Violence Against Women Not Just A Middle Eastern Problem

We use our voice to speak out against violence against women, focusing on those victims who live and die in the Middle East, Africa, and elsewhere due to the phenomenon known as “honor killing.” But violence against women is a problem that extends far beyond a few regions of the world. In the United States, nearly 1 in 4 women will experience an abusive relationship. Domestic abuse can include physical or sexual violence, harassment, stalking, PTSD, and even the contraction of sexually transmitted diseases.

Even in the era of #MeToo, the fight requires substantial growth before meaningful change can occur.

Did you know that 15 percent of all violent crimes perpetrated in the United States are the result of a domestic confrontation? What you might find more offensive is that a shockingly low 34 percent of those victims will go on to receive any kind of medical care. The lion’s share of victims will attempt to sweep the problems at home under the rug. That’s why so many of these victims will find themselves hurt again, or worse — killed because they couldn’t find a voice.

Of course, the United States isn’t alone in this culture of violence, rape, and silencing.

Mexico City, Mexico was recently the site of a 25-year-old woman’s brutal murder. Ingrid Escamilla was found flayed. Her body was devoid of its organs. A suspect was quickly detained by authorities. A video in which the presumed suspect can be seen showed him covered in blood as he was questioned by Mexico City police. He was Escamilla’s partner, which makes sense: almost all violence can be traced back to a friend, acquaintance, or sexual partner. 

That’s why so many of these cases lead back home.

Women’s rights groups around the world have spoken out about the killing. The National Women’s Institute of Mexico has said that photographs of the crime scene should not have been published. The organization released a statement that said, “Mexico is facing a tremendous challenge with respect to violence against women. We urge the media to work with rigor and professionalism.”

Escamilla’s case is also an important reminder that even victims who have previously spoken out are at greater risk. She had filed a complaint against the suspect only months before her murder. She eventually withdrew it, as so many victims do.

There are impacts to violence against women that go far beyond lost lives. They include an economic impact from missed days of work, medical bills, and lost jobs. But the emotional impact of survivors is a huge cost as well. Families of those who can’t escape will inevitably suffer the same. Depression and suicidal tendencies are common.

Are you a victim of domestic violence? Help is available: Call 1-800-799-7233 or go to to discuss your situation with an online representative.

Two Dead In Pakistan After Apparent Honor Killing; Others Killed In United States And India

Honor killings are often the result of perceived infidelity. That was the case for one father, Saleh Muhammad, who killed his daughter in cold blood in the Shadheri province of Swat, Pakistan. Muhammad also murdered the person with whom his daughter was purportedly having an affair. Meanwhile, California resident Jagjit Singh, 65, allegedly shot his daughter in another honor killing. No trial date has been set.

His daughter Sumandeep Kaur Kooner, 37, was also having an affair when she told her family that she would run away from them. But investigators say that Singh didn’t just murder his daughter — he also sexually assaulted her. 

Courtroom documents shed little light on the investigation thus far. Authorities found the body on August 26 at 3200 Monache Meadows Drive with apparent bullet wounds to the face and neck.

Another slaying occurred in Etawah, Uttar Pradesh. Authorities say that a girl’s father and brother caught her and her partner engaged in apparently controversial behavior, at which point they attacked the lovers with an ax, killing the daughter and gravely injuring her partner. The family is in hiding while the girl’s partner remains in critical condition at Saifai Medical College.

Authorities have yet to discover where the accused are hiding. 

Cases like these are common across the Middle East and in parts of Africa, but they occur infrequently in other regions as well. The vast majority of honor killings are perpetrated by fathers and brothers of women who were accused of dishonoring or shaming the rest of the family through non-traditional acts. 

Although the tragic circumstances are getting more attention from activists around the world, there is still a great deal of pushback in countries where these crimes are common. For example, some Palestian officials recently tried to roll back women’s rights by rejecting the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), which is a 1979 international treaty put into place by the United Nations General Assembly.

The legislation was signed into law in 2014 in Palestine, but not all of Palestine’s government officials were in agreement.

They made a blanket statement recently saying that “the Palestinian Authority must withdraw and cancel this agreement and call for the closure of all the feminist institutions and those supporting them in Palestine. There are hundreds of them in Palestine and we call for the cancellation of their rental agreements. Anyone who rents to them is a partner in crimes.”

