Honour killings: how experts are working to end the violence

CALGARY- A movement is underway across the country to prevent honour killing, a culturally motivated act of violence often committed against young women.

In such cases, women are killed by their own family members, due to behavior considered ‘too western’ for their traditional families to bear.

The Alberta Community Crime Prevention Association (ACCPA) is now working to expose the issue and help train front line responders, victim service providers, and counselors.

Aruna Papp, an internationally recognized educator, has come to Calgary to conduct workshops. She herself is a survivor, after being raised in an honour-based family structure in India.

“By the time I was eight I saw two newborn baby girls in the garbage eaten by crows. When I was 14 I saw a beautiful, educated woman set on fire by her brother. My father’s name and honour came first, and he would not hesitate to dispose of the girls if we brought disgrace to his name.”

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After being forced into an arranged marriage, she sought help to escape, but few knew how to handle her situation. Now living in Toronto, Papp says it’s critical to understand the deeply rooted beliefs in certain cultures, in order to help victims.

“The manifestation of that violence is rooted in cultures, it’s all different,” she explains. “You may be abused in a domestic violence situation, but she doesn’t have genital mutilation. Her violence is different, how do you counsel her?”

She adds there is still somewhat of a stigma around the issue, but it’s happening right here in Canada.

“These are Canadian kids, they deserve to live a fearless life and deserve to have the same opportunity. I think we can talk about anybody’s culture, especially if lives are at risk.”

Some cases involve unlawful confinement and international abduction, forcing young Canadian women back to their homeland to marry.

“It’s an epidemic. We have had 19 honour killings in Canada in the last decade. In all developed countries, the highest rate of suicide is among South Asians—why do they come to developed countries and kill themselves? Because we are trained from birth to be self sacrificing…it’s so much easier to kill yourself then to humiliate the family.”

The issue of honour killing was thrust into the Canadian spotlight back in 2009, after four female members of the Shafia family were found dead in a canal in Ontario.

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Those with support agencies say if their staff aren’t aware of the cultural dynamics and sensitivities surrounding the case, it could cost someone their life.

“They just might miss reaching somebody,” explains Dr. John Winterdyk with ACCPA. “[If victims] don’t have the language, or are intimidated, they shut down, so that individual may end up being a dire victim.”

At least 5,000 honour killings are reported around the world each year, but it’s believed the actual number is far higher as many go unreported.

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