Few phrases in any language are less appropriate than ‘honour killing’. The idea that it is honourable to murder a woman who has had sex outside marriage, even if she was raped, is morally and intellectually repugnant. Yet the investigative journalist Rana Husseini’s groundbreaking research into this taboo subject has indicated that every year some 5,000 women are killed by a relative to ‘restore the honour of the family’. An untold number suffer disfigurement for such ‘crimes’ as chewing gum or laughing in public. In many countries, including Husseini’s native Jordan, the perpetrators of these brutal acts receive token prison sentences and are welcomed back as heroes into their family and neighbourhood.
Rana Husseini’s brave campaign to expose ‘honour’ crimes and change the lenient way the law deals with them began in 1994 when, as a young crime reporter for the Jordan Times, she was sent to cover the story of Kifaya, a 16-year-old girl who was raped, forced into an abortion and made to marry a man 34 years her senior. When she divorced him after six months of torment, this was deemed sufficiently shameful to her family to sanction her murder and she was stabbed to death by her brother.
Since that first case, Husseini has fought tirelessly to move violence against women up the agenda, work that has brought her both acclaim and death threats. Her account of her years of struggle, Murder in the Name of Honour, is grim but compelling reading – a fitting testament to all the women killed.
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