female-on-female aggression is wrongfully viewed as a minor problem. However, such aggression can have serious, even lethal consequences. People may recoil from the knowledge that, like men, women have also internalized sexist and tribal codes of behavior; that a mother, grandmother, or mother-in-law can instigate, serve as a conspirator-accomplice in, or perpetrate the hands-on killing of her daughter, granddaughter, or daughter-in-law; and that female hands-on killers and conspirator-accomplices are, like their male counterparts, often calculating, brutal, and without remorse.

The entire community upholds and enforces tribal-religious-ethnic concepts of shame and honor. No family can risk "dishonor" without incurring economic and social disaster. The respective society dictates that if an allegedly deviant daughter is not eliminated, then the family will be shamed and shunned; no one will marry its daughters or sons; it will be condemned to poverty and ostracism.

Society must punish all culpable parties in honor killings including conspirator-accomplices.

For example, Thamar Zeidan, a 33-year-old Muslim woman from the West Bank divorced her abusive husband and lost custody of her children. In response, fifty relatives signed a petition to punish Thamar for disgracing the family by divorcing. According to one news account, "For some of the relatives, [her killing] was a cause for celebration. Zeidan's aunt held a feast celebrating that the family's honor had been restored."[31]

Can one change traditional, tribal thinking? Certainly not easily. One might conduct a pilot project to reach out to families whose children are eligible to marry each other. If reframing the honor codes is presented as being in the best interests of the family and the community, such an approach might work. It may be argued that female literacy and education contributes to a family's economic survival and that "choices" about veiling have an honorable place in Muslim history. Choosing one's own spouse (as opposed to arranged or first-cousin marriage) may enlarge an inbred gene pool and contribute to family and communal connectedness in new ways. Unfortunately, in the current atmosphere of multicultural relativism in which tolerance of "diversity" has become sacred, it is unlikely that such an initiative could gain much ground in the West without being pilloried as racist, "colonialist," and chauvinist.

It is important to hold accomplices liable for their criminal acts. Too often, they have escaped the consequences of their actions. In this study, conspirator-accomplices were arrested significantly less often than hands-on killers of both genders. If Western society is serious about ending honor killings, it must punish all culpable parties including conspirator-accomplices—without whom many honor killings could not take place.

Social workers, physicians, teachers, lawyers, and judges in the West should also be made aware that when girls who come from shame-and-honor cultures are being monitored or beaten, far more serious consequences may follow. Legislators must be educated to understand that those who flee being killed for honor or who agree to testify against their families may require lifelong security and possibly new lives under false names. This is a huge and difficult undertaking, and ideally, it is necessary to find alternative, extended families for them since these potential victims are often individuals whose identities are moored in collectivity, not individualism.

Those in the West who want to help girls and women in flight from being killed for honor must understand that psychologically such girls are used to living with the knowledge that, while outsiders cannot be trusted, their own parents or siblings may one day kill them. This terrible duality means that tribal girls in flight may choose to return home, may not be able to accept outside help, and may ultimately spurn the kindness of strangers. A number of girls do escape, do testify, and do seek asylum. They should be the subject of a future study and offered compassionate assistance in escaping this scourge of femicide.

Phyllis Chesler is emerita professor of psychology and women's studies at the Richmond College of the City University of New York and co-founder of the Association for Women in Psychology and the National Women's Health Network. She is the author of sixteen books including An American Bride in Kabul (Palgrave Macmillan Trade, 2014). She wishes to acknowledge the assistance of Jennifer C. Werner and Dr. Sheryl Haut.