A recent law would have increased the legal age of marriage to 18 for both men and women, but the officials rejected that as well. Women’s rights are under attack.

Second Update: New Charges Filed In Texas Irsan Case

Two 2012 murders have resulted in a number of charges filed against members of the Irsan family, most of which are focused on a father and his son and their dastardly deeds. But now Nadia Irsan, another member of the family, has been charged with conspiracy to commit murder. Initially, she had been charged with stalking — but investigators have uncovered more substantive evidence of wrongdoing in the ongoing criminal case against her.

Nadia has a public defender assigned to the case: Eric J. Davis. “My hope is that people will presume her innocent,” he said.

That seems like wishful thinking in a country where honor killings rarely occur, but are viewed as horrific and unjustified. The prosecutor assigned to the case, Marie Primm, certainly sees it that way.

Nadia’s father, Ali Mahwood-Awad Irsan, has already been sentenced to death for his involvement in the killing of another daughter’s husband, Coty Beavers. The second homicide resulted in the death of Gelareh Bagherzadeh, although prosecutors failed to immediately connect one to the other — especially because the time between the two was approximately eleven months.

Ali was an immigrant from Jordan, but still holds to some of his religion’s more extremist views.

Ali and his son Nasim worked together when going after Bagherzadeh in January 2012. They followed Bagherzadeh to her parents’ home, where Nasim shot her in the car she owned. Nasim was facing a capital murder charge before he accepted a prosecutorial plea deal of 40 years incarceration. 

In November 2012, Ali covertly infiltrated Beavers’ apartment — the door was apparently unlocked — and shot him to death when his daughter exited the building. His wife, Shmou Ali Alrawabdeh, has also been charged with murder. She testified against her husband in exchange for a kidnapping plea.

According to Alrawabdeh’s testimony, Ali planned to kill his daughter, Nesreen, as well. The previous murders were committed because Ali viewed Nesreen’s relationship with Beavers, an American, to be a betrayal of their faith and culture (which is why these murders were considered honor killings).

Primm offered Nadia a plea to conspiracy to commit murder, which would have landed her in prison for at least 25 years. Nadia didn’t take the bait. That means if she goes to trial and is found guilty on the existing charges, she could end up incarcerated for the rest of her life — or for as little as fifteen years if the judge is feeling kind.

Update: Irsan Taken Into Custody

Typically, honor killings occur in African or Middle Eastern countries. They occur when male members of a family feel “dishonored” by a female member of the family. A young woman will abandon an arranged marriage. She will post to social media too often. Or the clothes she wears will show a little too much. The excuses for these heinous murders are both numerous and complex. And in 2011, Houston, Texas was the site of two murders that prosecutors were quick to label: honor killings.

Mahwood-Awad Irsan was disappointed when his 23-year-old daughter, Nesreen Irsan, fled home to be with her boyfriend, Coty Beavers. Why was it such a big deal? Coty was American-born — and a Christian. Nesreen converted to his faith to make their relationship more tenable. But it had the opposite effect for her father.

Gelareh Bagherzadeh was an Iranian women’s rights activist who championed Nesreen’s desire to convert to Christianity, but she was found dead. Police considered it likely that her murder was politically motivated by hate groups in the area. They didn’t even begin to connect the dots until ten months later, when Beavers was found dead in his apartment in 2012.

It was then that investigators started looking into Ali.

Nesreen told them that her father had been agitated over her relationship with an American man, her departure from home, and her conversion to Christianity. She said that he believed the two murdered individuals had stained his family’s honor, and that she and Beavers had always feared for their lives. Ali, she said, had a known history of violence.

Before the murders, Nesreen had asked authorities for a writ of protection against her father. This prevented Ali from having access to guns — but it was too late for that. After Beavers was found murdered, police obtained a warrant to search Ali’s property in Conroe. They found something more damning than firearms inside, though: they found an envelope with at least two license plate numbers and addresses, belonging to Bagherzadeh and Beavers. 

The dots were finally connected. This man was obviously responsible somehow.

