What service providers said when asked ‘what is honour-based violence?’

Confusion reigned when we asked anti-violence service providers about what they understood when they heard the term ‘honour-based’ or ‘honour-related’ violence. Across 8 focus groups, a range of understandings emerged about HBV as also some vocal criticisms of the term itself. In hindsight, the confusion and disagreements are unsurprising. In the wider Canadian community, there is a lack of knowledge on HBV (the wide spectrum of violence, and the overlap of features with intimate and family violence, e.g. surveillance, control, manipulation). People have no reliable online or other sources through which to access information. There is both too little objective fact-checked information and too much information from sources that trade in culturological clichés and generalizations. The silence around HBV is related to the reluctance of community leaders to discuss issues pertaining to violence. Violence is normalized and thus HBV may not be perceived or thought of as violence and abuse even in the contexts where it occurs and is suffered. With HBV, the fact that violence occurs in close-knit communities means also that sufferers of abuse cannot access trusted persons to speak of their situation. Hard data on HBV is not collected, compiled, curated and made public in formats that people can access. The lack of hard data on prevalence hinders the development of policy and tools of prevention and protection. This post presents the diverse views and understandings of HBV presented by 40-plus focus group discussants.

Shame, pride, community perception – the link to violence

HBV was associated with patriarchal notions of pride, community perception. Violence erupts when the ‘transgression’ may become publicly visible and provide evidence of an inability to control behaviour at home.

  • Honour is the root of the violence
  • Aspect of shame
  • Saving face/shame/family name.
  • Pride and control (have to restore themselves, how they are portrayed and validated in the community.
  • Is there a difference between private and public behavior? The level of shame then is different when perceived boundaries start to erode
  • Satisfying the male thinking about power and dominance. Rigid expectations around honour and identity
  • Image of the family (reputation matters) community’s perspective matters
  • When control becomes HBV, it happens if you go against everything that is the social norm in that community, it is looked at as what did the family do to raise her wrong. It becomes dishonourable. [Link]

Domestic violence may be rationalised post hoc in terms of ‘honour’ and provocation, as triggered by violations of folkways and mores.  

  • It may start as domestic violence- can be anything
  • Dressing in a Westernized manner (different from culture of norm)
  • Having a relationship with a different person of a different culture.

Gender violence was seen as strictly male-on-female violence

Interestingly, some participants understood ‘gender violence’ as strictly male-on-female violence. They did not associate gender violence with both female and male perpetrators and sufferers. Female-on-female violence (often associated with HBV, when women internalize patriarchal norms) was not seen as gender violence but as ‘domestic violence’.

Not necessarily gender based – it can be female vs. female (grandmother, mother-in-law vs. daughter-in-law, daughter). Other forms of violence is gendered (men are usually perps [sic] and women are victims)

Family violence, domestic violence are the terms that we’re mostly familiar with, depending on the situation. So I guess the term gender based violence is kind of throwing me off because [the kind of violence handled by team] is always balanced against a woman or a daughter most of the time so I think in terms of domestic violence, all social workers see a lot of the clients that are coming for support because of domestic violence or family violence.

Does HBV differ from domestic violence? Or coexist with it? Is it separate from intimate partner violence? Or not?

Some participants suggested that HBV has no special features and should not be seen as a special sort of gender violence or as separate from domestic violence in general. Others were unsure of whether or how HBV is distinct from domestic violence.

  • Gender Based Violence against women, broader, degrees can vary- all violence needs to be addressed
  • Don’t see as different from family violence, violence is violence.
  • Not sure what honour based violence means and how it would be different from domestic violence

Some participants indicated that domestic violence in the North American context (primarily identified with intimate partner violence, spousal abuse, child abuse within the nuclear family) cannot be equated with the dynamics of domestic violence in other contexts, where the actors may involve more than those in the nuclear family unit. Some thought that HBV cannot be included in the category of domestic violence or conflated with intimate partner violence. HBV has distinctive features, for example, it tends to be larger, with more people outside the family involved, may be less secretive, violence more spectacular.

HBV isn’t always spousal DV- something that happens in the home, is often more secretive, HBV extends beyond and is more collective.

Patriarchy links domestic violence, intimate partner violence and HBV

Participants perceived overlaps between domestic/intimate partner violence and HBV. These overlaps were associated with a common association of violence with patriarchal hypermasculine thinking and practice, which cause violence and encourage its normalization. These participants also saw HBV as involving greater ‘policing’ control of women’s lives and associated this control with specific cultural norms.

