By Parisa Esmaili
It is possible to presume thousands of women die each year in the name of preserving a family’s “honor”. Given that honor killings often remain a private family affair, murders go unreported, official documents do not exist, many go unpunished, and in the eyes of some societies, preserving “family honor,” justifies all acts.
According to a petition signed to the U.N. in 2001, the Human Rights Watch defined honor crimes as, “Acts of violence, usually murder, committed by male family members against female family members who are perceived to have brought dishonor upon the family.”
The rise in honor killings since the U.S. invasion in Iraq will be one of the topics discussed by the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq (OWFI) and MADRE in their new tour beginning in April.
A Window of Hope: Standing with Women in Iraq to End Violence is, “Hoping to attract regular people. Our belief is that a lot of people know in their guts the U.S. occupation is wrong and counter productive,” said Yisat Susskind, Communication Director of MADRE. “If people really knew what we were doing, they would agree U.S. military in Iraq is more harmful than it is helpful.”
OWFI fights for women’s human rights against both forces of rising Islamic political powers and the U.S. military occupation. In 2004, OWFI joined with MADRE, an international women’s human rights organization that collaborates with women’s community-based programs focusing on educating women on human rights issues and demanding action. Together, the two coalitions have joined forces in calling an end to military occupation and establishing secular freedom in Iraq.
OWFI Director, Yanar Mohammed and Executive Director, Vivian Stromberg, of MADRE, will be speaking during the tour. The two women will be traveling the East Coast and Midwest, speaking at local colleges, churches, and civic centers. Mohammed is known as one of Iraq’s most outspoken feminist activists.
The goal of A Window of Hope is to creating awareness of gender-based violence in Iraq, Susskind said. According to OWFI, rape and abductions have risen sharply since the invasion, making many women afraid to leave their homes. Women are literally hunted down for their lives in order to restore the family’s “honor,” Susskind said. Flirting, the desire to choose a husband, divorce, going against a male’s wishes, or even failing to bring a meal on time, may be seen as defying family honor. Those who have been arrested, kidnapped, or raped are also often blamed for tarnishing the family’s name; therefore honor killing can be seen as justifiable.
“Honor killings predate Islam and Christianity, but many people don’t know that, Susskind said. “People believe violence for women is assumed in Islam, and that is simply untrue.”
Since 2003, the U.S. has backed right winged political conservatives in governing Iraq, who do support honor killings. “In Iraq, before the U.S., women lived under the Personal Status Law and enjoyed their growing rights. Citizens say they hated Saddam but the U.S. is much worse,” Susskind continued.
OWFI estimates that militias in Baghdad and its surrounding neighbors execute no less than 30 women monthly, and yet most American’s never seem to hear about this news. Susskind believes the media does not primarily cover this area because of racism that still underlies this country; racism against Islam. “There is so much hostility between the different worlds, especially after 9/11.”
The tour will address issues, including the Underground Railroad for Iraqi Women, women shelters located throughout Iraq to help relocate women escaping “honor killings.”