Christmas Appeal: Women lead the fight-back against 'honour killings'

In the final part of our series, Paul Vallely reports on the work of campaigners for women's rights

These are some of the things that can get a woman killed: wearing make-up; going to the cinema; chewing gum; drinking water in the street; chatting to a male neighbour; talking on the phone; talking to someone of a different race; having a man request a song for you on the radio; publishing love poetry; rejecting an arranged marriage; demanding a divorce; being raped; having an unsuitable boy-friend, or getting pregnant.

Every year, a total of 5,000 women across the world are killed - by their relatives - in so-called "honour killings", because they were said to have brought shame on their families. That is the official United Nations figure.

Most campaigners believe that to be a vast under-estimate. There were 4,383 documented cases in Pakistan over the past four years. It is on the rise amid the anarchy of contemporary Iraq. In the UK there have been 12 cases catalogued, the House of Lords was told last month. And the Metropolitan Police are re-examining 117 other suspicious deaths.

The highlighting of all this is an extraordinary success for the International Campaign Against Honour Killings, created in the past two years by women refugees and asylum-seekers. It was founded as the result of a human rights course run for refugees by Education Action International, one of the three charities being supported by The Independent's Christmas Appeal this year.

Before the group formed, police tended to take at face value reports of young girls killed by strangers or intruders, especially since the stories were vouched for by all the members of the dead woman's family.

The campaign's director Diana Nammi, 39, an Iranian Kurd, says: "Police were not aware in the early cases how families persistently lie to protect the killer and mislead the police. If the woman had gone to a police station and said, 'My father is going to kill me' no one would have believed her. We told police to look inside the family."

Honour killings "are planned and deliberate", says another campaigner, Houzan Mahmoud, 30, a refugee from Iraq. "And the killer will have the support of the rest of the family and community."

That support is often more than just tacit. "When a woman brings shame to her family they all meet in a family court and together decide that she must die and who will do it," says Ms Nammi. "They often choose the youngest brother because they think he'll get the lightest sentence."

Sometimes they hire hitmen. At times, even the women of the family help. In Derby, a mother sat on the legs of her pregnant daughter, Rukhsana Naz, while the girl's brother strangled her with flex.

Attempts are made to divert suspicion. Deaths by burning - "accidents" in the kitchen - are another method, a government minister told the Lords. Others are made to look like suicides (which may explain why the suicide rate is double among Asian women in the UK).

Some girls have been taken out of the country to be murdered. "It's a worldwide problem," says Ms Mahmoud. "That is why it needs an international campaign." The campaign is trying to change attitudes in several areas. Police now show greater understanding. So do judges.

Just two years ago, a judge reduced a man's sentence for killing his daughter from 20 to 14 years, citing "irreconcilable cultural differences between traditional Kurdish values and values of Western society".

Ms Nammi and Ms Mahmoud campaigned against that. "Culture is about language, music, food, dance, not killing," says Ms Nammi angrily. "Everyone must be treated equally. My life is more important than my culture." That is an attitude reflected in both more recent comments from judges and from politicians in the House of Lords debate.

There have been wider changes. In Turkey, the law traditionally gave lighter sentences for "honour killings". But after British politicians made it clear that was unacceptable in a future EU member, the law was altered. The skills the campaigners have developed were nurtured in one of 10 courses run by Education Action. Richard Germond of the charity's Refugee Advocacy Project, says: "We set them up because we found that refugees were not just concerned about issues they faced in the UK: discrimination, lack of access to health care and housing, hostile interpretations of the law. They were also deeply worried about what was going on in the society they had fled."

After the course - which teaches campaigning and advocacy techniques, with assistance from human rights groups such as Amnesty, trade unions, faith groups and MPs - about half of the 141 graduates have concerned themselves with issues affecting refugees in the UK, and the others are focused on abuses back home. They include disappearances in Eritrea, torture in Sudan, press freedom in Ivory Coast, health rights in Zimbabwe and the detention of human rights activists in western Sahara.

Not everyone approves. Ms Mahmoud, who has had threatening phone calls in the middle of the night, says: "Some men within our community have tried to stop us campaigning on honour killings, saying that we are bringing shame on the community and creating a racist backlash."

She is undeterred. As is Ms Nammi. "It is murder that brings shame on our community," she says. "Not us protesting about murder."

www.stophonourkillings.com

* A Better Place: Donate now!

* A Better Place: Full appeal links.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft and co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
businessUber, Snapchat and Facebook founders among those on the 2015 Forbes Billionaire List
News
news... and what your reaction to the creatures above says about you
News
Jihadi John
newsMonikers like 'Jihadi John' make the grim sound glamorous
News
music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Finance Manager - Covent Garden, central London - £45k - £55k

£45000 - £55000 per annum + 30 days holiday: Ashdown Group: Finance Manager - ...

Ashdown Group: Systems Administrator - Lancashire - £30,000

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: 3rd Line Support Engineer / Network ...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Web Developer

£26000 - £33000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Web Developer is required to ...

Ashdown Group: PeopleSoft Developer - London - £45k

£45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: PeopleSoft Application Support & Development ...

Day In a Page

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003