According to the United Nations, 5,000 women around the world are murdered each year in the name of preserving their family honor and reputation. We speak to Rana Husseini, one of the world’s leading advocates against these so-called honor killings. In 1994, she was a young journalist with the Jordan Times and began uncovering dozens of stories of women killed by their own family members. Husseini has continued to investigate and speak out about this form of violence, whether in Jordan or other parts of the world. She’s just out with a book chronicling some of these stories, Murder in the Name of Honor: The True Story of One Woman’s Heroic Fight Against an Unbelievable Crime. [includes rush transcript]
October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and we end today’s show with a look at one deadly form of violence against women commonly known as honor killings. On Sunday a man in Jordan confessed to stabbing his twenty-two-year-old daughter to death by a sword twenty-five times, because she was found to be pregnant out of wedlock. It’s reported to be at least the seventeenth such case from Jordan this year. According to the United Nations, 5,000 women around the world are murdered each year in the name of preserving their family honor and reputation.
Rana Husseini is among the world’s leading advocates against these so-called honor killings. In ’94, she was a young journalist with the Jordan Times and began uncovering dozens of stories of women killed by their own family members because of what the family thought was immoral behavior on the part of women.
Since that, Rana Husseini has continued to investigate and speak out about this form of violence, whether in Jordan or other parts of the world. And she’s just out with a book chronicling some of these stories, called Murder in the Name of Honor: The True Story of One Woman’s Heroic Fight Against an Unbelievable Crime.
Rana Husseini joins us now here in our firehouse studio.
Explain what galvanized you and what we should understand about what’s happening, well, primarily for you in Jordan.
Well, of course, it was a series of murders that I covered when I started reporting for the Jordan Times and then going to courts and discovering that killers were getting away with very lenient sentences. So, at that time, no one was really talking about it, but because of the many efforts that were done in Jordan in the late ’90s, which I document in the book, we managed to break — as a civil society, we managed to break that taboo forever. There were training for judges, criminal prosecutors, people working in domestic fields, on how to detect these crimes, how to deal with the victims of domestic violence. Now in Jordan, most people know about this issue. It’s no longer taboo. It’s being heavily discussed in the press. There’s a lot of awareness. People — voices rejecting these sort of murders are now increasing, more than when I started. So, basically things are going to the better.
Unfortunately, the number of murders is not decreasing. I think we have nineteen this year. Before I left, there were eighteen, and now, with this murder, there are nineteen. But now, I mean, every time there’s a murder, there’s a big and heavy debate in the press about it. Sometimes government officials come to talk about it. And this, you did not see in the past. So I think all these kind of dialogues and discussions in the press, governments admitting — even the leadership is talking about it, the civil society, the individuals — I think this is something very important, and it’s really helped raise awareness among this issue in Jordan and elsewhere in the world.
And Rana, you talk about honor killings as a global phenomenon. It’s not something just in Jordan, and as sometimes is reported in the mainstream media in this country, it’s not something just in the Muslim world. Can you expand on this?
Yeah, of course. So-called honor crimes, I’d like to call them, because “honor crime,” when you say that, you’re justifying the murder, so we’re trying even to change the terminology. But there, you know, domestic violence or violence against women is a global phenomenon, as we said. Women get killed all over the world by their abusive partners, by their family members, by their husbands, by their sons, fathers. And there are still reports of murders going on in countries such as Italy, like in Sicily, in South America, Pakistan, Turkey.
So it’s really not restricted to any religion. I have covered cases of Christian women who were killed in Jordan for tarnishing their families’ honor, same in other parts of the Middle East. So really it has nothing to do with any religion. I think it’s mostly a tribal — I’m sorry, it’s a traditional practice more than a religious. For example, in India, Sikh families kill their daughters. In Iraq, a woman from a Yazidi faith was stoned to death recently. So, really, it has nothing to do with any religion, as much as it has to do with peoples’ wrongful cultural and traditional beliefs.
And we just have ten seconds, but when it’s called a crime of passion, an honor killing, the leniency of the sentence?
Of course, I’m against any sentence that justifies any murder. And I think any killer who kills a woman should get a very high sentence, just like treated any other murder.
This is part one of our conversation. Rana Husseini, I want to thank you for being with us, investigative journalist, activist from Jordan, leading advocate against so-called honor killings. Her book is called Murder in the Name of Honor.