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The Psychology Behind Honour Killing


Honour killing, a crime that has always been a part of society as a mark of shame, is the murder of a family member (typically female) by male family members in order to maintain or preserve the honour and respect of the family in society. According to the UNPF 5,000 women and girls are killed annually in the name of honor. 

Honour killing is not only a crime or murder, but it signifies the strong influence of society and its norms, control, power, and gender inequality. The concept of Honor is closely associated with the dignity and reputation of family, individual, community, culture, and religion, and violating any standards results in such killings. 

This article aims to understand the psychology behind honour killing and what motivates the perpetrators to commit such crimes against their own family members. 

Read More: Psychological Impact of Human Rights Violations

Causes of Honor Killing 

The most common reason for honour killing is the violation of the norms and expectations set by family, culture, society, and religion. These norms or rules are very strict and often associated with women’s sexual conduct, modesty, appropriate clothing, marriage and relationships. Here are some reasons that may lead a person to commit such crimes: 

  • Shame and Punishment: Shame is a social emotion that incorporates feelings of worthlessness, humiliation, and disrespect. It is the strongest factor that leads to honour killings. Any woman or girl behaving in a way that brings dishonour to the family is considered an act of shame. These behaviours are particularly related to the modesty and sexual conduct of females. To eliminate shame, the girl is killed in the name of honour. This act is perceived as justice for the family by punishing the person who brought shame. The act is also seen as a means of successfully restoring honour in the eyes of society and the community. 
  • Social Pressure: Failing to maintain the honour of family often leads to fear of judgements by society, loss of status & reputation and rejection. This consistent social pressure to adhere to societal norms and gain social acceptance can drive people to commit crimes. 
  • Control and Power: Sometimes, such crimes represent the power and control of patriarchal expectations. They are used to set examples that not obeying certain rules and regulations can have negative consequences. 

Read More: The Psychology behind Aggressive Behaviour

Psychological Insights Into Perpetrators of Honor Killing

While any crime is considered unpleasant, it’s very important to understand the motivation behind the crime which reveals insights about their psychological state and thought process: 

  • Authoritarian Patriarchal Trait: Any behaviour by women that is deviant is considered a threat to the patriarchal structures that seek to control women and their sexual behaviour. Women’s deviance can shake the male authority in society, this perception can lead people to take extreme steps to maintain honour in society. 
  • Lack of Empathy: Often the lack of empathy and affection towards the victim plays an important role. Witnessing the independence and empowerment of victims within patriarchal beliefs creates a sense of insecurity and hatred towards the victim. 
  • Cognitive Dissonance: Cognitive Dissonance is the mental discomfort experienced by people when they have two conflicting thoughts or beliefs. This internal conflict can lead to psychological and emotional disturbances ultimately driving them to take extreme steps.  

Example 1:

  • Thought 1: She is my sister. 
  • Thought 2: I should punish her for her misconduct. 

Example 2:

  • Thought 1: Sex before marriage is wrong. 
  • Thought 2: Sex is a physiological need. 

Read More: How Media Influences Women’s Empowerment

Impact on Family, Accuse and Community 

Honour killings form cycles of patriarchy, fear and mistrust. Its impact on families, the accused and the community is severe and long-lasting: 

  • Family: honour killing has a deep impact on the immediate family members causing them to suffer double grief– the pain of losing a loved one with the heartbreaking reality of one’s family member involved in it. 
  • Accuse: the accused in honour killing faces serious legal consequences and societal criticism. The pressure to uphold the family’s honour and criticism by the same society for an act to restore honour often puts the person in a state of confusion and guilt.  
  • Community: the impact on the community is long-lasting, it reflects deep-rooted patriarchal beliefs and social injustice that have always been part of society.

Real-Life Cases/Examples of Honor Killing 

Honour killings are sadly not rare, but the level of attention people have given to this crime is highly appreciable. The media has always gained the attention of the public, but sometimes crimes like honour killing go unnoticed. It is the media that has shed light on societal injustice. Here are the real and the most famous cases of Honor Killing that prove the bitter reality of  injustice norms, traditions and culture: 

The First Social Media Celebrity of Pakistan Qandeel Baloch: 

Fouzia Azeem aka Qandeel Baloch was a famous social media star of Pakistan, known for her bold and sexually enticing content on social media. She became the first celebrity from the Islamic Republic of Pakistan who openly and actively violated and challenged the patriarchal norms and rules. Throughout her life, she never had support from her family. There were instances of brutal physical and verbal abuse. 

Qandeel wanted to pursue acting but was forced by her family to marry a guy from her village. After spending 1 year in the marriage, Fouzia decided to run away from her abusive husband, leaving her 1-year-old child behind. After her initial work on television did not get her the fame she wanted, she began making videos on social media, generally talking and giving her views on people and situations. However, these videos were sexually enticing and did not fit the norms made by males of Pakistan. After her first video went viral, she never stopped and became Pakistan’s first social media star. 

Her family, specifically her younger brother, was not happy with her work and threatened to kill her. Qandeel’s video with an Islamic clerk became the reason for her murder, millions in Pakistan and India criticized the video. On July 16, 2016 qandeel’s younger brother strangled her to death claiming that she crossed every limit of shame and brought dishonor to the family.  The death of Qandeel Baloch reveals the bitter realities of gender-based violence in Pakistan.

Read More: Psychology Behind Inequality

Qandeel Baloch’s case reveals that honour killing is not limited to the poor, backward or uneducated people. They can occur in urban areas, affect celebrities, and be committed by an educated person. Instead, honour killing is rather rooted in patriarchal norms and gender inequality. 

References +
  • Barmaki, R. (2021). Sex, Honor, Murder: A Psychology of “Honor killing”. Deviant Behavior, 42(4), 473-491.
  • Dyer, E. (2015). Honour Killings in the UK. London: Henry Jackson Society. 
  • Hongdao, Q., Khaskheli, M. B., Rehman Saleem, H. A., Mapa, J. G., & Bibi, S. (2018). Honour killing phenomena in Pakistan. JL Pol’y & Globalization, 73, 169. 
  • Langah, N. T., & Umrani, S. (2022). Gender, Sexuality and Representation in Pakistani Literature: Qandeel Baloch as a Victim of Honor Killing. Journal of International Women’s Studies, 24(6), 13. 
  • Roberts, K. (2014). Towards a psychologically oriented motivational model of honour-based violence. In ‘Honour’killing and violence: Theory, policy and practice (pp. 69-88). London: Palgrave Macmillan UK.
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