Honor killing is a crime committed against women and girls in my country by their own family members. In Afghanistan, having a boyfriend, running away to get married, or refusing an arranged marriage is considered an immoral act that brings dishonor to a girl’s family. The girl is then killed by her own family for ruining its reputation.
The culture of honor killing in Afghanistan has existed for hundreds of years and is still happening regularly today. Growing up in Herat, I have heard many honor killing stories. I want to tell them here because I believe to change these harmful traditions we have to share their terrible stories, educate our people, and enforce laws to punish the perpetrators.
Like every other human being, N had feelings and wanted to marry the man she loved. When her family refused to let her marry him, she agreed to run away with him and get married in another city. Her family called the police who found the couple in the neighboring village. When the girl was brought back home, her parents did not want to kill her. But the village elders insisted on it to serve as a lesson to other girls. N was beaten and locked in her room for several days until one night her mother took her a glass of milk. The girl died that night from the poison. Her parents showed their regret by lighting a lantern at her grave every night.
It was a cold morning in late winter and my father was on his way to the village when a suspicious object in the middle of the river caught his attention. With the help of two other men, my father opened the bag and they saw a woman’s black hair. My father reported it to the police and several days later, we found out that the girl was the daughter-in-law of a man in our village. The girl had escaped the family with another man. The father-in-law asked his daughter-in-law to come to his home for forgiveness. She went to meet him in the middle of the night and the father-in-law took her to his barn and strangled her with a rope. He put her body in a big bag, carried it on his donkey to the river outside of the village, and dumped her in the river.
A young woman from my high school was stabbed and killed by her brothers because she ran away with one of her brother’s friends. The girl’s family did not want her to marry the boy because he was from another city and a different ethnic group. While looking for their sister, the brothers became suspicious of the friend. They beat him until he told them that he had taken their sister to his aunt’s home and was planning to bring her to his city and marry her. When her brothers heard this, they stabbed their sister more than twenty times. One of the brothers was arrested by police, but the police also arrested the man who fell in love with the girl. The brothers said they would kill him when he got out of the jail.
I was ten years old when our neighbor killed their unmarried daughter for becoming pregnant. My friend disappeared in 2005. After a week her swollen body was found in the river. No one knows who killed her.
A relative told me about her neighbor who discovered their daughter-in-law was having a relationship with another man in Iran. They brought the daughter-in-law to Herat, killed her, and buried her body in their garden.
In October, a young woman named Rukhshana in northern Afghanistan refused to marry a man more than twice her age and ran away with a man that she loved instead. As punishment, she was stoned to death.
None of these stories are uncommon. Only a few of them—like the stories of Farkhunda, Ayesha, Setra, Zainab, Fareshta, Rukhshana—make the news. But there are thousands of similar stories in Afghanistan where many women are dying quietly and slowly.
In Afghanistan men have the right to divorce their wives and they may marry as many women as they wish. My cousin’s wife wanted a divorce, but my cousin refused. He took another wife, but after more than fifteen years his first wife still cannot marry another man.
Men in Afghanistan openly have sex outside of marriage. I had a neighbor who slept with many prostitutes and gave his wife a venereal disease. She could do nothing about it. Yet if a woman dares to have a love marriage, her family will kill her for damaging their reputation.
The women in Afghanistan have to carry the burden of the family’s reputation, their society, and their religion. In my country people say that honor is like a nose: if a woman dishonors her family, she cuts off her father’s nose and she must be killed. People are so afraid of losing their social status that they will kill their only child. Women cannot even decide what to wear, where to go, or what to eat. In Afghanistan once a woman gets married, her husband, in-laws, or some other man will take over all of the responsibilities for her.
In these love affair cases, most of the time the men involved are not killed because of fear that their families will retaliate and then the killings will go on and on. Often when a woman is raped, the woman is killed and the man walks free.
To the men of my country: shame on you. If there were no women, you would not exist. Do not think that we are dependent upon you; you are dependent upon us. If we did not clean for you and cook your food, you would not be able to survive.
To our government: shame on you. More than thirty percent of women voted for you and you have done nothing to protect us. We need the Elimination of Violence Against Women Act to be passed. Misogynists must not be in charge of making laws. Laws that say women can be stoned must be deleted. Honor killing must stop; people who kill women must be punished.
To the women of my country: nothing can stop us when we become united. Let us help each other and stand for each other. Let us stop thinking that we are weak and inferior. We are not honor and property and we must not carry all the burdens. Let us get the rights that are given to us by our Allah. Let us teach our daughters about their value instead of scaring them with society’s responsibilities. Let us teach our sons to respect women.
Change can happen when we educate our society and break the harmful traditions and norms. Tribal laws, honor killing, stoning and hurting women physically and mentally must be stopped.
The author lives abroad. Photo: Eric Kanalstein / UNAMA
Yes, Marzia! Nothing can stop you! You are mighty united. You are mighty with your pen and your voice. Thank you for this stellar essay. Please keep up the excellent work! Stacy
Maria — Such powerful writing! Your strong, clear descriptions of honor killings and what is happening to women in your country is painful to read but something all of us need to continue to be aware of. Your determination that something must be done and your bravery in writing about this lifts my heart and makes me believe that change can happen if women — and men unite — for women’s rights. Please keep fighting by writing. Your words are like a light in the dark leading the way! Nancy
No society can advance when 50% of the population is treated like garbage. Men who engage in honor killings are not Muslim. Most of all, they are cowards. This part is very true: “Let us get the rights that are given to us by our Allah.”