Harris County Special Prosecutor Anna Emmons described the raid to the documentary, A Wedding and a Murder: “So that one piece of evidence, that envelope, connected Ali to both Coty and to Gelareh, who were both dead.”

Later, Ali was taken into custody and charged with capital murder for the two killings. His wife, hoping to avoid charges as an accessory to murder, decided to testify against Ali in return for a plea deal. During a subsequent trial, she described his perhaps poorly laid out plan to murder Nesreen as well, noting that he only failed because he couldn’t sabotage her car successfully.

But it turned out that Ali’s son, Nasim, was involved in the murders as well. It wasn’t until August of this year that Nasim pleaded guilty to the murder of Bagherzadeh. The arrests haven’t helped Nesreen feel safer — she lives in isolation for fear of reprisal.

Irsan was sentenced to death.

Protests Erupt In Bethlehem After 21-Year-Old Woman Murdered By Family

Israa Ghrayeb was a 21-year-old Palestinian woman who grew up in Bethlehem and had a promising future — until she was murdered by her brother, Ihab. Even more disturbing is that Israa’s own father ordered her brother to commit the crime. What the family saw as an insult to their honor is hardly unthinkable in much of the rest of the world.

Israa had posted pictures and videos online of she and her fiance. The social media posts weren’t controversial in any way. So why did her family get so upset? Because a young woman and her fiance aren’t supposed to be together — or be seen together — prior to marriage. When relatives caught wind of the posts and alerted Israa’s father, he ordered Ihab to beat and kill her.

Ihab did as he was commanded, but Israa escaped — barely. She fell from the second story of the family home, severely injuring her spinal cord in the process. 

Subsequently, she made another Instagram post about her injuries, but made no mention about how she sustained the injuries.

She said, “I’m strong and I have the will to live — if I didn’t have this willpower, I would have died yesterday. Don’t send me messages telling me to be strong, I am strong. May God be the judge of those who oppressed me and hurt me.”

Israa was recovering in a nearby hospital when they apparently came for her again. Video of the attack there allegedly shows her frantic, begging her attackers to let her live. But that’s not the official story, and has been contested by her family, who say she passed away after a heart attack. 

Palestinian NGO Adalah Justice Project didn’t mince words during a statement made after the killing: “Israa was murdered by members of her family after she posted a selfie video of an outing with her fiance. The crime is being called an ‘honor’ killing, but this is misleading and false. There is no honor in murder.”

Many want justice for Israa. Others are asking if the same thing could happen to them, including a high school friend: “After I heard what happened to Israa, I was terrified. I live with my family and I have my freedom to go wherever I want. But what if someone started to spread rumors about me? Will that lead to my death, too?”

Protesters are begging the Canadian government to arrest Ihab for his sister’s murder, since he currently resides there.

Pakistan’s “Kim Kardashian” Was Murdered But Her Killers May Walk

Even though laws across the Middle East and parts of Africa are swiftly catching up with the civils rights expectations of the rest of the world, they don’t always change the underlying practices they have begun to outlaw. Highest among those underlying practices is the routine and ritualistic “honor killing” of women who have somehow been perceived to have disgraced or dishonored the male members of the family.

This was the case when Pakistani social media icon Quandeel Baloch, or the “Pakistani Kim Kardashian,” was murdered by her two brothers, Aslam and Waseem, in July of 2016. Although they were subsequently charged with Baloch’s murder, they might be released — because an outdated Pakistani law stipulates a woman’s murderers can be legally pardoned (in the case of an honor killing) when the defendants’ family members forgive them for committing the act.

In other words, if the entire family agrees that the honor killing was justified, then really — what was the crime? 

Baloch’s parents are reportedly trying to establish just such a pardon for brothers Aslam and Waseem, who they have apparently forgiven for killing their daughter.

The tactless tactic shouldn’t work, however, because Pakistani legislators actually closed the loophole nearly as soon as Baloch was murdered. Currently legislation does still provide family members with some power over the legal process — by forgiving the murderers, they can prevent employment of the death penalty.

Here’s the rub: because the loophole was only closed after Baloch was murdered, the family and their legal representatives are trying to say that the new laws don’t apply in this situation. Whether or not the legal strategy will pan out is still up in the air.

