While I was writing about honour killing and the reaction of parents to ‘the wrong’ partner, I had to think more about the meaning of honour in these situations. How come a girl loses her honour when she has sex with a boy that does not fit? How come honour is connected with having sex at all, willingly or not?
In the cases that I described in the last days, the family feels that the girl has lost her honour because she married and had intercourse with a boy of a wrong caste or a wrong religion. Often they also believe that one should only have sex after marrying. These thoughts all come together and make parents believe that the girl lost her honour and dishonoured them right away, too.
In western countries and with Muslim families I have heard that it is mainly the fact that girls have sex before marriage which is seen as the ‘loss of honour’. When the family gets to know that the daughter has slept with someone, they get angry and feel this loss of honour very much.
There is another situation in which people speak of losing honour and that is when a girl gets raped. In India we say ‘izzat loot li’, which means that her honour was stolen or robbed. This term is only used when a girl was raped. When a girl was touched on her intimate parts, the Hindi expression is, someone put a hand on her honour.
This all was going on in my mind and ended up with the question why a woman’s virginity or her sexual purity is called her honour? If someone with a sick mentality rapes a girl, how come her honour is gone? It is not her fault and you punish her, the real victim, even further by saying this! Which power does this man, the rapist, have over a woman so that he can take her honour? Her honour should not be so easy to steal from her! In my opinion it should be the other way around! By doing this crime, he has lost all his honour! She could not protect herself and was abused but how did she lose her honour?
Another aspect is that nobody ever says that for a man! That boy who ran away with the girl, what about his honour? Was it also lost along with the girl’s honour? No! He is the culprit, the one who stole the honour and she may have helped by voluntarily giving up her honour. But what about him?
I usually understand honour as something related to your dignity, to a straight and honest way of living and not related only to your sexuality. Why would a woman be dishonoured if she had sex with the one she loves even if they are not married? Can she not live in dignity anymore? Why would a woman be dishonoured if she was raped? Which part of her honest lifestyle could the abuser take from her?
These all are thoughts that crossed my mind and which convinced me that we should not use this word too lightly. Think about its meaning, think about the woman you are talking about!