  • Throughout life there are things not talked about or swept under the rug.
  • Dishonour to the family.
  • Women’s movement is more restricted than men.
  • Men are to be bread winners.
  • Not physical violence but more restriction of freedoms for women.
  • Restricts what you are able to do, what you do for work.
  • The repression of certain freedoms.
  • HBV can exist together with domestic violence. The man feels superior and almost feels respected when he is violent.
  • Root causes: normalization of violence, control, gender equity, come out in DV and HBV both HBV- more policing of gender roles and power
  • Same but different, it’s violence; family violence. Pieces of it re:cultural component makes it different.
  • What comes to mind for me – read autobiographies of women – reference to a book from middle east where she married a man from there and how she travelled there and was held captive. Different religions and cultural viewpoints.
  • It is more accepted, HBV is part of the culture and accepted.
  • Culture specific. A way to restore honour.
  • HBV is tied to culture family and religion.

The normalization and under-reporting of HBV

Participants saw HBV (as also other forms of violence) as normalized, surrounded by secrecy, lack of awareness, and under-reporting. The sufferers may have also normalized the violence in cultural terms, making it harder for them to seek help and break away from the cycle of abuse and violence. In this regard, service providers need to provide and explain available supports but are unable to take a directive role in the arduous process of emancipation from violence.

  • People do not talk about it; Normalized violence and secrecy.
  • It is accepted as what a woman/wife goes through.
  • Violence is cyclical – learned behavior (hard to break a cycle).
  • Some men just think it’s normal.
  • So how to intervene? It’s all up to them. They don’t stand up for their rights, they don’t want to separate. Cultural norms don’t allow them to take a stand, culture dictates their gender role.

It is crucial to understand the structure and dynamics of collectivist gender violence. Sketching a cultural or religious profile for HBV is neither helpful nor informative.

  • Mistaken to see HBV as extreme cultural practice specific to non-Western societies. Honor and shame can be common in many cases, pervasive of any belief system, religion – but not understood this way.
  • Religious leaders don’t want these topics to be talked about in congregation. Many of these institutions will not allow access to even all this education.
  • A lot of people don’t know what abuse is and so don’t think they are being abused. They are unhappy but don’t realize it is abuse.

The relationship of violence, immigration and acculturation

Some participants saw HBV as involving more than just culture given the relationship of gender (including domestic/family) violence to the complex tensions and stresses of diasporic experience ([FG] It’s a structural issue. There is an idea of sponsorship that it jeopardizes citizenship.). HBV intersects with domestic violence and diasporic stress in that immigration related dependency and vulnerability of sponsored spouses meet up with collectivist violence at home. Intergenerational cultural conflict, occurring in the immigration context, was also associated with violence inflicted on children. Especially with second generation Canadians, there is a tension between the individual desire for personal autonomy and the collectivist pressure plus internalized need to follow tradition.

We don’t track it but there’s certainly like suicides that generally girls, generally because how they want to live their life may go against the expectations of parents in their community on how they should be living, as if they were in their country of origin.

We have young women fleeing abuse because of their parents. Usually child help will be involved in that but now it is not a norm but it does happen. We have you know two young women who were fleeing abuse from their dad and we fear that it will not be doing them any good if we put them in Women’s Emergency Shelter so we took them. So we do see people like that. We also see young women who may have been, brides you know that come overseas and they have to live with their in-laws and they experience violence. So they can also come to this shelter as well for assistance.

  • Conflict between children and parents.
  • Young don’t know what to do, tension with wanting freedom to make own decisions and valuing family/tradition.
  • Kids have trust issues with parents.
  • Teenage years are not a smooth transition; the cultural piece is another layer of challenge.
  • Intergenerational cultural differences
  • The kids are in a social context fueled by collective values but trying to assimilate/blend in with the local culture.
  • Immigration stress

Change the current terminology

Several discussants reported their anger, discomfort and disagreement with our use of the terms ‘honour-based violence’/Honour violence/Honour-related violence. We were also reminded that the Canadian Council of Muslim Women have described the term ‘honour based’ violence as (1) speaking the self-justificatory language of misogynists and perpetrators of gender violence (2) vitiating and over-simplifying the many alternative positive connotations of the term ‘honour’ (Cross 2013: 47-95).[i] Discussants felt that there is a need for new terminology that does not use the language of perpetrators and does not strengthen one-note explanations of violence in terms of cultures and ideologies of ‘honour.’ Terminology should capture the objective features of this form of gender violence. SEE POST ON SUGGESTED NEW TERMINOLOGY.

  • We need a discussion about how much language matters.
  • Do we condone violence with this language [HBV]?
  • Who is this term for?
  • The intent needs to be explained.
  • More of a moral implication (based on language)

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