The problem with the phrase “Honour”-based/related violence – An alternative

The term ‘honour based/related’ violence is criticized for (1) relativizing and exonerating gender violence by implicitly adopting perpetrator’s language (2) offering a one-note explanation of extremely complex violence (3) vitiating the positive aspects of the term ‘honour.’

It has been suggested that there is value in retaining the term ‘honour based’ violence for its ‘recognition value’ so as to promote critical conversation and to avoid creating confusion at the present stage when measures against such violence are still nascent [1]. Having said that, the 2015-2016 focus groups conducted by ICWA illustrated that the terminological controversy and disagreement refuse to die down.

One may consider alternatives: Patriarchal Reputation-Oriented Violence (PROV) as a working replacement for the phrase ‘honour based violence’. This term PROV objectively captures at least two of the core aspects of this form of gender violence, i.e., patriarchal thinking and practice and the related collectivist obsession with communal estimations of reputation. The problem is that not everyone may be able to remember, understand or even pronounce the phrase. Another alternative is extended/conjugal family violence, although some may think that this term loses evocative power, conceptual depth etc.

Terms such as ‘shameful femicidal violence’ or ‘femicide’ have been suggested as alternatives to HBV. However, femicide and femicidal violence do not work as alternatives for HBV – not all sufferers are women (with gay men and trans persons also being targeted), and not all violence ends in a killing. In fact, femicidal violence is not as frequent or as large on the horizon of risk as the media tends to portray. As for ‘shameful violence’ – the adjective is redundant. Since honour-based violence does not always culminate in murder, what is the value in calling this violence femicidal or even gendercidal? It is arguable that exclusive use of the terms femicide or femicidal violence may enhance the media-driven focus on honour killings while obscuring the multiple other, less visible, daily-lived-through manifestations of such violence. To name just a few: dowry extortion, marital rape in forced marriage, sex-selective abortion, threats of violence, daily restrictions on how women and girls should have specific thoughts and movements, tolerance of intra-familial sexual abuse. One might consider cases also in which women and girls are groomed, abused and trafficked because the perpetrator(s) hold the threat of community or family shame over the girls’ heads to ensure their silence. The girls are in a double bind here: they face the present abuse as well as the threatened risk of violence from their own supposedly ‘shamed’ families.

[1] Jackson, G (2015). MOSAIC Project: Literature Review. Link.

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