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Honor Killing in Egypt and Pakistan

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The Description of the Problem in Egypt and Pakistan

The following discussion is focused on shame killing in Pakistan and Egypt, providing a comparative analysis of the social problem in these two countries. There is a difference in the extent and the magnitude of the problem in the respective countries including the level of perpetration of the crime in each one as well as the structural factors that contribute to these killings. Consequently, it is important to highlight the efforts taken to reduce or eliminate the problem among Pakistanis and Egyptians. The steps taken to tackle sentencing people to honor killing in those nations include governmental initiatives as well as endeavors of non-governmental agencies. The extent to which these efforts have been successful in the respective states also differs. The analysis of the collected data allows forming an outlook on the problem of shame murders in the next ten years based on the carried out research. The social problem of honor killing in Pakistan and Egypt is a grave violation of human rights which results from both religious and patriarchal views typical of the people who live there and require radical measures taken on different levels.

Honor killing is also known as shame killing. It refers to the murder of a person committed by the members of the family or the community based on the claim that the victim engaged in an activity that brought dishonor on the mentioned individuals or on the religion as a whole. It is usually carried out as vengeance for homicide or for violating the core principles of the community or the religion. Such murders are common among the most conservative societies. The main issues leading to the perpetuation of such atrocities revolve around affairs concerning traditions and culture. They may include a refusal to enter into an arranged marriage, engagement in “dishonorable” relationships, participation in premarital sex, and other “immoral” actions.

Mainly, the rules are designed to restrain supposedly immoral sexual behavior. The most common pretext for shame killings is the claim of suspected intimate relations between a man and a woman regarding adultery, fornication, premarital sex, prostitution, or unconventional sexual practices such as oral sex and anal intercourse. In the strictest communities, merely becoming close companions may lead to sentencing to death. Sometimes, victims of rape and sexual assault are potential targets for shame murders because involuntary sex is considered equivalent to sex before marriage or adultery. Most women also suffered capital sentencing in their communities for reasons as trivial as refusing to get married to an arranged partner or looking a male, who is not a relative, in the eye. Furthermore, falling in love with a person who is not accepted because of the beliefs and standards set by the family is considered a serious crime punishable by death. Seeking divorce or trying to escape a violent marriage is attributed to the same category of offenses. Occasionally, the mere observation that a woman acted in a disobedient manner that appears to have brought shame on her father or brother might be a sufficient reason for brutal retribution.

Brutal and prejudicial circumstances of these murders that mostly target the female population are a grave violation of the international human rights law. These are disturbing instances of local laws, traditions, and customs deeply entrenched within the patriarchal value system. They are strongly inclined toward the oppression of women by imposing more severe punishment for violation of rules and regulations than to the men accused of the same crimes. Evidently, women form the bigger part of the recorded victims of these executions by whipping, stoning, or slitting throats for the most trivial of transgressions. Statistically, there are more than 5,000 known victims of honor killing each year around the world (Cohan, 2010, p. 192). The vast majority of them are females. These numbers are a serious underestimate of the real figures since most of these killings are not accounted for by official statistics.

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In Pakistan, honor killing is referred to as “Karo-Kari”. Honor killings are drastically different from other cases of homicide in Pakistan. Official classification of these murders varies from murders committed by psychopaths, serial killings, crimes of passion, and vengeance, to assassinations and domestic violence. Nevertheless, these types of homicides are united by the motives which are based on the honor codes of conduct, principles of morality, and customs that define this society. The conservative laws are often reinforced by the religious doctrines (Yacowar-Sweeney, 2011), in this case – Islamic. Therefore, Sharia law is the most influential factor in the design and formulation of such legislation. In fact, for a long time, these types of killings have been erroneously justified by the religion itself based on the interpretation of the religious leaders.

The world estimates of the approximate number of homicides committed on the pretext of violation of honor released in 2000 by the United Nations revealed around 5,000 cases per year (Cohan, 2010, p. 192). Due to the vast underestimate, these statistics are reasonable rather for Pakistan alone. Clearly, the number is greater internationally, considering the case of Pakistan where there are nearly 1000 related female deaths per year (Gauhar, 2014, p. 4). Definitive and reliable statistics regarding shame murders are, however, non-existent. It is so because most honor killings are extrajudicial and records are not kept by the law enforcement authorities. Moreover, such cases are hardly ever prosecuted (Chesler, 2010, p. 4). Instead, the members of the community act out of the claim itself rather than relying on proof and law.

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A similar predicament is evident in Egypt where honor killings have spread across the whole country creating an aura of fear among the likely victims. The perpetrators of such murders operate under the same pretext that the victim is a violator of the rules and regulations established in the community. The roots of their beliefs are traced back to the ancestry; therefore, they view the codes of honor as unchangeable and sacred. Egypt is a typical conservative society in which culture and religion have a significant bearing on the law system. The majority of the population are Muslims. Therefore, Sharia law reinforces the creation of the respective legislation. Judges approve the murder of people who were accused of adultery, sexual immorality, and renunciation of religion. These are grave mistakes that warrant death penalties. The rates of approval of religious teachings as a justification for the perpetration of such atrocities are high in Muslim countries. As a matter of fact, a study conducted regarding shame killings indicated that 91 percent of the murders were committed by people affiliated with Islam. Egypt showed the approval rate of Sharia law is a justification for these fatal punishments up to 67 percent (Yacowar-Sweeney, 2011). This data shows the influence of Islam on discrimination and honor killings of female victims.

