Governance · Law · Public Policy

Honour Killing: The Social Standing

Traditionally religious misinterpretations have led to the dominance of males in the society and therefore a patriarchal structure that emphasizes on male superiority and female chastity. This patriarchal society reduces women to their reproductive potential, this process denies their status as a human being. Women are treated as property of the male members of the family and therefore the males have control over the female’s social, cultural and personal lives. It becomes a responsibility of men to preserve the women’s chastity and fidelity, through control and segregation. It is believed that a female keeps the honour of her family and the men protect this so called honour, and the society judges this honour. Therefore the males must demonstrate their power and dominance in order to safeguard his family’s honour by killing those who damaged it.

What the men of the family, clan, or tribe seek control of in a patrilineal society is reproductive power. Women for the tribe were considered a factory for making men. The honor killing is not a means to control sexual power or behavior. What’s behind it is the issue of fertility, or reproductive power[1]

It is not necessary that the victim actually transgress any communicative norms, as an Amnesty International statement notes:

The mere perception that a woman has contravened the code of sexual behavior damages honor. The regime of honor is unforgiving: women on whom suspicion has fallen are not given an opportunity to defend themselves, and family members have no socially acceptable alternative but to remove the stain on their honor by attacking the woman.[2]

The concept of women as honour and property of a family is rooted deeply in the socio-cultural material of many societies and therefore members of many different societies including women support this ritual. This is a reason why the concept of honor is predominant and the law and its keepers often ignore the occurrences of women being killed by their families.

Legal provisions and statutes exists however due to the socio-cultural patterns attitudes of the members of societies remain unchanged. Many societies still believe that the concept of honour killings is justified, and therefore the culprits are rarely brought to the court, of the few case that are brought to the  court are given lenient sentences or are pardoned for males. judges may have the option of allowing victim’s families to accept , money a simple apology, land or another female from the culprit as compensation for their crime as honour killing is a “retaliation crime,”.[3]


This problem can be seen from a psychiatric angle, by the general human nature males are the dominant gender this concept of dominance can be a result of demonstration of the male strength, further literacy and limited access to ethical and religious values. The disturbed psychodynamics of offenders, who may develop aggression and revenge, is also a possible factor in the commission of violent crimes such as honour killings.[4]Criminal behavior is also known to be related with mental illness. Often, honour killings are not a religiously driven, but are centered on personal mindset, personal agendas, and personal ego.[5] There are psychological connotations, as studies indicate in some cases that some perpetrators have undiagnosed mental illness and psychopathic traits or disorders.[6]


The relation of female’s sexuality and honor killings has complex social views. The method of bringing dishonor to family by a female is often through sexual behavior. Since Ancient Rome violence relation to female sexual expression has been documented, when the pater familias, or senior male within a household, retained the right to kill an unmarried but sexually active daughter or an adulterous wife.[7] However the relation of female’s sexuality and honor killings has complex social views, and some writers believe it isn’t women’s sexuality in itself is the main cause but relatively women’s independence in regard to it, as well as fertility. In some cultures, honor killings are considered less serious than other murders simply because they arise from long-standing cultural traditions and are thus deemed appropriate or justifiable.[8] Additionally, according to a poll done by the BBC’s Asian network, 1 in 10 of the 500 Hindus, Sikhs, Christians and Muslims surveyed said they would condone any murder of someone who threatened their family’s honor.[9]

In present times women’s changing cultural and economic status can also be used to explain the incidences of honor killings. Females from patriarchal societies who have advanced socially and economically who have gained independence often go against their male counterparts. Some sociologists believe that women’s transformation to a more responsible member of the society and not just her family may divert her contributions more to the society and its development than her family especially her husband, or at least the males would believe so could sometimes result in aggressive and domineering behavior to salvage power. [10]

This transition can also be seen in the western cultures like Britain where women seeking independence adopt western values. Women culturally from the Middle East or south Asia to wear western clothes, have a boyfriend, or refusing arranged marriage singularly or combined are offences which may give rise to honor killings.[11]

[1] Sharif Kanaana, Ruggi, S., “Commodifying Honor in Female Sexuality: Honor Killings in Palestine“, Middle East Research and Information Project,, Retrieved 2008-02-08.

[2] Amnesty International,” Pakistan: Violence against women in the name of honour”, AI Index: ASA 33/17/99 (1999).

[3]Department of Justice Canada,  retrieved from, last updated 15/10/2013

[4] Ibid, Department of Justice Canada.

[5]Ibid, Department of Justice Canada

[6]Ibid, Department of Justice Canada

[7] Ibid, Department of Justice Canada.

[8] Carolyn Fluehr-Lobban, “Cultural Relativism and Universal Rights”, (1995).

[9] BBC News, “One in 10 ‘backs honor killings”, last updated 4th sept 2006.

[10] Hilal Onur Ince, Aysun Yarali and Dogancan Ozsel. “Customary Killings in Turkey and Turkish Modernization”Middle Eastern Studies.

[11] Palash Ghosh, “Honor Crimes in Britain Far More Prevalent Than Formerly Thought”, International Buisness Times, (2011), retrieved from, last updated 3rd dec 2011.

 About the Author

Derick HaokipDerick Haokip is currently pursuing his II year in B.A. LLB.(Hons.) from Rajiv Gandhi National University of Law Punjab, Patiala. He has travelled across the country and changed numerous schools and hopes to travel the world after he completes his studies. He enjoys writing on legal matters and various themes of contemporary concern. He also has a creative artistic trait in him. He has interned with various NGOs and advocates and is currently interning with Model Governance Foundation.

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