Family “honour” under the lockdown

For many women, home is a place that they can be themselves. After a long busy day in the office, most go home and take off their professional garb and let it all hang loose. They don’t have to watch what they say, how they say it or how they carry themselves. But home is not a place where everyone can let their hair down.

For women and girls living in ‘high control’ communities that have an honour-based ethos, non-conformity to honour codes can – and does – have life threatening consequences.

Many young people living within such communities live double lives. One inside their home, where they must conform to the rigid spoken and unspoken codes laid out for them, and another outside of their home, at school, college, university and work even. These are spaces where they can steal moments from their own lives to do they things that would otherwise be impermissible within the bound of their family or community.

With the closure of all educational institutions and most workplaces due to the current lockdown, the brief moments of freedom have abruptly ended for many people within these communities.

Communities that have this ‘honour’-based ethos have robust surveillance systems to monitor the movements and activities of women and young people of the community in order to maintain tight control over them. But what better surveillance can there be than having your family members at home in front of your eyes all of the time?

Women and girls from these communities are three times more likely to commit suicide than their counterparts from communities without such honour codes. This demonstrates the everyday pressure that such household and communities can create.

Punishments for breaching honour codes are dependent on they family’s status, outlook and  position within community hierarchies. For families that are the head of the community, punishments are likely to be more severe. They are likely to be more concerned about the reputation within the wider community. Responses to non-conformity can range from brushing an incident under the carpet and never speaking of it again, all the way to murder – and everything you can think of in between.

In the UK, the are an estimated twelve ‘honour’ killings a year, although I am certain that this is the tiniest tip of the iceberg. Due to the insularity of communities, the true extent of honour killings is unknown.  Furthermore, if women and girls are taken to their countries of origin to be murdered, as happened in the case of Samia Shahid, those cases are not recorded within UK figures.

Examples of acts that could be considered to be breaches of honour codes are behaviours like: ideological differences between parents and children, refusing an arranged marriage, relationships outside of the “approved” group, pregnancy, sexual relations, loss of virginity, homosexuality, westernised dress or makeup, having a boyfriend, disclosure of rape, causing gossip – to name just a few. For most people that do not belong to high-control communities, none of these acts would cause any backlash.

The most common punishment in the UK for breaching honour codes is either disownment or forced marriage. Forced marriages are used as a way of bringing the ’offender’ back into line. The age-old rationale within the community is that the burden of marriage forces the young person to ‘grow up’, although this is essentially a control tactic used to force conformity to honour codes.

The summer holidays are usually a high-risk period for those at danger of forced marriage. Organisations working to support those at facing potential forced marriages have ensured that education providers have been made aware about the risks during this period.

With education providers having closed their doors due to COVID-19 until the new academic year in September, families considering forced marriages have been gifted the time and an alibi to make all the necessary arrangements. Once the lockdown is over, they can move quickly to perform the ceremony. 

If you or someone you know is at risk, you need to know that there is still help available. Those at risk may be being closely monitored to ensure they cannot seek help, but support services are changing the way the operate to ensure those trapped in the home with abusers can still get the support they need.

All ‘honour’-based violence, forced marriage and domestic abuse services are still operating. If you or someone you know needs help please see the list of support service available below.

If someone is in immediate danger, please call 999.

Support services:

Forced Marriage Unit

Helpline: 020 7008 0151 (or 0044 20 7008 0151 if you are overseas)

Website: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/forced-marriage

Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation (IKWRO)  

Mon to Fri 9.30-5.30 – 0207 920 6460

Out of Hours:

Kurdish / Arabic/English: 07846 275246
Farsi / Dari / English: 07846 310157

Website: http://ikwro.org.uk/

Karma Nirvana

Helpline Monday – Friday 9am – 5pm 0800 5999 247 

Website: https://karmanirvana.org.uk/

Southall Black Sisters

Helpline: Mon, Wednesday and Friday 9:30am -4:30pm – 0208 571 0800

Website: https://southallblacksisters.org.uk/

Women’s Aid

National Domestic Violence Helpline – 0808 2000 247
The Men’s Advice Line, for male domestic abuse survivors – 0808 801 0327
The Mix, free information and support for under 25s in the UK – 0808 808 4994
National LGBT+ Domestic Abuse Helpline – 0800 999 5428

Website: https://www.womensaid.org.uk/information-support/