The Extent and the Magnitude of the Problem

  • Pakistan

Lack of definitive and reliable sources of data covering the number of deaths resulting from violating the codes of honor prevents indicating the actual extent which perpetration of these murders has reached in the traditional society of Pakistan. The issue was first brought to the attention of the world at the rise of the new millennium. However, it failed to cause the required level of concern. The world focused on the issue once again after the murder of Qandeel Baloch, a model, at the hands of her brother (Inayat, 2016). As an explanation of why he committed such a gruesome atrocity against his sister, the man defended himself on the grounds of honor killings, claiming that the sister had posted videos on Facebook that brought shame to the family. This case was far from settling down when another one emerged. This time, a British citizen of Pakistani origins was duped into visiting her home country(Inayat, 2016). During that visit, she was murdered by her family members because of her decision to divorce her husband.

These are just some isolated cases of honor killings in the country that accounts for nearly twenty-five percent of the total homicides of the same type. The fact that they followed each other in rapid succession indicates the prevalence of such deaths across the nation, especially considering that these were the cases that had been exposed. There are thousands of untold stories of the same nature all over the country. The tales of women killed for being close to people perceived as nonconforming to the societal standards, wives beaten to death by their husbands for the slightest reason or none at all in domestic violence, family members stoned for their dressing codes, infidels burnt to death, victims of rape mistaken for breaking the societal values and murdered. As a matter of fact, the first report that conducted a statistical study that attempted to quantify the problem came up with the figure 1,957 incidents over a period of four years (Nasrullah et al., 2009, p. 194). Even this value was a gross underestimate of the prevalence of the problem in Pakistan. Many of these killings go unreported. These numbers may just account for five percent of the cases that are reported, according to a citation of Punjab Women Development and Social Welfare Department study in an Amnesty International report. The official statistics by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan revealed that there is an average of 1,000 honor killings annually (“Responses to Information requests. PAK101175.E”, 2016). Notably, the United States Department of Justice, in its annual country report, showed that Pakistan-based human rights movements recorded 1,458 shame killings in the year 2004 (“Responses to Information requests. PAK101175.E”, 2016). Evidently, the number of honor killings in Pakistan is impressive.

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As noted, the perpetuation of these crimes takes place in conservative societies; Pakistan is an example of such a community. The nation’s laws are largely influenced by the pre-existing traditions of the people (Iqbal, 2006, p. 19). The people are steadfast in their support of traditional beliefs that go a long way in determining the basic way of life in the community. An example of such is patriarchy as the only kind of social organization adopted. Under this sort of social system, males in the family exercise autocratic authority over females. The appropriate all the social roles on the grounds of gender in a manner that puts them on top of the women and subject the latter to subordinate ranks in society. Females are compelled, by law descended from the ancestors, into subjugation by giving up their autonomy and freedom. The term “honor” in this regard is conferring moral obligation to the women rather than a privilege. They are, therefore, expected to defend the honor as prescribed by the laws made by men and live according to these standards (Cohan, 2010, pp. 185-186). The concept of honor is designed to protect the masculinity of men. A violation of these laws is seen as a form of an open protest against their authority. The cost of rebellion is, by all accounts, death.

Additionally, the integration of Sharia law into the cultural mindset has also contributed to the spread of shame killings. The laws are the implementation of the commandments laid down in the Holy Quran. However, the misinterpretation of the laws has resulted in the formulation of community policies that violate the freedom of women (Yacowar-Sweeney, 2011). Many perpetrators commit the crime under the pretext of defending the honor of the dictates of the Holy book.

Similarly, civil societies and human rights groups face the monumental challenge of establishing definitive statistics about honor killings. The reason behind it is that the deaths are hardly ever recorded. The cases are also not reported since they occur under extrajudicial circumstances. Nevertheless, the Association of Legal Aid for Women (CWELA) estimated the incidence of shame murders to be in the range of hundreds per year (Bacon and Devers, 2010). It is relatively small compared to the rates of incidence in Pakistan. However, the figures are significant. Considering that they are a mean underestimate of the actual numbers due to the fact that many cases go unreported, the prevalence of the homicides causes a major concern in the nation. CWELA reported that the pretext of these murders revolves around domestic issues mostly such as suspicions of infidelity, adultery, fleeing forced marriages, and seeking divorces. Additionally, several murders are also subject to the trivialities such as the mere perception of boldness in the face of male authorities. The cases reported showed that the men comprise 75 percent of the perpetrators, with a majority of them being the husbands (Bacon and Devers, 2010). The husbands have complete and authoritative power over their wives and may bring their deaths even for the slightest reason such as leaving the house without seeking approval.

