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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

2009, Vol.1, No.1 .

?Honour? Crimes, Paradigms, and Violence Against Women
Lynn Welchman and Sara Hossain (eds.)

(Zed Books: London, 2005) 384 pp, PB, 19.99
ISBN 978-1842776278

?Violence against women? is not a new topic of discussion. This book, however, addresses the phenomena of violence against women in an innovative, challenging and unique manner. Specifically, it addresses ?crimes of honour?. It provides an analysis of the complex issues surrounding these crimes and examines the problems which limit the ability of domestic, regional and international regimes to make clear their condemnation of both the individual perpetrators and governments that sanction or tolerate such crimes.

This volume is comprised of 16 contributions by authors from various disciplines and contexts. This much-needed volume provides invaluable insight as to how we should understand the concept of ?crimes of honour? as it predominately affects women, young girls and infant female children in various contexts throughout the world. It is important to note that while this book considers the current popular association of ?crimes of honour? within Muslim-majority societies or communities, it endeavours to move away from this association by devoting specific chapters to examining the widespread incidence of such crimes and recent struggles to combat them among Christian majority communities in Latin America and Southern Europe, as well as similar, long-standing efforts among Sikh and Hindu communities in India.

Significantly, this book also challenges inherent socially accepted biases that ?crimes of honour? merely involve ?honour killings? whereby women are killed by male family members for their perceived or actual immoral behaviour. Using a law-focussed approach, it acknowledges that the definition of ?crimes of honour? is by no-means straightforward. In the book it is used to describe an array of crimes that are ?justified? through recourse to ?a concept of ?honour? vested in male (family and/or conjugal) control over women and specifically women?s sexual conduct: actual, suspected or potential? (4). Furthermore, this book continues to contribute to the theoretical discourse by appreciably acknowledging that women may commit ?crimes of honour? and that men can also be the victims of such dishonourable crimes.

This book also challenges constructs of the female as passive by including accounts of women providing funding for, and actively engaging in, campaigns to give a voice to women?s rights during periods of armed conflicts. While such efforts are welcome developments and have made an impact in certain societies, Nadera Shalhoub-Kevorkian, Nazand Begikhani and Aide Touma-Sliman all document the reduced attention activists are able to give (and attract) to women?s issues and rights in times of military hostilities and when national entities or communities are threatened.

The various authors in this volume succeed in their aim of contributing to an understanding of not only ?crimes of honour? but also of gender-based violence as a distinct phenomenon. This collection adds significantly to the existing literature on honour killings, gender-based violence and violence against women in general by providing invaluable personal accounts of women?s experiences of violence that emphasise the impact of tribal and patriarchal views on individuals, families, communities and the state legal system. The use of case studies and statistics provide an insight into the culture of patriarchal and conflict-based societies and the influence that such factors have had on women?s status in the family and community in general.

The emphasis throughout the book centres on the paradox that while women are inhibited by shame, family honour and the very real fear of death from giving evidence or seeking state protection, it is only through the use of legal structures that the seriousness of crimes of violence against women will be acknowledged. This book has a great deal to say; ultimately it deepens our understanding of the many faces of violence against women and urges reform of existing patriarchal social, political and legal structures which ultimately serve to subordinate women.

As such, this book is profoundly valuable as a documentation of the suffering endured by women throughout the world in the name of ?honour?. It stands as an important marker in the fields of gender-based violence, state accountability and cultural theory. It is a thought-provoking read and should be read by all with any special interest in overcoming violence against women, particularly in the so-called private sphere.

Shauna Page, PhD Research Student & TJI Affiliate, University of Ulster

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