x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

When the price of honour is too high

A Jordanian journalist's book is published today that sheds light on the ugly murders in which a life is sacrificed to protect a family's reputation.

Rana Husseini, the author and journalist. Her book is published in Britain today.
Rana Husseini, the author and journalist. Her book is published in Britain today.

AMMAN // Rana Husseini, a Jordanian journalist whose writings broke the silence on honour crimes in the country, publishes a book today on the murders which kill about 5,000 girls and women worldwide each year. Murder in the Name of Honour looks back at the cases Husseini covered during her 16 years as a crime reporter with The Jordan Times and national efforts to combat the practice as well as killings in other countries.

The book, which took six years to write, will be published in Britain today, in Jordan early next month and on June 26 in the United States An Arabic translation is due for publication in October. "I am hoping the book will help save lives and at the same time be an empowering tool for women to know their rights and help raise society's awareness about the ugliness of the crime," Husseini said. In Jordan, as in other Arab countries, laws are lenient towards men convicted of crimes carried out allegedly to avenge a family's honour.

The idea that a girl or a woman has to pay with her life if she is perceived to have sullied her family's honour is still powerful in Jordan, particularly in poor areas. In some instances, it is enough for a woman to be seen talking to an unrelated male for it to be perceived as damaging to a family's honour. Many women are killed as a result of mere suspicion or rumours of an illicit relationship. "The word of mouth travels quickly and families see no solution but to kill their female relatives to end the rumours," Husseini said.

"It is an international problem, but the percentage is high in Jordan for a population of nearly six million. There are countries where women are killed in the name of honour and the crimes are not reported." Since the beginning of this year, 10 women have been killed in honour-related crimes in Jordan, the past two this month. On average, 20 females are killed each year in Jordan in honour crimes.

The last case involved a mother of six, aged 30, who was stabbed to death by her two brothers. Two months ago, a 19-year-old girl was beaten to death by her father and two brothers for wearing make-up outside the house and for talking to an unknown man. "Many families think by killing their female relatives, daughters and sisters that it will put an end to the problem," Husseini said. But the problems often start after the murder, she said.

The families can become depressed. The perpetrators are also victims because some are forced by their community and family to kill someone they love and care about, according to Husseini. "A murder is a murder and it is mostly women who are targeted. These are wrong cultural beliefs," she said. Husseini first started reporting on honour crimes in the early 1990s. In her book, she tells the story of Kifaya, a girl of 16 who became pregnant after she was raped by her brother, 21.

He attempted to kill her when she said she would tell their parents. Kifaya had an abortion and was forced to marry a man 40 years her senior to cover up for the shame brought to the family. After six months, she was divorced and another brother killed her to cleanse the family's honour. "It was a story of pain and suffering. I became enraged. "It was then taboo to write about such crimes and nobody really cared about the victims.

"I went to the courts and found out that the killers were getting away with lenient sentences. I discovered that women were locked up in prison for their own safety. Then, I decided to tackle these issues." An archaic law still on the books in Jordan provides a maximum sentence of one year for men who carry out a crime in a fit of passion. Husseini's book also includes efforts by Jordan and other countries and activist groups to end honour crimes, including calls to tighten penalties for men found guilty of such killings.

"Jordan was a pioneer in addressing this issue in terms of [work by] activists, non-governmental organisations and the media and the government, all of which helped break the silence about the crimes." The royal family threw its weight behind such efforts, but the country's conservative and tribal parliament has four times rejected government attempts to amend the laws, arguing that they would harm public morality.

"However, nothing really changed in Jordan, save for the mentality, which is changing gradually," Husseini said. "People are becoming more aware of honour crimes. The judiciary, police and forensics have become more involved. "This is reflected in the way investigations are carried out. It is no longer just another woman being killed. "Forensics have also exposed 'accidental' deaths of women as crimes related to family honour and had their share in educating the public about this problem."

Part of the intent of the book is to raise awareness and empower women by providing them with information about their rights and where to get help if they, or a friend or family member, are threatened. "Education and emancipation of women is a fundamental factor to empower women; societies need to get men involved as well in advocating against these crimes. The media should also highlight and humanise each case of so-called honour killings," Husseini said.

smaayeh@thenational.ae