"Women Are Being Killed All Over the World": One Reporter's Fight Against So-Called "Honor Killings"
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In Murder in the Name of Honor (Oneworld), Jordanian journalist Rana Husseini describes how she became a leading voice against so-called honor killings, first, investigating the issue for the Jordan Times newspaper and, then, helping to found a grassroots movement seeking to end the practice. Robert S. Eshelman spoke with Husseini during her recent North American book tour.
Robert S. Eshelman (Rail): What are so-called honor killings and how prevalent is the practice in Jordan, across the Middle East, and in other parts of the world?
Rana HUSSEINI: So-called honor killings occur when a family member of a female relative believes that she has tarnished the image or reputation of the family and they kill her. Usually, this is because the woman went out with a strange man or became pregnant out of wedlock, was a victim of suspicion or rumor, or was raped. Sometimes, a woman might be killed for going out with a man of her own choosing or even going missing for a period of time. Other times it is for financial reasons -- for inheritance. So the family finds no solution but to kill her to reclaim their family honor. Now, in Jordan, there are about 20 to 25 cases a year. But this is a global problem; it is not a problem that is restricted to one country, religion, or class. The killing of women occurs all over the world. These so-called “honor killings” have occurred in several countries, among Muslims, Christians, Yazidis, Hindus, and Sikhs.
RAIL: How did you begin to investigate this issue?
HUSSEINI: I was working as a reporter for the Jordan Times. In 1993, six months into my journalism career, I came across a very sad story of a 16-year old school girl, who was killed by her family because she was raped by one of her brothers. Now this was not a typical story that one came across every day. I discovered that her brother threatened to kill her if she told anyone about the rape. She had to tell her family because she became pregnant. Then she underwent a secret abortion and was married to a man who was 34 years older than her. Then six months later this man divorced her. The day he divorced her, her family killed her and blamed her for the rape. When I went to discuss the issue with her relatives, they basically blamed her for the rape and said that she seduced her brother to sleep with her. This story really shocked me and I reported it for the Jordan Times. The following day, we received a phone call from a prominent female intellectual, who was screaming at my editors because of my reporting of these crimes, saying this is not part of our society. At the time, the issue was taboo and no one wanted to talk about it. So I said that I was going to document each and every case in the hopes that someone would hear me. Then, I went to the courts and found that men who commit these crimes get away with very lenient sentences -- three months, six months, a year -- for taking a woman’s life. No one was writing about this. Finally, I went to the prison and found that the women who somehow survived attempts on their lives were put in prison, supposedly for their own safety. Some of them had been there for a very long time, locked up for indefinite periods without charge. The only people that can secure their release are their families and usually when they do this it is in order to kill them.