Honor Killings: A Historical Perspective and Modern Tragedy

Are there examples in ancient history of honor killing?

Honor killings, which involve the murder of a family member, usually a woman, by other family members because of a perceived violation of social or cultural norms, have occurred in various societies throughout history. While the practice is not exclusive to any one time period, culture, or region, it has been documented in several ancient civilizations.

One notable example is the practice of honor killings in ancient Rome. Roman society placed a high value on family honor and reputation. In cases where a family member, especially a woman, was believed to have brought shame or dishonor to the family through actions such as adultery or engaging in relationships deemed unacceptable, it was not uncommon for the family to resort to honor killings to restore their reputation.

Cases of honor killings can also be found in ancient Greece. The concept of “porneia,” which encompassed various forms of sexual transgression, was considered a serious offense that could bring shame to a family. In such cases, the family might decide to kill the offending family member, usually a woman, to protect their honor.

It’s important to note that while these historical examples exist, honor killings are not limited to ancient times. Tragically, they continue to occur in some societies around the world today, despite being widely condemned as human rights violations.

Honor Killings: A Historical Perspective and Modern Tragedy

In the shadowy depths of human history and the harsh realities of the modern world, a chilling phenomenon known as honor killing has plagued societies across time and across borders. This deeply disturbing practice involves the murder of a family member, often a woman, by other family members for perceived violations of social or cultural norms. In this article, we will examine the historical origins of honor killings, explore their cultural context, examine contemporary cases, and highlight efforts to combat this tragic phenomenon.

Ancient Shadows: Honor Killings in Historical Civilizations

Roman Reflections: Uncovering Honor Killings in Ancient Rome

In ancient Roman society, family honor and reputation were of immense importance. Cases in which a family member, especially a woman, was believed to have brought shame or dishonor through actions such as adultery or engaging in forbidden relations often led to the use of honor killings as a means of restoring the family’s reputation.

The tragic story of ancient Greece

In ancient Greece, the concept of “porneia,” which encompassed various forms of sexual transgression, was considered a serious offense that could bring shame to a family. In such cases, families sometimes resorted to honor killings, tragically targeting the offending family member, usually a woman, in a misguided attempt to protect their honor.

Cultural Context: Understanding Motivations

Social and Cultural Norms

Honor killings are rooted in deeply entrenched social and cultural norms that dictate acceptable behavior within particular communities. These norms often revolve around concepts of family honor, female purity, and strict adherence to societal expectations.

Gender Roles and Patriarchy

Honor killings are inextricably linked to gender inequality and patriarchal structures. Women, who bear the burden of upholding family honor, face disproportionate scrutiny and control over their lives, making them vulnerable to violence in the name of preserving honor.

Protecting family honor

In many cultures, honor is considered a valuable asset that represents a family’s standing in society. Honor killings, tragically driven by the mistaken belief that such acts will restore or preserve family honor, stem from a desire to maintain social status and reputation.

From history to modern tragedy: The Persistence of Honor Killings

Global prevalence

The tragic reality of honor killings extends beyond ancient civilizations. This article sheds light on the contemporary incidence of honor killings, which continue to occur in various parts of the world and transcend geographic boundaries.

Societal Factors

Multiple factors contribute to the perpetuation of honor killings today, including traditional beliefs, societal pressures, economic disparities, religious influences, and a lack of legal and institutional support. Understanding these complex dynamics is critical to developing effective strategies to combat this serious problem.

Legal and human rights perspectives

Governments, human rights organizations, and activists have recognized honor killings as a serious human rights violation. Efforts are being made to strengthen legal frameworks, raise awareness, provide support to victims, and challenge the cultural norms that perpetuate this tragedy.

Condemnation and advocacy: Seeking Justice and Change

Human Rights Violations

The international community has increasingly condemned honor killings as a violation of fundamental human rights, demanding greater awareness, accountability, and action from governments and societies worldwide.

Grassroots movements

Grassroots organizations and activists are at the forefront of the fight against honor killings. Through advocacy, education, and support services, they strive to empower victims, challenge societal norms, and promote a world free from the shackles of honor-based violence.

Examples of Modern Honor Killings

Qandeel Baloch (Pakistan, 2016)

Qandeel Baloch, a Pakistani social media influencer, was strangled to death by her brother in a so-called “honor killing.” Baloch had become famous for challenging social norms and expressing herself boldly on platforms such as Facebook and YouTube. Her murder sparked outrage and brought international attention to the issue of honor killings in Pakistan.

Banaz Mahmod (United Kingdom, 2006)

Banaz Mahmod, a young British Kurdish woman, was brutally murdered by members of her family for bringing “shame” on their honor. She had sought a divorce from her abusive husband and entered into a relationship with someone her family did not approve of. Her tragic story highlights the prevalence of honor killings within immigrant communities in the UK.

Du’a Khalil Aswad (Iraq, 2007)

Du’a Khalil Aswad, a Yazidi teenager, was stoned to death by a mob in a videotaped honor killing. The incident occurred when she attempted to convert to Islam and marry a Muslim man outside her Yazidi community. The horrific footage of her murder was widely circulated and drew attention to the targeted violence faced by religious and ethnic minorities.

Fadime Sahindal (Sweden, 2002)

Fadime Sahindal, a Swedish-Kurdish woman, was shot and killed by her father in an honor killing. Sahindal had refused an arranged marriage and sought to live an independent life, which clashed with her family’s expectations. Her tragic death prompted Sweden to introduce stricter laws and measures to combat honor-based violence.

Zeinab Sekaanvand (Iran, 2016)

Zeinab Sekaanvand, an Iranian woman, was executed for allegedly killing her abusive husband. Her case highlighted systemic issues, including the lack of legal protections and support for victims of domestic violence in Iran. Despite her claims of self-defense, she was convicted and sentenced to death, raising concerns about the justice system’s response to honor crimes.

