Wednesday, February 13, 2008

What A Dumb-Ass Article!

I can't say I subscribe to the Journal of the Institute for Public Policy Research. They have won awards though for being the "think tank of the year" and they call themselves progressive so you would think their stuff would be worth a read. However before I even got as far as downloading the title article from their latest edition we hit a problem:

"Jean Edelstein, PPR reporter, argues that liberal middle class feminists are letting women down by frowning at rape and ‘honour’ killing headlines but not tackling this violence."

Shouldn't it be the police who tackle violence? Are we supposed to form a rampaging feminist army and march through the land? I'm up for it but I'm not sure it's the best approach.

Lets take the issues of rape and "honour" killing as two separate things (although I acknowledge rape as an "honour" crime is another well documented problem).

Rape affects women from all backgrounds - rich and poor, white and black and every other ethnicity. It IS offensive and wrong to suggest that rape is a a predominantly working class or minority ethnic problem. And that sort of thinking is one of the things that stops women coming forward because (a) they don't think they can have been a rape victim because they're white and middle class and (b) they feel they might bring their ethnic group into disrepute if they report.

"Honour" killing and "honour" violence (such as the murder of Banaz Mahmood, pictured) are problems which we see as being specific to certain cultures and communities. Now personally I see a very tight connection between the guy who murders his daughter because she refuses an arranged marriage and the (quite possibly white, middle class) guy who murders his wife when he finds out she's having an affair. It's men trying to control the women in their lives, particularly sexually. However the difference, at least in theory, is whether or not there is some support among the relevant community for those murders and the assumptions (sometimes valid, sometimes not) are that "honour" killing is done with the approval of the community and wife-murder isn't.

If however we accept that "honour" killing is a distinct issue affecting women in certain minority groups in the UK then how ridiculous for an article to blame that on white middle-class women! here's who might be to blame for "honour" killing: the actual murderers, other people from the communities where it happens who encourage the practice, those in these communities who help cover up the murders, religious and cultural leaders who condone it, police who fail to respond to calls, government officials who fail to provide adequate funding for safe houses and in-community policing, support and education, anti-feminists who spread the message that women should be treated as chattels. Here's who isn't to blame: me. I'm white and middle class and a feminist and I haven't "honour"-killed anybody, not for really ages. To say I frown on "honour" killing is like saying I think murder is naughty. No, I think it's an abomination and an outrage and if there is something I can do to prevent it - I will be there to do it right away. But there isn't.

Blaming other women for crimes committed by men against women is just a form of abuse of women. That it's being published by an organisation who claim to be a quality progressive think tank, is a disgrace.


Ellen said...

Perhaps if you worked with dishonor killings or lived in a country where they are indigenous you would be able to see how they are different from other forms of domestic violence. They have different roots (in misinterpretations of pre-Islamic Arab tribal codes), modus operandi, triggers, and solutions. In cultures where dishonor killings are indigenous, there are still all the other forms of domestic violence, too, but these are in addition.

Also, in countries that have the highest rates and numbers of dishonor killings, the perpetrators tend to be treated with great leniency. Some countries, like Iraq, Pakistan, and Turkey, have reformed their laws, but are facing challenges enforcing them. And female suicides are on the increase, leading some to speculate that the stricter penalties are only resulting in what are being termed honor suicides, a resourceful way for the perpetrators to get around the laws. Other countries, like Jordan and Syria, still have three penal code articles on the books that offer leniency to the perpetrators. In Jordan, for example, dishonor killings are considered misdemeanors. The average sentence is six months (not a typo). Some perpetrators return to their towns and villages as local heroes.

There is definitely a need for Western feminists to get more involved in working toward solutions. I've been working on this problem for years, with no support (financial or otherwise) from any of the major human/women's rights groups. I don't think anyone means to blame individual feminists for not stepping up, but there are some really high-profile players who have chosen to stick their heads in the sand about this problem, probably because it's so loaded with freight. And that is shameful considering there are some obvious measures that could be taken to spare the lives of these innocents.

Ellen R. Sheeley, Author
"Reclaiming Honor in Jordan"

butterflywings said...

Kate: I agree with you. Well said.