Turkish police have recovered the body of a 16-year-old girl they say was buried alive by relatives in an “honour” killing carried out as punishment for talking to boys.
The girl, who has been identified only by the initials MM, was found in a sitting position with her hands tied, in a two-metre hole dug under a chicken pen outside her home in Kahta, in the south-eastern province of Adiyaman.
A postmortem examination revealed large amounts of soil in her lungs and stomach, indicating that she had been alive and conscious while being buried. Her body showed no signs of bruising.
An informant told the police she had been killed following a family “council” meeting. The girl’s father and grandfather have been arrested and are being held for trial.
Official figures have indicated that more than 200 such killings take place each year, accounting for around half of all murders in Turkey. Women and girls are stoned to death, strangled, shot or buried alive. Their offenses ranged from stealing a glance at a boy to wearing a short skirt, wanting to go to the movies, being raped by a stranger or relative or having consensual sex.
In order to understand this, one must realize that in this culture honor is equated with women, women’s sexuality and the control of women. Honor is a property of women which is controlled by men. Women should passively obey the rules of conduct accepted as honorable while men have to actively make women obey these rules. As a result, ‘honor’ is usually formulated as something obliging both men and women to behave in a certain way. Women, in terms of “being careful about themselves, especially in their relations with men” and men, in terms of “having an attentive eye on their women.” -UNDP “The Dynamics of Honour Killing in Turkey.”
Recently, Turkey has tightened the punishment for attacks on women and girls in its bid to join the European Union. Persons found guilty of honor killing are sentenced to life in prison. There are well documented cases, where Turkish courts have sentenced whole families to life imprisonment for an honor killing. One result of this stricter enforcement is honor suicides. Families try to spare their men by forcing ‘disgraced’ women and girls to kill themselves. Women’s groups say that girls are often locked in a room with a rope, a pistol or rat poison until the job is done.
The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) estimates that the annual worldwide total of honor-killing victims may be as high as 5,000.
Top Saudi Arabian religious officials have begun to endorse a clear distinction between the innocent meddling of the sexes and sinful behavior in recent weeks.
For decades, agents of the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, (religious police) have enforced a strict separation of the sexes in Saudi Arabia. This policy has circumscribed the lives of women and girls and in some instances has resulted in tragic deaths.
In 2002, the religious police stopped girls from leaving their burning school because they were not wearing strict Islamic dress. The police also stopped men who tried to rescue the girls, warning, “It is sinful to approach them.” Several girls died.
Now, it seems, this was all a mistake. Religious officials have declared thatprohibitions against the mixing of the sexes in public places come from conservative tribal customs not the rules of sharia.
This sort of confusion is nothing new, nor is it unique to Islam or Saudi Arabia. Religion has long been used as a way to reinforce ethnic and cultural traditions that limit the rights of women and girls, including the right to inheritance and access to education, healthcare and decent work. Religion has also been used to justify harmful cultural practices such as FGM and child marriage.
It is to be hoped that religious leaders throughout the world will continue on this path of making honest distinctions between true religious law and discriminatory practices against women and girls that have their roots in custom and tradition.
Five women were paraded naked, beaten and forced to eat human excrement by villagers after being branded as witches in in a remote village in Deoghar district in India’s Jharkhand state. Local police said the victims were Muslim widows who had been labeled as witches by a local cleric.
This is a very disturbing story, but all too common. Widows in many parts of the world are abandoned by their families, deprived of their property, accused of witchcraft, abused and sometimes even killed. What is particularly terrible about this story is that the abusers appear to be other, younger women.
Yesterday, I learned of a wonderful program that seeks to facilitate the integration of refugee and migrant women in Auckland, New Zealand, called Cooking and Friendship.
The concept is simple. Bring together women from many different cultures and create an environment for raising cultural awareness through sharing skills and other social values.
In Auckland, woman from Somalia, Burma, Sri Lanka and many other cultures join with women who are long-time residents to share recipes, learn new cooking skills, improve their English and make new friends. The result has been enhanced confidence and self esteem for the women.
This is a great idea that could be replicated almost anywhere!
Article 548 of Syria’s Penal Code had previously allowed for a complete “exemption of penalty” for the killing of female family members who had been found committing “illegitimate sex acts”, and for the murder of wives having extramarital affairs.
On 1 June, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad replaced this Article with one reading: “He who catches his wife, sister, mother or daughter by surprise, engaging in an illegitimate sexual act and kills or injures them unintentionally must serve a minimum of two years in prison.”
Syrian Women Observatory, an independent Syrian website for women’s rights, estimates there are nearly 200 honour killings there a year. The UNFPA estimates that as many as 5000 women and girls are victims of honour killings each year worldwide.
Human rights activists welcome Syria’s move to enforce a minimum jail sentence for honour killers as better than nothing, but are asking that the Syrian government go further and treat all murderers alike – no exceptions.
A new family centered approach to maternal and newborn child care piloted in the Hospital Ramón Sarda in Buenos Aries is decreasing neo-natal mortality and will be replicated on a massive scale by UNICEF around the world.
Dr. Miguel Larguia, who has been with the hospital for 40 years, is the person responsible for the new approach.
“The concept of family-centred hospitals is a real change of paradigm because we now recognize as the owners of the house, not the medical doctors or the health agents, but the pregnant mothers and their babies,” he said.
Key features of the program include:
Involvement of fathers in every stage of the process
Encouragement of mothers to breastfeed
Parents have 24 hour access to their newborn
Special days for other family members to visit and special briefings for them on what to expect, (Especially in the a case of premature births or severe health challenges)
Free on-site residence for mothers whose babies must stay in hospital for an extended period. (There’s room for 38 mothers at the residence, and they stay an average of two months.)
“This model includes practices that have been shown to be effective in preventing neo-natal mortality,” said UNICEF Health Specialist Zulma Ortiz. “And all of them are based specifically in the relationship between the mother and the son or the daughter – and also the whole family – so the idea is to promote the implementation of this strategy all over the world.”
Two thirds of neonatal and young child deaths – over 6 million deaths each year – are preventable. Supporting programmes like this one is an efficient, cost-effective way to help children survive.