  • Egypt

In sharp contrast to the Pakistani government, the Egyptian government is an instrument that appears to act in support of honor killings. The government has displayed reluctance in amending the law to close down the loopholes that enable people to commit these gruesome murders. The rationale behind their inaction is that the move to enforce strict laws against shame homicides may encourage the perpetuation of the immorality of the women in society. The stand indicates the strength of their conviction about the traditional beliefs that males are the dominant gender and have exclusive rights over women. The law allows polygamy which enables the males to maintain their position within the society. (Chesler, 2009). The instrument of the law also supports the subjugation of women by denying their freedoms in private spheres.

The women must be willing to submit to the males if the latter is to support them and provide their sustenance in life. Women have limited economic privileges and rights. As such, they are modeled to be dependent on men in terms of satisfying basic needs. This deprivation ensures that they remain submissive.

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Moreover, the justice system is an enabling factor for honor killings. The judges are allowed by law to decrease the sentences of individuals if the judge determines the condition of the circumstances of murder to warrant such. The sentencing, which is supposed to be decided on the grounds of the spirit of the law, is inclined to discriminate against the women (Chesler, 2010).

This conservative society is known for being notoriously religious. In most cases, it subscribes to the principles of religious teachings. Consequently, the laws are written to heed the principles of Islam. They formulate an honor code of conduct that represents the set of collective beliefs. Failure to live up to the expected standards or a breach of the laws precipitates the unconditional and non-negotiable capital punishment. Going against these community policies is considered to be gross misconduct and is often unforgivable. The so-called codes of honor and conduct are the product of deeply rooted societal prejudices based on the laws of precedence established in the ages of the patriarchal ancestry. In most cases, they are heavily reliant on the patriarchal beliefs and put more strain on the females. The women are assigned the responsibility of being the channels or vessels of tradition. They are expected to live up to the high standards demanded by their affiliations and are burdened by the moral obligation of sustaining the communal honor. They must be submissive, obedient, and modest at all times and retain their sexual purity until marriage. This typical prejudice community subjects the women to exist bound to the customs that demand the subjugation of their autonomy and freedom to their male counterparts. Men, on the other hand, are not subjected to these levels of expectation and moral obligations.

Efforts to Reduce or Eliminate the Problem

The Use of the Law by the Government

With the increased attention and the redirection of the world’s focus to the people of Pakistan who account for nearly a quarter of the global share of honor killings, the government was forced to take action in a bid to stop the killings. The legislative branch of the government exercised its power in closing the loophole that had been exploited as leeway for committing the crime without any consequences. The law added a description of the term “honor killings” which goes a long way in establishing the definitive clarity in the matter. It is defined as the unlawful killing of an individual due to the actual or perceived practice of morally unacceptable behavior subject to legal, cultural, and religious standings. The same should apply to the Egyptians if there is any chance for a reprieve from the practice of honor killings (Feldner, 2000).

The Use of Non-Governmental Organizations

Additionally, the local civil societies and women’s groups have acted out in both countries against the perpetration of these crimes through protests and lobbied action. Notably, the Association of Legal Aid for Women in Egypt and the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan have been at the forefront of the campaign that aims to eliminate these acts. The Punjab Women Development from Pakistan also took a stand against the honor killings by presenting a case on the international platform. They wrote the Amnesty International report that challenged the United Nations to look into the matter (“Responses to Information Requests. PAK101175.E”, 2016). They organize campaigns to demonstrate against these crimes and call for government actions against those who commit these grisly murders.

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The Success of the Efforts

It can be concluded from the text that the issue of honor killings probably would not be resolved in the coming ten years. So far, the initiatives launched in Pakistan have not proven fruitful to the effect of reducing the number of honor homicides in the country. There is still a significant number of deaths through the sentencing handed by community members. The cases of honor killings continue to surge even after the strict measures taken by the government and the lobbying actions (“Pakistan Honour Killings on the Rise, Report Reveals”, 2016). Nevertheless, the government’s failure to design a punishment for the perpetrators creates another challenge in the interpretation of the law that may cause problems when it comes to its implementation (Kirti et al., 2011, p. 347). In Egypt, the problem is likely to increase as well because the government is reluctant even to attempt to take action (Rabbani, 2013). The leaders are in support for the customary laws that lead to honor killings as evidenced by their claim that the barring of these murders will lead to a degeneration of the social values.


Regardless of the current state of affairs, the continued trend of lobbying by the civil societies and the international support generated against the acts of honor killings present a hopeful future for the likely victims. The compounded pressure against the murders facilitates executive action against this practice. Notably, only the Government of Pakistan is already taking action against the perpetrators of these crimes, which has been enabled by the respective legislative branches. With further legal constraints on the practice and the contributing factors including discrimination against women, elimination of honor killings from the communities seems to become achievable. Additionally, there is the international effort directed toward the empowerment of women. It advocates the removal of the policies and practices intended to demean women in society. Finally, the aspect of globalization presents a chance for the interaction of cultures, thus neutralizing the traditional beliefs and customs and their effects on the people. Subsequently, derogatory attitudes such as the patriarchal set of beliefs have a chance to be completely eliminated from society.

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