Grassroots Organizations Combatting Honor Killings

The Honor Based Violence Awareness Network (HBVA)

HBVA is an international organization dedicated to raising awareness about honor-based violence, including honor killings. They provide resources, training, and support to professionals and organizations working in the field. HBVA also advocates for policy change and promotes dialogue to challenge harmful cultural practices.

Karma Nirvana

Karma Nirvana is a UK-based charity that supports victims of honor-based abuse and forced marriage. They provide a helpline, counseling services, and outreach programs to raise awareness and provide support to individuals facing threats or violence due to perceived honor issues.

Women Living Under Muslim Laws (WLUML)

WLUML is an international solidarity network that works to empower women and combat violence and discrimination. They actively address issues related to honor killings and promote women’s rights through research, advocacy, and support for grassroots initiatives.

Center for Egyptian Women’s Legal Aid (CEWLA)

CEWLA is an Egyptian organization that focuses on women’s rights and combating gender-based violence, including honor killings. They provide legal aid, counseling, and awareness campaigns to challenge harmful traditions and promote justice and equality.

SACH – Struggle for Change

SACH is a Pakistani organization dedicated to eradicating violence against women, including honor killings. They provide legal aid, safe houses, and counseling to victims, while also engaging in advocacy and community education to challenge societal norms that perpetuate violence.

The Purple Rose Campaign

The Purple Rose Campaign, based in the United States, is dedicated to raising awareness and ending honor-based violence, including honor killings. They work with survivors, activists, and organizations to promote education, advocacy, and support for victims.


The existence of honor killings, both in historical and modern contexts, serves as a sobering reminder of the deep-rooted social, cultural, and gender inequalities that persist in societies around the world. These heinous acts, driven by a misguided notion of preserving family honor, have claimed the lives of countless individuals, mostly women, who dared to challenge societal norms or assert their autonomy.

An examination of the historical origins of honor killings reveals the practice’s longstanding presence, rooted in notions of family reputation and societal expectations. Ancient civilizations such as Rome and Greece provide historical evidence of the tragic consequences faced by individuals who deviated from prescribed social norms, with women in particular bearing the brunt of these killings.

In the modern era, honor killings continue to plague communities around the world and transcend geographic boundaries. These acts of violence reflect a complex interplay of cultural, social, economic, and legal factors. Societal pressures, gender inequality, and the perpetuation of patriarchal norms contribute to the tragic reality faced by victims.

But alongside the darkness, there is hope. Grassroots organizations, human rights activists, and advocacy groups are working tirelessly to combat honor killings. They provide critical support to victims, raise awareness, challenge harmful cultural practices, and advocate for legal reforms. Their unwavering commitment serves as a beacon of hope for a future in which the value of human life and individual autonomy supersedes outdated notions of honor.

Eradicating honor killings requires a multifaceted approach. It includes comprehensive legal frameworks that criminalize and prosecute perpetrators, educational initiatives that challenge harmful beliefs and norms, and support systems that empower victims and provide them with safety and resources.

The fight against honor killings is not just a fight against a specific form of violence; it is a broader struggle for gender equality, human rights, and social justice. By addressing the underlying factors that perpetuate these crimes, societies can move toward a future where every individual, regardless of gender or cultural background, can live free from the fear of violence and the imposition of archaic notions of honor.

Together, through collective effort, awareness, and sustained advocacy, we can strive for a world where honor is redefined as a celebration of compassion, equality, and respect, rather than a justification for brutal acts of violence.


Where did Honour killings originate?

Honor killings are believed to have originated from tribal customs. They are prevalent in various parts of the world, as well as in immigrant communities in countries which do not otherwise have societal norms that encourage honor killings.

Which religions believe in honor killing?

What World Religions Practice Honor Killings?

  • Islam. This is the first religion that pops up when it comes to honor killings, and it has a rich history with the concept. …
  • Judaism. …
  • Christianity.


Which country has most Honour killings?

Pakistan has the highest number of documented and estimated honour killings per capita of any country in the world; about one-fifth of the world’s honour killings are committed in Pakistan (1,000 out of the 5,000 per year total).

Which countries do Honour killings?

A 2009 report by the Council of Europe cited the United Kingdom, Germany, Belgium, France, and Norway as countries where honor crimes and honor killings occur. France traditionally provided for leniency concerning honor crimes, particularly when they were committed against women who had committed adultery.

In what cultures is honour crime legal?

While in both India and Pakistan there have been a great deal of discussion around ‘honour’ killings, India has taken more assertive legal action, including awarding the death penalty to large numbers of persons who have colluded in murder.

Is honour killing legal in Pakistan?

Honor killings were officially outlawed in Pakistan in 2004, yet persistent cultural norms and a legal loophole that allowed perpetrators to be forgiven by a victim’s family and set free made it possible for honor killings to persist.

What is the reason for honour killing?

There are various motivations for honour killing like, love marriage, inter caste marriage, homosexuality, divorce, disobeying elders, arguing with elders, choice of clothes, roaming with people, staying away from home till late etc. It was also found that people have different perception of honour.

Is honour crime legal in the UK?

Forced marriages and honour violence

Laws to prevent forced marriages and provide a way out for those already in unconsented unions were introduced in England, Wales and Northern Ireland in November 2008. Anybody convicted of trying to force someone into a marriage could be jailed for up to two years.

How many honor killings happen in India?

Union Minister of State for Home Ajay Kumar Mishra said that there were as many as 145 incidents of “honour killing” in the country between . As many as 145 incidents of “honour killing”, including 50 in Jharkhand, took place in the country between , Lok Sabha was informed on Tuesday.

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