Dr. Rezvan Moghaddam has been through it all. As an activist for women’s rights in Iran, her efforts to restore gender equality have only been met with dangerous hindrance: numerous occasions of being arrested and harassed by Iranian security forces; being banned from teaching and presenting her research on women’s empowerment; and a particular occasion in 2007 when she was arrested and convicted of “acting against national security” and “conspiracy” in Iran. Her sentence was six months in jail accompanied by 10 lashes.
The University of Connecticut’s Dodd Human Rights Impact, an outreach program known to “[foster] a culture of human rights at UConn, in Connecticut and around the world,” was pleased to host Moghaddam at their latest webinar titled “Stop Honor Killings” on Tuesday afternoon, an event that shared the name of the campaign Moghaddam launched just last year. Honor killings, which Moghaddam introduced early into the event, are defined as the “murder of a member of a family — mostly women — because of [the] perpetrator’s belief that the victim has brought shame or disgrace to the family.”
“The perpetrators of honor killings are often male family members — fathers, husbands, brothers or other male family,” Moghaddam said. “In order to preserve the family or tribal honor, it must be said that in rare occasions, men are also murdered by other male family members under the same pretext. Of course, in rare cases, women may commit honor killings.”
According to Moghaddam, honor killings are the most severe form of violence against women and the LGBTQIA+ community. While those who identify as LGBTQIA+ are mainly targeted for “engaging in non-heterosexual relations,” there are quite a few reasons behind the aim toward women.
“Typical reasons include: divorcing or separating from their spouse; refusing to enter a marriage, child marriage or forced marriage; being in a relationship or having an association with a social group outside the family that is strongly disapproved by one’s family; having premarital or extramarital sex; becoming the victim of rape or sexual assault,” Moghaddam said.
Moghaddam then listed statistics from a 2017 United Nations report on honor killings, where about 86,000 women were killed — 50,000 by family members. Her personal research has found most victims to be aged between 14 and 40, with a number of common methods being used to carry out these crimes, including acid attacks, stoning, poisoning, firearms and knives.
The deplorable state of honor killings is not just due to their targeted intentions toward sexual minorities, but also the fact that the weight of these crimes are undermined by their unjustifiably light consequences. Honor killings are accepted in the name of traditional gender-based beliefs on masculinity and superiority, occurring more often in countries under Islamic law. Thus, honor killings are seen less as a violation of human rights and more as an inherent way for men to treat women or LGBTQIA+ individuals.
Stories of survivors like Zivar Parvin and Farideh (whose last name was not included in order to protect anonymity) are a testament to the inadequate sentencing received by their perpetrators, as well as the mental and physical adversities that both women still face after their incidents. Acid was poured on Parvin and her 18-year-old daughter, Yasry, in the middle of the night by a man that Parvin had rejected romantically. Yasry later died of her injuries and Parvin now lives alone in destitution, left physically deformed by the attack and with no justice for her case.
Farideh, after facing a forced marriage filled with abuse, was attacked by her husband at their local bakery. He attempted to behead her, managing to slit her throat in the process. The scars on her neck now attract lots of attention, and she gave up on court and police station visits after filing a complaint about the incident. Her desperate desires for divorce were stifled by her family’s forbiddance and she eventually went back to live with her perpetrator and her children, facing the same abuse she did before.
Aghil Bayat was another name mentioned by Moghaddam, whose partner Alireza was killed by his own family members. Although Bayat thinks that Alireza’s desire to leave Iran was a contributing factor, it was ultimately Alireza’s expression of his sexuality that caused his family to turn on him.
“The way Alireza dressed ruined his father and brother’s reputation,” Bayat said.
Even after Bayat sought treatment for his poor mental health as a gay man in Iran, his psychologist recommended harmful methods such as electroshock therapy and inducing a forced relationship with a woman.
Moghaddam also noted the significant implications brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has actually perpetuated gender-based violence.
“[Social isolation] has caused women to be in a closed and unsuitable environment with their abusers for a long time during the quarantine period,” Moghaddam said. “There is no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic has intensified all forms of gender-based violence …”
Moghaddam’s fervent research in the matter, along with her active listening of survivors’ stories, eventually led her to launch “Stop Honor Killings” in 2020, a campaign with its message directly communicated through its name. Educational pamphlets, goals, statements and events can all be found on the campaign’s website at https://stophonorkillings.org/. PayPal donations can be made through the site as well.
“Our campaign demands an end to killing women and LGBTQ [people] in order to preserve the man’s ‘honor’,” Moghaddam read from the campaign statement. “Changing culture through an overhaul of the curriculum for public education, teaching the concept of equal rights for all and providing practical instructions at all levels are crucial components of the desired transformation. Removing discriminatory laws from the legislations and replacing them with the international standards of equality, human rights and fundamental freedoms are also other necessary steps to be taken.”
Moghaddam additionally emphasized the importance of literature and social media in combating issues of gender-based violence. When it comes to undoing a culture that views women as inferior, men are the ones who specifically need to be involved in the re-educating process.
Overall, “Stop Honor Killings” does a great job in delivering a fundamental aspect of human rights advocacy: awareness. Nov. 25 was designated by the UN as International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, an occasion entirely dedicated to recognizing gender-based violence and bringing awareness to situations that stem from it. As a topic that is purposefully censored in certain media around the world, honor killings are in desperate need of coverage and, in turn, awareness. The knowledge of these crimes is a necessary approach to eventually stopping them for good.