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