Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Honour Based Violence – what is it? (1 December 2015)

Sadiq Bhanbhro

Honour Based Violence (HBV) is a sub-category of gender based violence. A majority of victims of HBV are women and girls, but it can also affect men and boys. Gender based violence is a widespread phenomenon in all societies around the world, however, its manifestations, forms and incidence differ widely in relation to place, time and context.

HBV has traditionally been identified a cultural problem. It is often considered an issue of some minority ethnic groups. However, a significant increase in the occurrence of HBV in many parts of the world and its detrimental impact on health and wellbeing of women, girls, communities and wider society; makes it a major public health concern. HBV can negatively affect emotional and mental wellbeing of women and girls if they are directly victimised themselves or witness to HBV as they may live in constant fear for their safety within households. This may deter their ability to access health care services.

The definition of HBV depends largely on the discipline used to describe it. For the purpose of this blog, I used a simple definition of HBV, the violence (physical or psychological or sexual) committed to defend the supposed honour or reputation of the family and/or community. It can take many forms, including: domestic abuse; threats of violence or death; sexual and psychological abuse; acid attacks; forced marriage; forced suicide; forced abortion; female genital cutting/mutilation; assault; blackmail, and being held against someone's will (Iranian and Kurdish Women's Rights Organisation, 2014; Metropolitan Police Service 2015). Killing of women and girls under the pretext of 'honour' is an extreme form of HBV (Bhanbhro et al. 2013). It is different from other forms of gender based violence since its peculiar characteristics are that it:
  • Receives normative support from respective cultures (Eisner & Ghuniem 2013) 
  • Collective and planned crime or incident (Iranian and Kurdish Women's Rights Organisation, 2014; Payton, 2014). 
  • Commonly committed against women and girls, by their family or community 
  • Violence committed under the perception that the victim (s) has brought shame to the family or/and community by engaging in a dishonourable act or behaviour (Abu‐Odeh, 2000). 
  • Committed by male family members (in some cases women are also involved)  
There is a range of acts and behaviours considered as 'dishonourable' and cause of violence, such as premarital sex, adultery, pregnancy out of wedlock, homosexuality; contact with a male stranger who is not relative, marrying without consent of parents and marrying outside the community.

The actual numbers of HBV cases are difficult to obtain and are inaccurate due to under-reporting of such incidents. The data on honour crimes from the UK police forces were obtained by an NGO, the figures revealed that more than 11,000 cases of honour crimes have been recorded between 2010 and 2014 (Iranian and Kurdish Women's Rights Organisation 2014).

Defining and presenting violence committed under pretext of 'honour' in cultural terms only creates hurdles to tackle this problem as it makes HBV a hypersensitive issue. It contributes to stigmatising and stereotyping certain cultures in Western countries, mainly black and ethnic minority groups. Therefore, a more explanatory and unprejudiced definition and understanding is needed to tackle HBV issue more pragmatically without controversy and burden of unnecessary sympathy of some cultural groups. Recognition and awareness of HBV as a public health problem and proper documentation of HBV cases are required.

Further, health and awareness raising programmes seek to adopt appropriate educational measures to challenge the narratives which govern peoples' behaviour and to modify social and cultural behaviours that sanction violence against women and girls in general and HBV in particular.


Abu‐Odeh, L. (2000). Crimes of honor and the construction of gender in Arab society. In Pinar, I. (Ed.), Women and sexuality in Muslim Society, Istanbul, Istanbul, pp. 363-380.

Bhanbhro, S., Wassan, M.R., Shah, M.A., Talpur, A.A. & Wassan, A.A. (2013). Karo-Kari - the murder of honour in Sindh Pakistan: An ethnographic study. International Journal of Asian Social Science, 3, 1467-1484.

Eisner, M. & Ghuniem, L. (2013). Honor killing attitudes amongst adolescents in Amman, Jordan. Aggressive Behaviour, 39, 405-417.

Iranian and Kurdish Women's Rights Organisation (2014). Postcode lottery: police recording of reported ‘honour’ based violence, http://ikwro.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/HBV-FOI-report-Post-code-lottery-04.02.2014-Final.pdf. (Accessed 11 October 2015).

Metropolitan Police Service (2015). Honour Based Violence: Get the facts. http://safe.met.police.uk/crimes_of_honour/get_the_facts.html (Accessed 11 October 2015).

Payton, J. (2014). “Honor”, collectivity, and agnation: Emerging risk factors in “Honor”- based violence. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 29, 2863-2883.

Author's profile

Sadiq Bhanbhro is a social anthropologist and holds Masters in Public Health. He has been working in public health, social science research and international development since last ten years in the UK and abroad. He has been working on various topics including political economy of health and wellbeing and violence (mainly gender and honour based violence), ethnicity, sexuality, media and culture.

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