Honour Killings by F. Jiwa, Georgia Straight

Thursday, August 6, 2009

As published in the Georgia Straight News

The debate rages: how do we classify the alleged murders of four female family members by Mohammad Shafia, his wife Tooba Mohammad Yahya, and their son Hamed? Are these deaths near Kingston, Ontario, a tragic case of domestic violence, or can we attribute it to the cultural practice of honour killing? The jargon surrounding the Rideau Canal incident obscures the fact that neither of these terms are accurate. This is violence against women.

“Domestic violence” should not be used as a euphemism for a phenomenon of violence which is mostly perpetrated by men against women. Undeniably, it is women who fill transition houses and keep rape crisis lines busy across the province.

I do not want to be misinterpreted. I am fully aware that men are attacked; they are deserving of help like any victim of violence. As a feminist, I find it highly offensive when some dare to insinuate that I love to hate men. I know not all men hurt women, and it is a baseless assumption to allege that any feminist would suggest this. What informs my theory that male violence against women is not a series of individual acts, but a worldwide phenomenon, are the 120 battered women that we have housed every year since 1973. To insinuate that I take pleasure in knowing that men have broken their trust and their noses just so that I can slander men is a vile, insulting assertion.

Ignoring the fact that women are disproportionately the victims of “domestic violence” grossly misrepresents acts of violence as the individual acts of madmen with no patterns or themes. It is not accurate to pathologize perpetrators of violence; the men who attack women are not biologically fitted to violence, nor are they psychologically troubled. Violent men merely know that our society is fitted to a masculine perception of the world; thus most can get away with beating their wives and raping their daughters.

The system in which we operate is patriarchal, meaning that the abuse of women is tolerated by western institutions too, not only by eastern cultures. From the perspective of a front-line rape crisis worker, I have witnessed countless women ask for help from western institutions only to be patronized by being told to “take a walk and calm down”, or even being arrested themselves for being “hysterical” after they have been threatened or raped or beaten. I have worked with women who are told by some western religious leaders to just wait through their beatings patiently until he asks her for a divorce, because to leave him would defile her in the eyes of the Lord. (What about his behaviour in the eyes of the Lord?)

There are women who are trafficked to Vancouver from poor countries around the world to be sex slaves to their pimps and procurers, and our precious institutions are talking about legalizing prostitution as a legitimate profession. How can anyone say that western culture does not tolerate the abuse of women, and other cultures do?

There is no need for anyone to racialize these alleged murders by calling them “honour killings”. Honour killings are simply another manifestation of worldwide oppression of women through violence. Women from a myriad of backgrounds are murdered for a myriad of reasons every day. In Canada, approximately one woman a week is murdered by her male partner—many of these murders also include their children.

Violence against women is a worldwide problem, not one that rears its ugly head in a few non-western cultures. It is cowardly to make the issue more palatable by attributing it to one area or race or culture, or by calling it names that obscure the problem and thus delegitimize the solutions: a guaranteed livable income, affordable housing, and transition houses that save women’s lives.