An Exhibition of Bookworks by Nashville Book Artist, Jennifer Knowles-McQuistion

Honor killing is defined by the Honour Based Violence Awareness Network as the ultimate sanction against a woman who has deemed to have offended collective morality; may be a highly organised and premeditated crime, decided upon through a collective decision-making process involving a family ‘council’ meeting, in which the murder is planned to the last detail; alternatively, it may also be less organised, but still be supported by a wider collective than the apparent perpetrator.
These violent occurrences are a complex issue that is often based on patriarchal family structures which closely interlace the concept of honor with community approval and, in some instances, stringent punishments for the offender out of fear of ostracization for the entire family. I began researching this topic with the goal of understanding the conflicting cultural, religious, and sexual power that motivates communal murder. I’ve attempted to remain respectful of these families who I only know through news reports and statistical data by keeping the work about simply acknowledging the existence of the women and what happened to them. I had a tough time trying to figure out whether or not I have the right to speak of a culture that I am not a part of but what I ultimately decided was that I have a voice in this controversy simply because I am a woman, I am a human being and I care about the lives of other human beings.
In my research it was difficult to find accurate statistics as studies of the phenomenon of honor based violence are limited. Where the murder of women and men with the justification of family ‘honor’ is a communal act, in which the victim is seen as the violator, there is enormous motivation for the family and community to hide or attempt to cover up the murders. In this way, the victims are effectively erased from society making honor-based violence difficult to assess. What is suggested is that there is no single ethnic, cultural or religious indicator of honor based violence as it has occurred within many different cultures throughout history. Particularly within patriarchal societies where there are tight controls upon female autonomy. While Islam is held to be related to ‘honor’ killings, due to the harsh and inhumane punishments against sexual ‘immorality’ enacted in Islamic states, they do not authorize or condone such actions and have some protocols in place that are meant to deter such retribution. This is not to suggest that there is no link whatsoever, as many interpretations of religion, and articulations of family law, tend to exhibit and encourage male dominance within families and negative attitudes to female sexual autonomy, creating an environment in which violence against women may be occasioned and justified. [Honour Based Violence Awareness Network, http://honour-killings.com%5D
In many cases honor killings hold no threat of punishment or, at the most, light sentences. The UK and the US are no exception, often honor killings hold lesser sentences than first degree murder; typically in the US these murders are not even acknowledged as honor killings. Many are listed as manslaughter, accidental death, or suicide. Women and young girls are threatened with forced marriages, genital mutilation, forced abortion, imprisonment, abduction, torture, forced suicides and murder. It seems strange that, despite reaching out to authorities for protection, these girls and women often remain in their situations for many years or until it’s too late to help. The US social services are rarely equipped to substantiate this form of abuse and, even if possible, the fear of creating controversy over cultural or religious issues seems to pervade western society and thwart any attempt to seek justice or make change.
“In the wider community domestic violence is seen as a bad thing, whereas with honor based violence there are too many supporters of it and even if they’re not supporters, through their silence they are encouraging…just sitting still and saying nothing gives people the opportunity to say well, actually nobody said it was wrong.” ~ Nazir Afzal, OBE, HBVA
It isn’t my intention with this work to pass judgment on any cultural or governmental structure. I am asking people to be aware of the pressures that lead to honor violence; to look at these women, hear the stories and ask themselves how they feel about what’s happening. I’m asking people to question the responsibility of our government to intervene on behalf of the basic human rights of it’s citizens through laws meant to protect regardless of gender, religion or cultural background and ask ourselves why there is such a fear of societal backlash when someone does speak out for or against the practices of other cultures within the context of western civilization even when it poses a threat to human life. Ultimately, it is most important that we remember these women, some of whose names we know, but so many more that have had their existences erased by those charged with protecting them. The structures in this exhibit take their shapes from monuments and memorials speaking to the women that have been lost and the violence of their deaths; each monument connected by or containing woven bindings against empty pages. These vacant books reference the lives that have been erased and the connection between all people that transcends cultural, gendered, and religious boundaries.
Statistics:
These figures are from the AHA Foundation.org are considered estimates and are widely believed to be severe underestimates. Due to lack of focused reporting and recording of Honor Killings internationally very little is known about the true extent of HBV worldwide.
• 5000 honor killings internationally per year.
• 1000 honor killings occur in India
• 1000 honor killings occur in Pakistan
• 12 honor killings per year in UK

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