Killing Women in the Name of honor
An interview with Rezvan Moghaddam
Independent Persian News (Sayeh Rahimi) Interview with Dr. Rezvan Moghadam (Spokeswoman for the Stop Honor Killings Campaign), Monday, February 7th, 2022.
Mona Heidari, a 17-year-old teenager who her husband murdered and beheaded her and then paraded the street with her head, is not the first victim of honor killings in Iran, and perhaps will not be the last. Before her, other women and girls were killed by their fathers, brothers, husbands and closed relatives. The names of some of them, such as Romina Ashrafi, Fatemeh Barhi, Reyhaneh Ameri and Negin Darvishi, have remained in the public memory due to their media coverage, but many others have been killed for “ruining the tribe and family reputation”; while everything remained calm and no one have known about them.
Most of the girls and women, victims of honor killings, are those who oppose the patriarchal and hegemonic laws, and most of the perpetrators are one of the male members of the tribe who consider themselves the owner of woman and her body.
Honor killings are more common in traditional, religious, and patriarchal societies, but the main difference between these crimes in Iran and other countries is that the ruling regime recognizes male domination over women, and current laws not only do not prevent such crimes, they also help to increase them.
honor Killings Increase in Last 20 Years
The Iranian government’s approach to honor killings is either silence or indifference, or it implicitly supports the perpetrators. In the case of Mona Heydari’s murder, the first reaction of the Ahvaz prosecutor was that the victim had provoked the husband by sending her photos from Turkey to him.
According to media reports, Mona Heydari was forced to marry her cousin at the age of 12 and was the victim of child marriage. She had a child at the age of 13 but had a very unhappy life with her husband and since she was not able to get divorce, she fled to Turkey. After returning from Turkey at the persistence of her father and uncle, her husband kills her and paraded the street with her head with pride and a smile. This tragedy has provoked a wave of public sentiment and has brought the issue of honor killings to the forefront of the news again.
Civil activists and human rights activists unanimously believe that the number of honor killings is due to the anti-women laws of the Islamic Republic of Iran. “In the last 20 years, the number of honor killings in Iran has increased,” said Rezvan Moghaddam, a spokeswoman for the Stop honor Killings Campaign, in an interview with The Independent Persian News.
The women’s rights activist has studied the 1,220 honor killings of women who have been killed in the past 20 years. Her findings show that the number of female homicides has not only increased over the past two decades, but has also crossed a critically dangerous level. According to her, 286 of these murders were committed with firearms, and in the next ranks are the killings with ropes, knives, machetes, acid attacks and fire.
Rezvan Moghadam and her Companion in the Stop honor Killings Campaign, after the murder of Romina Ashrafi in May 2019, decided to create a circle of women rights’ activists inside and outside of Iran to put the effort on changing the laws in favor of women and trying to change the public culture and educate them in this area.
According to her, many women are currently members of this campaign, from university professors in European countries to housewives and rural women working to prevent honor killings. However, studies show that honor killings are still widespread in many provinces of Iran. Naming Kermanshah, Azerbaijan, Khorasan, Khuzestan, Sistan and Baluchestan, Khuzestan, Isfahan, Fars and Qazvin provinces, Rezvan Moghaddam said: “It is very difficult to gather information in this regard because many honor killings do not make to the media at all.”
Claim of the Victim Suicide
Earlier, some local activists in Iran’s provinces said that in many cases, close members of the family kill a woman and a girl and then claim that she had committed suicide. Rezvan Moghaddam also confirmed that she had encountered such cases in her research, saying: “It was a case where a woman’s corpse was taken for washing before burying and the person who was washing the corpse, noticed the signs of beating and realized that the person had not committed suicide and she was killed. She reported the matter, and after a forensic report, it turned out that the woman was killed.”
Rezvan Moghaddam, a gender sociologist, went on to point out other cases, saying that sometimes a woman is killed and her body is set on fire, and then is saying that she did self-immolation by burning herself.
“We came across a case where a father killed his three daughters and his wife because they did not wear the hijab,” she added. “Or some women were killed just because they were seeking a divorce. In a patriarchal society, there is a perception that a woman’s request for divorce is an insult to a man’s masculinity.”
Moghaddam went on to give other examples; like a girl who was killed for texting the opposite sex or a woman who was killed for having a Telegram account. According to this civil activist, all these cases happen due to the fact that the man considers himself the superior sex and the owner and possessor of the woman.
Law Based on a Patriarchal System
Public education, culture building, and law reform are strategies suggested by social scientists to combat harmful traditions and beliefs. Public education has faster results through mass media such as radio and television.
On the other hand, the passage of preventive laws can prevent such killings, but in the Islamic Republic of Iran, if the honor killing is committed by the father, there is no severe punishment for him because according to Iranian law, which is based on Shiite jurisprudence, father has ownership over his child.
Rezvan Moghaddam referred to the murder of a six-year-old girl in Ahvaz and said: “About 15 years ago, a father killed his six-year-old daughter in Ahvaz and beheaded her and paraded the city with her head on spear, but he was sentenced to only four years in prison, not because he killed his daughter, but because he terrorized the city.”
The sociologist further referred to the 9-year sentence for Romina Ashrafi’s father in court and said that the story of honor killings in Iran has a wider scope and is not limited to the murder of a child by a father. Referring to Article 630 of the Islamic Penal Code, she said: “In the anti-human rights and anti-human laws of the Iranian government, a woman has no value, and if a man kills his wife and says she had an illegitimate relationship, she is Mahdoor al-Dam (whose blood may be shed with immunity) and no punishment is imposed on the man.”
Dominance over women and their bodies, known in public literature as “honor devotion”, has taken root in some tribal systems to the point that women are killed with the cooperation and knowledge of their guardians. An example was Fatemeh Barhi, a 19-year-old woman who was murdered by her husband (her cousin) with her parents’ agreement. An examination of such murders shows that killing a woman is a collective decision to so-called remove the “stain of disgrace.” In such cases, with the parents’ consent, the killer is released and the legal ruler has nothing to do with the roots of this tragedy.
Killing Women, as Easy as Pie
Comparing the situation before and after the revolution, Rezvan Moghadam emphasized on honor killings increase in the last 20 years and said: “Before the revolution, tribes and clans had the same beliefs, but because there was a law, people were educated, textbooks were not anti-feminist, and gender segregation was meaningless, the frequency of murders was not as great as it is now. Because people knew they have to face the law if they did that. But after the revolution, killing women is as easy as pie. “Everyone understands this and knows that the law protects them and they turn around to find a partner in crime who will not be sentenced to death.”
According to a spokeswoman for the Stop honor Killings Campaign, to end the killing of women in the name of honor, the laws must be amended based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the principle of equality between men and women, gender stereotypes must be removed from textbooks and any propaganda of violence against women must become a crime.
However, she and other civil activists know that women and their gender are taboo in the eyes of the Islamic Republic of Iran, and therefore welcomes their repression by any means and refuses to pass laws to protect women.
In a note, Fatemeh Mousavi, Ph.D. in Sociology of Social Affairs, referred to the 10-year suspension of the ” in response to calls for a change in the law punishing honor killings and other cases of oppression against women, the government emphasizes the need to create a right culture as changing the law is fruitless. But how can a right culture be created when the legal system reproduces a patriarchal culture and its harms such as child marriage, the ugliness of divorce, and the inferiority of women? When in the official sermon, the presence of women in the public space of society is not desirable and the health of society (men) is that that every woman should be trained by men and controlled as their honor.”