The Urgent Need to End Femicide and Honor Killings Around the World Including in the United States

Olivia Sullivan looks into femicide, honor killings, why distancing ourselves from these acts is so dangerous, and what needs to be done with urgency.

A map of places discussed in this article. Femicide or feminicide is a hate crime term, broadly defined as “the intentional killing of women or girls because they are female.” See the full map here:

Universally, it is understood among women that there is an inherent risk that comes with intimacy with a man. It is a disheartening but true fact that women have and continue to be killed by men they have turned down, abusive men they are seeing, etc all around the world.

This violence against women is often referred to as femicide, as it covers the wide range of violent acts against women. The term femicide revolves around the idea that an intentional murder of any woman or girl, and is usually perpetrated by men–though sometimes female family members may be involved. These acts of violence are usually committed by someone who has power over the female in some way, whether that be a partner, ex partner, family member, or random man who is pursuing the woman.

An aspect of femicide that should be touched on is the idea of an “honor killing,” which is the act of killing a woman or girl for “doing something wrong” mainly in the eyes of their male family members.

This term is very broad however, and the definition of it often changes, especially in situations where the men who take part in these acts of murder find themselves in need of a defense. These acts of honor killings are a very tricky subject to navigate, as women in some societies are viewed as objects to be owned and looked after by the men in their family.

Women who are killed in this fashion can be accused of being sexually immoral–which can mean anything from conversing with men they are not related to, to being victims of rape or sexual assault, refusing to enter into an arranged marriage, looking into divorce, or acting in any way that might damage the family’s reputation. These accusations are based almost completely on the feelings and assumptions of men. The power that is being wielded by men who have lived their entire lives believing women are objects to be controlled leads to the situation we have at hand, the rise of femicide and honor killings all over the globe.

On February 23, Masrour Barzani, the prime minister of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq tweeted out about a young woman named Shinyar Huner as well as “recent abuse against women ‘’ in the Kurdistan Region. In this official message, Barzani said that he was “determined to protect every woman, girl, and child from abuse,”and also that he plans on meeting with “grassroots organizers in the near future.”

This statement comes almost a year after an article published by Al Jazeera, titled “‘As if she never existed’: The graveyards for murdered women,” highlighted the rise in violence against women in the Kurdish Region of Northern Iraq. The article published by Al Jazeera did not hold anything back, going into the true horrors of these honor killings and the surge of femicide in this area. According to the article, more than 20,000 Kurdish women have been killed in the name of honor since 1991, spanning many different countries where Kurds live, from Turkey to Syria, Iran, and Iraq.

As we can see here, this issue has apparently not improved much since the article was first written. Barzani has been in his current position since 2019, two years before the article was written and three before he made a statement condemning such actions of violence.

Though it is important to highlight the femicide and honor killings taking place in Kurdistan, it is also important to recognize that these acts of violence are not contained to just one place, and also take place in Western countries, including the United States.

The only difference is that we do not call it an honor killing. It is my belief that when a man kills a woman for turning down his advances, for example, that is an act of killing to preserve that man’s “honor”.

Acts like this are widely known and spoken about amongst women in the U.S. especially now that technology makes it so easy to communicate with larger audiences. Online it is safe to tell those stories, the ones that narrowly end without painful consequences. Some women are not so lucky.

For example, in October of 2021, it was reported that a young woman named Miya Marcano (above) was found dead in Florida– killed by a man working in her building after rejecting his advances. The killer, a man named Armando Caballero, was found due to an “apparent suicide” in his apartment, three days after Marcano was reported missing.

We can see here that Caballero, in some way, feared for the consequences of his actions–whether that be prison or guilt is difficult to say. Unlike our other examples, we saw swift fear for the consequences of his actions. In other cases I have looked at, men seem to fear very little for the consequences they might face. In fact, many of the articles I read spoke very little of what happened to the men who took part in the murder of these women.

There are some cases I think are important when thinking about consequences and the study of how we handle these situations. One of them is the case of Noor Almaleki (above), a 20-year-old who was killed in 2009 by her father who ran both her and her friend over in a parking lot.

This case warranted a lot of attention, which is understandable. What is less understandable is the stance that many news outlets seemed to take, which was to use Almaleki’s death to separate “us from them”. One article, written for Marie Claire deemed honor killings a “new trend” here in the States. This statement of course was followed by a list of five women, who had been killed all within a year leading up to Almaleki’s death. Deeming honor killings a “new trend” strikes me as odd, and insulting to the women who have been killed in the U.S. for similar reasons as the women they listed.

The implications of this statement alone are incredibly close minded and seeped in the acceptance of our own acts of femicide and honor killings within the U.S., not to mention the undertone of judgment for “outside” cultures and peoples. Statements and articles such as these are incredibly dangerous, and allow for these acts of violence to continue.

We can look at a case like that of Banaz Mahmod (above) as an example of how these prejudices and acceptance of our own internalized misogyny can affect women in genuine need of assistance.

Mahmod was a 20-year-old woman living in the UK, and in 2006 she was raped and strangled to death by three men under the orders of her father and uncle. The police in her area did very little to help her, even after she seeked them out for help multiple times. They did not grasp the severity and realness of her claims. This willful ignorance of what was happening to her is the same ignorance that allows for these acts to continue today.

A lot of this ignorance comes from the miseducation surrounding the matter. These misogynistic ideals are deeply rooted with many, if not all, cultures, around the world. These beliefs are so deeply rooted, that even in death the women who are killed are very rarely seen as the victims of their situation. Their death is viewed as necessary for the sake of the family, or the honor of the man. So, as is custom with many honor killings, most women killed in this way are buried in unmarked graves–an ultimate sign of dishonor and disrespect to the person buried there. Not only do the graves remain unmarked, they also are not allowed to be visited openly by the family of the deceased.

The stigma surrounding these women and their deaths allows for a certain light to be shed on the seriousness of this issue. However it also showcases just how quickly we try to draw the line between “us and them” in terms of ways of living and culture. It is this unwillingness to view our own culpability in the issue that allows for women to continue to fall victim to these acts of violence.

Across the board, it is stated that many of these killings go unreported or are misunderstood by the local authorities. For example, Banaz Mahmod reached out to her local police almost three months before she was killed to report five separate claims of both her father and uncle threatening her life. However the office that was supposed to help her instead deemed her manipulative and melodramatic–writing the situation off as nothing and leaving her in the hands of people who wanted her dead.

It appears that the criminal justice system fails to grasp the situations at hand when dealing with these killings. If they are not understood for what they truly are, honor killings, they can not be handled and addressed in a proper way. Women will continue to die all over the globe, and very few men will actually be held responsible for it.

There is no honor in these actions of violence against women, and allowing men to believe that there is can have fatal consequences for women everywhere. I believe that in order to fix this problem, we must actively choose to educate the boys and men in our communities on the dangers of devaluing and objectifying women. It is not an issue that will be fixed overnight as it has deep roots within our broader human culture. We will have to learn to dismantle these ways of thinking and living within ourselves everyday until women no longer have to fear or share their fear of gruesome and too-soon deaths at the hands of men.



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