Baloch had over three-quarters of a million subscribers on Facebook, and tens of thousands spread out across Instagram and Twitter. Waseem strangled her because he did not want the limelight provided by her liberal views and massive following.

These ritualistic killings are still common in Pakistan, where civil rights groups estimate at least 1,000 women are killed every year. The government contends that the number of deaths seems to have fallen since the new laws were passed, but honor killings often go unreported, leaving many to question whether the updated statistics have any real accuracy at all.

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Where Are Honor Killings Still Legal?

It might seem like an absurd question to ask in 2019, but ask it we must: where are honor killings still legal? Even though the law may take a hard stance against it, in many countries those who commit such crimes still manage to walk away free because the same authorities who are supposed to maintain justice are the ones most likely to turn a blind eye. In other places honor killings are still legal because of blatant inaction or laws that implicit allow these heinous acts.

Pakistan. The country passed an anti-honor killing law in October 2016 when a high-profile celebrity was murdered by a family member. Although many saw this as an enormous step in the right direction, honor killings have continued unabated. Part of the reason is society only watches those who they deem important. Many others slip through the cracks because the crimes go unreported. Another problem is the pressure that law enforcement and government officials face from groups who condone this type of murder as just.

North Africa. Many honor killings take place in this region, but a number also occur in France because of the large North African immigrant population. Shockingly, French laws do little to combat the epidemic of violence as they are so strongly rooted in the Napoleonic Code, which itself treated honor crimes with a great deal of leniency. Many international laws are trying to circumvent this systemic lack of caring by drafting new legislation that guarantees a person’s right to life. How big an effect this will have in the future — if any at all — remains uncertain.

Libya. Victims of honor crimes in this country have little recourse: whereas the killing of a woman who is caught in a “dishonorable” act is not technically legal, it is still considered a mitigating factor. This means that family members of these unprotected women will be treated less harshly by the law than other murderers, and will receive sentences that hardly fit the crime.

Iran. Honor killings occur most often outside of major metropolitan areas and occur most often among minority populations. Access to education is considered to be the best tool against this practice, which is itself pervasive in a society so strongly dominated by men. When a man’s social status is perceived to be under attack — especially because of a woman’s actions — honor killings become much more likely, and the law does little to prevent them or provide adequate protection.

Honor Killing: Celine Dookhran

The charges are kidnap, rape, and murder. The victim is 19 years old makeup artist Celine Dookhran. Celine had begun a new life when she left India. She was living in England and she had started a new relationship with an Arab Muslim. Unfortunately for Celine, her family did not approve of her new romance. The result was the brutal rape and murder that is often referred to as an “honor killing.” While some Muslim women are able to escape their homes and find true love, the past catches up with others. It is not fair nor is it right to kill a person for chasing the dream of truly falling in love. No one deserves to die, especially with the brutality that comes along with an honor killing.

Celine was a Positive Person

According to her social media posts, Miss Dookhran was a practicing Muslim. She posted about fasting during Ramadan and regularly praised Allah. Celine was on her way to becoming an internet sensation. The teen was an excellent makeup artist and regularly posted tutorials on all kinds of techniques and products that she used. After the news of Celine’s death broke, her fans cried out on the internet. Many were singing her praises, others reciting Islamic prayers ensuring her soul reaches Allah. The article in the Independent states that Celine’s friends spoke highly of the late teenager. They were quoted stating that she was a “beautiful Intelligent soul.”

The Accused

The two men, who have since been detained by London Police, kidnapped Miss Dookhran, tied her up, gagged her, raped her, then slit her throat and left her in an abandoned fridge to die. Mujahid Arshid is being charged with kidnap, rape, and murder. His counterpart, Vincent Tappu, is being charged with the kidnapping of Miss Dookhran.

Will the Killings Ever Cease?

Honor killings are an epidemic that does not seem to be slowing down anytime soon. As laws continue to be passed in an effort to put a stop to this terrible crime, we can only hope that it lessens the number of honor killings that take place every year. The greatest hand we can lend to help is raising awareness of these crimes. By making more people aware of this crime, we may be able to finally put an end to this madness.

