The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) in its recent annual report stated, “At least 943 women were killed in the name of honour in the country, of which 93 were minors.” While, reliable worldwide estimates of honour killing incidences do not exist, a UN study in 2000 suggested there were as many as 5,000 women and girls killed each year by a family member as part of a ‘honour crime’; in order to protect their “Izzat”. These incidents have involved Muslim, Hindu and Christian families all over the world, including South Asia, the Middle East, North Africa and even Britain and the USA.

So what exactly is Izzat?

Izzat can be defined as the shame and honour that can be brought to others (families) by one’s own behaviour and actions. Often, for some households, Izzat can be compromised when a woman goes out to work; for being ‘too western’ and/or for resisting or disobeying cultural and religious expectations; and even committing an alleged ‘sexual impropriety’; this refers to victims who have been raped, were allegedly having extra-marital affairs, or who were viewed as ‘promiscuous’ (even where this might not refer to actual sexual promiscuity or even sexual activity).

Often individuals are forced into marriage in order to protect their Izzat and sometimes this can result in honour based violence. There is more often than not a relationship between forced marriage and honour based violence. Although it is important to remember that honour based violence can occur where there is no evidence of a forced marriage, and a forced marriage can be motivated by reasons other than honour, such as finance/visa application etc.

The cruel irony and hypocrisy of the two powerful concepts of shame and honour can only be tackled through education. Together we can empower people to question, undermine and eventually eliminate a cultural mind-set within in which honour crimes and forced marriages are acceptable.

A potential victim may only have one chance to ask for help. You may only have one chance to provide help so it is important to be well informed.

0800 141 2994 is a confidential helpline for anyone who may be at risk of going into a forced marriage or is already in one. We provide victims with all the information they need on forced marriages, discuss the options available to them and support them every step of the way.

Visit www.againstforcedmarriages.org for more information on this issue and our services.