Dear Marzia, My heart goes out to you and all the women in your country. It is truly heart breaking to read about how mistreated women are. I couldn’t imagine going through and witnessing the things that you are. On the bright side its nice to see you speak out about your government for the world to see because most women are not as strong as you are. Warm hearts go out to you and your country and best of luck with everything!
Your writing is very interesting. Don’t stop in being the voice for your people. It is sad to know what women are going through in your country. Reading your post made me realize that everyone in this world has it bad , but in your country it seems like women suffer more. I believe this needs to change, woman are human and they should not be treated this way.
The strength in your words are truly inspiring. You spoke so well about the abuse women in Afghanistan must face. Your words about the importance of women uniting holds so much truth. Women like you are a part of the change Afghanistan will face. I admire that you included so many other stories of gender violence. Reading about these “honor killings” opened my eyes to how much work the world still must put into achieving gender equality. You are so brave to speak against the system that works against women. You brought light to the normalization of violence against women, the advantages that men have, and the lack of discussion on these topics. You and the many other women who speak like you do are the future of the world.
The stories of those poor girls impressed me a lot. I can’t imagine a world that people would be killed by their family because they want true lovely. But those stories were true and happened around you. I am so sorry to heard those sad stories. But it is good that there are some people who is brave like you start to fight against those ridiculous traditional culture. You bring the light to the girls in the future and I believe your works will save more poor girls in Afghanistan. Keep working and the future will be better.
Thank you for taking the time to write this essay! The stories you told are truly very saddening, and it hurts me that this still happens to people. Not just any people but so many women, the injustice is terrible. No one should have to live in this way, being oppressed by not only their government but even their own family, the ones who are supposed to love you the most killing you…Just like you said, women are strong and even stronger united. Your essay has really opened my eyes to the horrors that women face in this world. I hope that you write more so that others can learn of this as well, and try to help. “Change can happen when we educate our society and break the harmful traditions and norms.” – I really love that sentence because it is entirely true, and I wish you the best in spreading your very important message! The existing laws and cultural as well as societal norms in Afghanistan need to change. Women should not have to bear all of the burdens of the religion. And thank you for your bravery in telling people of these things in such an eloquent and impactful way. I wish you the best of luck in your future, and I hope things have gotten and least a little better and that you are doing well!
Thank you very much, for speaking up to the world, Marzia. This is an outrage. The so-called, “honor killing” is simply irrational and is indisputably categorized as a crime punishable by death. As a righteous person with feelings and rationality, I totally agree that change can happen to bring reasonableness to society through education, and breaking absurd traditions and norms. Women are literally being killed for reaching out for a glance of freedom.The men of the country need a sense of valor to fight with the innocent and for the right. The government must act, with the help of allied countries. I am sorry for what happened to the women of your home. Please know that help is on the way. The changes that need to be made, will be made. There are people out there with the quality of being morally right. You are not alone.
Marzia, thank you for these stories that you have shared with us. It’s so eye-opening to see the number of women that are “honor-killed” even though I know that this number is just a small percentage. I love the way you ended this story, and I hope that your message will reach more people. Your essay really makes me question society. As you stated, men are more dependent on women than women are dependent on men. Yet, people still demean women and say that they are weak. How do women continue to pass along these burdens to their daughters? I really like how you included the story about the girl whose parents opposed killing her, but society ended up “forcing” them to. It shows how people tend to care more about what society thinks than the well-being of their family. The world still has a long way to go. Thank you again for sharing this important message.
Thank you for expressing your complete beliefs, your views unaffected by any prejudice or opposition you might face. Thank you for bringing to light the stories of all of these women who have suffered such horrible things but whose names are only known by a few. Thank you for exposing further the issue of male supremacy in Afghanistan and the neighboring countries as a whole. The way in which you describe these events truly communicates to me, the reader, how poorly women are treated, and the huge inequality that is present in your society. Your personal connection to this issue, by both being a woman and having close friends of yours being killed due to these reasons really exemplifies your emotions and how you feel about this situation. The points you bring up are completely true, in that this society we live in revolves around women and is only able to exist because of their efforts, yet so many treat them in the complete opposite way, not even acknowledging them for their hard work. I’m so sorry that you’ve had to go through what you’ve had to endure throughout all this time, and I’m so sorry for your friends and family who were affected by this gender discrimination. Your story will not go unheard, as both I and many others have read it and are truly touched by your story and now understand how serious this issue is. The brutality of the events depicted in this story truly make me realize the changes that need to occur in Afghanistan, changes that must happen as soon as possible. My heart goes out to your well being and safety, and I hope that both you and all other women are able to lead a happy life in the very near future.
Marzia, there is power in your words and it reverberates through the people that have and will read this essay. It’s unfair that women must suppress their own expression and desires to satisfy society’s expectations. Reading the accounts you gave for each woman hurt. To realize that these are only a few of the girls that were repressed, brutally tortured, and eventually murdered because they did not fit a mold—it’s sickening, and moreover scary how a woman’s life can be reduced down to a token for a family’s honor. With that, I definitely agree with you. Although the current government in Afghanistan neglects the rights and voices of women, change starts with this generation and those to come. It takes a lot of courage to speak about these sensitive topics so thank you for sharing this information and these personal stories with the world. Your words are touching and I hope you continue advocating for change through your writing.