Honor Killing: Samia Shahid

The story of Samia Shahid must be heard. Samia Shahid was a beauty therapist in London. The Pakistan native was forced to flee her hometown and her family in an effort to find true love. She found that true love in Syed Kazam. The couple married shortly after Samia was granted a divorce from an arranged marriage organized by her family. Shahid’s family was unhappy with her decision. They were angered and felt that her divorce brought great dishonor to their family. For this reason, Samia could never return home.

How Did This Happen?

It all started when Samia was forced into an arranged marriage with her first cousin, Chaudhry Shakeel. The marriage was abusive and didn’t last long. Samia was able to obtain a divorce, but as a result was forced to run and hide from her family. She met Kazam and fell in love. They got married in England and later moved to Dubai.

It had been two years since Samia married Kazam. When Samia feld, she knew that she could never return to her hometown of Punjab. She knew that if she returned, she may not survive the trip.

The Fatal Trip

July 2016 — Samia received urgent phone calls and text messages stating that her father was very ill. Kazam urged her not to go as he thought it was a trick, but she couldn’t resist. Six days after Samia returned home, Kazam received a phone call that broke his heart. Samia’s family informed Kazam that she had a heart attack and died of natural causes. Kazam was instantly filled with grief and anger for he knew in his gut that there was foul play involved. Kazam took to the press to share his late wife’s story. He told news outlets that his wife’s death was not from natural causes or an accident, but it was the result of an honor killing.

The Killing was Felt in the U.K.

After pressure from the U.K., the Pakistani police performed an autopsy on the body. They found that Samia Shahid had not only been killed, but she had been sexually assaulted as well. The Pakistani police began the search for Samia’s ex-husband and first cousin. When Shakeel was found, he was brought in for questioning by police along with Samia’s father who was named an accomplice in the case.

Shakeel’s trial is ongoing as the prosecutor’s trying to secure the death penalty. However, Samia’s father died during the process of the trial.  

Honor killing goes back to ancient times. Countries like Pakistan, Iran, and India have taken strides towards outlawing honor killings. Unfortunately, many of these crimes go unreported making it hard to put an end to an ancient and brutal tradition.

Is Facebook Responsible For Honor Killings?

When we’re browsing our favorite social media platforms, most of us don’t stop to consider the full scope of what we’re doing. Who are we talking to, and what effect are we having on those we correspond with? What are the consequences of our actions, both seen and unseen? Those questions are experiencing dynamic shifts as we begin to search for the answers in a rapidly advancing age of connectivity and higher technology. Here’s a new one: are there honor killings over the use of Facebook?

In some Middle Eastern countries, arranged marriages are tradition. Straying from the path set forth by your parents is a dangerous option that few would exercise, but some choose to anyway in hopes of finding greater freedom through the outside world. When one Saudi Arabian woman was caught perusing Facebook by her father, she was beaten for her curiosity–especially because she had been speaking with a man she had met online. After the beating she was forced to endure, her father shot her.

This isn’t a complete surprise because many religious leaders in the region are convinced that Facebook and other social media platforms just like it are an unprecedented source of evil–and they work tirelessly to convince others of this odd belief as well. When people fall prey to these beliefs, their actions can transform into a kind of extremism that most people in more developed regions of the world can’t even fathom.

These same religious leaders believe that women shouldn’t be allowed to use Facebook or any practice management software at all because it supposedly leads them towards a life filled with lust. Even so, there are nearly 8 million Facebook users residing in the country out of a population with only 32 million people. That’s a gigantic swath of people who are giving into temptation–if you believe in that sort of thing.

In the past, many of these profiles used aliases and fake pictures in order to avoid discrimination. Saudi officials have also moved to block Facebook entirely, but the measure did not pass. In 2016, Facebook Messenger was successfully banned because of privacy concerns.

The use of Facebook in Saudi Arabia and similar countries today is very different than it is in other regions throughout the world. If you share someone else’s post or tag them in content which they could find offensive or embarrassing, then you could end up the target of a defamation suit–or much worse. Even drinking is illegal in the country, and so photos of such behavior could get you in big legal trouble.

It’s important to realize how enormously different traditions are in other regions of the world, and we need to take a moment to consider how we can best implement meaningful change to make the lives of citizens who live in those regions a whole lot better. Facebook might be the first step towards reducing the number of honor killings, but only if we can effect change the right way.