Honour-based Violence in Communities of Colour and How We Combat It

‘Honour-based violence’ is any act of violence that is committed under the guise of honour. It relies on what is called an honour-based value system, in which your reputation is of utmost importance and directly impacts how your family is seen within the community. 

As a result, anything that brings shame or dishonour on your family is worthy of punishment. This punishment can occur in many forms, such as emotional abuse, sexual or physical violence, making someone intentionally homeless or depriving them of resources. 

Honour-based violence acts as an umbrella term for several other harmful practices, such as forced marriage and female genital mutilation (FGM). We describe a harmful practice as a violent act steeped in tradition; something that has been happening for so long that it is now considered acceptable by some. 

Who is affected by honour based violence?

Anyone can be a victim of honour-based violence, but women and girls are disproportionately affected and most likely to be victims.

In most cases, the perpetrators of honour-based violence are family members of the person, as well as members of the wider community. It is also common to have multiple perpetrators. In extreme cases, honour-based violence can result in death or ‘honour-killings.’ In the U.K, there are approximately 12 honour-killings a year, but this does not account for the people who go missing or whose perpetrators are tried under different offences. The risk of homicide is almost always exceptionally high in cases of honour-based violence.

The problem with the word honour

To honour means to have high respect or great esteem for someone or something. 

When it comes to honour based violence though, the term honour is frequently put in inverted commas because there is nothing honourable about inflicting violence on someone. In this context, honour is heavily linked to reputation. Breaking cultural rules is a way of ruining your reputation, which is why people are often punished for challenging the status quo. 

The meaning of honour varies between communities. Concepts such as virginity and purity play important roles in the preservation of honour, as well as the idea of staying clean and innocent. There is a clear link between shame and sexual activity, but this often results in the punishment of women. 

What is the impact of honour based violence?

Like other forms of gender-based violence, honour-based violence is a manifestation of damaging elements of the patriarchy. The actions people are punished for are often sexist or homophobic and reinforce the gender binary, such as: having sex before marriage, having a partner your family do not approve of, not being heterosexual, not being cisgender and acting ‘promiscuously.’ 

No matter where we look in society, the bodies of women and marginalised people are continuously policed.  We tell women what to wear and how to act in order to be respected. We shame women for showing too much or too little of their bodies. We determine a woman's worth by her sexual history and anyone who is seen as ‘impure’ or ‘dirty’ is publicly scrutinised. From the catwalk to the classroom, we have a genuine culture of shame and blame. These beliefs are visible everywhere, which is why honour-based violence is not just an issue for communities of colour. 

Not just an issue for communities of colour

Honour-based violence is not an issue of ‘us versus them.’ It is not just an issue that happens in remote parts of the world to people who are ‘not educated enough’ to know better. These beliefs are damaging and dangerous - this fear of judgement is often what stops people from asking for help. Our discussions on honour-based violence often allow for many harmful stereotypes to be reinforced, which we must work hard to confront. Every culture can be guilty of reinforcing the patriarchy, we just go about it in different ways. 

In order to reduce the risk of discrimination, the majority of organisations that support survivors of honour-based violence are culturally specific and run by and for Black, Asian and Ethnic Minority people. Communities of colour also struggle to trust certain statutory services, like the police or social services. There is also a great fear of not being believed, as historically honour-based violence has not been treated like a valid form of violence. Other factors, such as immigration status, also act as a barrier to support, as people with fragile immigration statuses are trapped by the fear of losing their rights. 

What to do if you’re worried about honour based violence

If you are worried that you, or someone you care about, is experiencing (or at risk of experiencing) honour based violence, here are some steps you can take:

  1. Signpost them to a specialist service, as they are able to take these additional barriers into support and offer a non-judgemental and trauma informed approach to healing. 
  2. If the person is under the age of 18, speak to the Designated Safeguarding Lead of their school or college 
  3. Contact the police in an emergency or social services. 

Like all forms of violence, honour-based violence is unacceptable and must stop. This can only be achieved through education and awareness, as well as a collective effort to challenge harmful behaviours in our communities.  

You can access a range of support services on Spark and Co here.

This post was written by one of our Community Ambassadors, Ammaarah Zayna. Artwork provided by Khadija Said.

Find out more about Ammaarah and Khadija here.