Healing Gaia

Help End Honour Based Violence

Honour-based violence and killings differ from domestic violence because the community knows and supports it.

By Doreen Nicoll
Published February 27, 2014

this article has been updated

The next International Women's Day is Saturday, March 8, 2014. The theme for this year is inspiring change. I hope that my words will inspire you to find ways to eradicate the gendered violence many women in our community live with day in and day out.

I'm an immigrant from Glasgow, Scotland. I grew up in Ajax. I'm 5' 1", 110 pounds and the highest level of education I have is a bachelor of education. In short, I'm a skinny white woman who has been known to be outspoken on more than one occasion. And, I am okay with that because it gives me a certain amount of privilege, independence and power.

A decade ago I told my husband of 13 years that I wanted a divorce. He didn't take it well. He was a second generation Canadian of Scots-Irish descent. He tried for six months to make this problem go away. When he decided that his efforts were futile he tried to make me disappear.

A lot of thought and planning went into his scheme. Credit card companies were contacted to cancel my cards on my birthday. Bank accounts were cleaned out and closed - you only need one signature to close a joint account. Both cars were in his name and I was threatened with arrest if I took one.

I was homeless, had $6 in my pocket and the clothes on my back. But I had family, friends and a community that supported me.

I moved in with my neighbour and friend. I lived with her and her family for ten months. When my husband told my cousin, "the only way to get Doreen help is to find her in a pool of blood," I moved to a 'safe' house in a different part of Burlington.

I was to live with my girlfriend's mother for two or three months while the lawyers hammered things out. Twelve months later I had a 19 day divorce trial, and six weeks later was awarded sole custody of my five children, exclusive possession of the matrimonial home, and the old, beaten-up Windstar which I still drive today.

From the bottom of my heart, thank you Justice Kenneth Langdon!

Honour Based Violence

Contrast my life and experience with a woman coming to Canada from South Asia. She comes here as part of a clan or extended family. This clan is not the nostalgic, ceremonial clan of modern Scots; this clan has power, is far-reaching and can mean the difference between life and death for women.

Honour Based Violence (HBV) and Killings (HBK) differ dramatically from domestic violence. In many South Asian countries women are the vessels for family honour. If they bring dishonour to the family then honour must be restored.

There's a saying that women are silk and men are gold. When silk is dropped into mud it's tainted forever. When gold is dropped into mud the dirt can be washed away.

Dishonour could take the form of wearing make-up and perfume. This is not enough to have you killed. Becoming too Westernized, speaking to boys or men outside of the family, dating, refusing an arranged marriage, marrying for love, marrying below your caste, asking for a divorce are very serious ways to bring dishonour to the family.

The offending woman must be sacrificed for the good of the group in order to restore honour.

Patriarchs Decide Woman's Fate

HBK differ from domestic violence in that a family council meeting will be held and the patriarchs will decide the woman's fate. Blood relatives will carry out the murder. This may be her father, brother, cousins, but the husband is generally not involved in her murder.

Women within the family and community participate. Think of the Shafia family honour killings that took place June 30, 2009 in Kingston, Ontario. The father, mother and brother planned and carried out the murder of the 3 sisters and the husband's first wife. These murders were a warning to South Asian women across Canada to behave or be dead.

HBK differ from domestic violence because the community knows and supports it. Women in these communities are often socially isolated. They lack a social safety net. They will be ostracized by family and community members until their death.

Where do they go to for help? They're not to talk about family issues outside the family. Contacting a social worker, school counsellor, or the police is reason enough to kill her. They're under constant surveillance thanks to the extended clan and cell phones - used to photograph her in compromising situations or searched to see who she has been phoning and texting. Community members may purposely mislead the police when investigating an Honour Killing.

Collectively Organized Crime

Not all Scots-Irish men are abusive. Similarly, not all South Asian men and clans are abusive. Honour Based Violence has been identified in 56 countries including Canada. It can be found in Christian, Muslim, Hindu and Sikh communities. The patriarchs tend to be well-educated, which means that they have the most status and honour to lose.

Honour Based Violence is a collectively organized crime that requires immediate response. We need training and policies within all agencies dealing with violence against women including the police, social workers, the crown attorney, children's aid, shelter workers and school counsellors.

As a skinny white woman of privilege, I cannot stand by and let my South Asian sisters suffer. Some may say that I'm a racist but let's put that to rest right now. Not paying attention to the plight of South Asian women is racism. Not naming and speaking about Honour Based Violence and Killings for what it is, that's racism!

On International Women's Day, please take the time to watch the documentary Banaz: A Love Story. This British documentary about 19-year-old Banaz Mahamod will help you understand Honour Based Violence and Killings.

More importantly, it will keep Banaz from being wiped off the face of the earth. Everyone who watches Banaz's death unfold before their eyes has been given the responsibility to keep her name alive.

Update: I would like to apologize for failing to acknowledge Aruna Papp as the source for all of the information regarding the South Asian community.

Aruna Papp's expertise in this area comes from her lived experience as well as the extensive research and counselling that she has done over the years.

Aruna Papp provides training in the area of honour based violence to workers and volunteers working in the area of violence against women.

Doreen Nicoll is a feminist and a member of several community organizations working diligently to end poverty, hunger and gendered violence.


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By Robert D (anonymous) | Posted February 27, 2014 at 16:41:14

Thank you for speaking up and sharing your story with us all.

I hope for the day when no one will have to endure these kinds of abuse and violence.

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By Doreen (registered) | Posted February 28, 2014 at 15:38:01

I'd like to clarify that the information regarding South Asian honour based violence, the saying, and the video that is cited in this article are from a 2 day conference that I attended in January 2014. Aruna Papp presented her research so that those of us from outside this community could better understand this form of gendered violence.

Aruna Papp is the expert on South Asian honour based violence from her lived experience and also through her extensive research in this area.

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By Jane (anonymous) (anonymous) | Posted March 08, 2014 at 00:32:39


I just read Doreen's Nicoll's courageous story and then watched the video about Banaz Mahamod. When the honour killings happened in Kingston, I couldn't believe it and thought Canada had allowed a rich monster man(with his family) to immigrate to Canada. The video helped me to understand how much control there is over women in some Eastern cultures and the immigrant male identity crisis which promotes this in western societies. The potential of extreme violence results in fear pervading and silencing the whole community with the exception of a few who speak openly and therefore start to dissolve this terrible problem. I admire those brave people very much, and also the dedicated,unrelenting police team who solved the case and extradited the young men and who offered friendship to Banaz's sister. There is a responsibility for all Canadians, Britons, Europeans, etc. to speak about this issue of minority community repression and to desire better women's rights with minority communities in harmony with that. Thanks so much for the article and for the link to the documentary.

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