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Preservation of Male Honour: A Paradoxical Situation

Angelina In many Muslim societies, women are strictly monitored, hidden, kept under surveillance, controlled and treated as the property of husbands and men in general, furthermore forced to adhere to stringent codes in order to preserve the honour of their men, families and relatives. We regularly hear of the killings of women by family members, often resulting from what is perceived as ‘inappropriate, dishonourable and shameful’ behaviour. Regarding Pashtun society, these murders cannot simply be designated to prescribed cultural norms alone, as we are witnessing an escalation and massive surge in recent years regarding the brutal killings of hundreds of women all over Pakistan due to ‘honour’ related issues, (not to mention this long tradition in Saudi Arabia, Iran and many other countries).

It is unfair to stereotype and pinpoint Pakistan as being the only country on the planet with a stringent ‘honour code’ which is ultimately tied to and bound by the actions, attitudes and behaviour of women. In Ireland, for instance, in the not too distant past, young girls who became pregnant outside of marriage were often secretly ‘disposed of’ (by their own families) in the so called ‘Magdalene Laundries,’ where they lived and worked as unpaid labourers, in the most cruel, degrading and abhorrent conditions under the administration of the catholic church. In the majority of cases, the new born babies of these young girls, (often children themselves), were ‘sold’ to rich foreigners, and many Irish women and babies died in these grisly prisons never to be heard, seen, or spoken of again. Furthermore, the cover up of  horrific child sex abuse cases in Ireland, has highlighted not only the extent and lengths to which people will go to preserve their name, reputation and honour, but more loathsome, is that these examples have exposed the hypocrisy and double standards of the powerful, the catholic clergy and the elite classes of Irish society.

It has recently been reported that in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan, kidnapping, rape, trafficking and murder of women is a regular occurrence, but goes unreported due to the FATA’s status as a militarised zone, the media’s reluctance to report on such atrocities, the inability of women to seek or even be granted legal assistance, and moreover state apathy: these atrocities perpetrated against women therefore go largely ignored and women are neglected. [1]  Faced with the terror and fear of bringing dishonour and shame to the family, one can only imagine the thousands of women who live horrible existences in fear, furthermore suffering atrocious cruelty and injustices in silence. (It should  be noted that men and young boys are also victims of sex crimes, trafficking and honour killings). As well as the Anti-Honour Killings Law coming into force in Pakistan, perhaps a wider range of societal, traditional norms should also be addressed, since the question of honour embodies a huge range of deep rooted embedded collective notions and practices.

Paying for sex, hardly a new phenomenon, is a practice long established in every country and society across the globe. But acknowledging its existence, or even discussing this taboo subject, which is usually as a result of religious and social conventions, is an issue that most Muslim societies would rather brush under the carpet and pretend doesn’t exist. But the point of this article is to highlight a paradox: men who insist on preserving their honour through ‘their own’ women (mothers, daughters, sisters, nieces),  and even kill in order to uphold perceived notions of ‘honour,’ yet the same men in many cases, pay prostitutes for sex.

 It has been documented that there is a thriving sex industry in Pakistan. According to  many sources, girls are traded through pimps or in certain red light districts, can easily be ‘picked up’ for a small sum of money. Many men, who are tied to the notion of preserving the honour of their families, may feel their natural urges restrained by cultural norms, and therefore travel to urban areas to satisfy their sexual needs discreetly and ‘on the QT,’ therefore outwardly preserving their ‘dignity,’ (and in many cases pious reputation), while concurrently, neither family nor society can hold them accountable!

But a couple of factors stand out which may or may not be a starting point regards eradicating which has now festered into a deep seated cancer growth in Pakistan and particularly Pashtun society. ‘Male’ children are highly valued and esteemed, spoiled and consistently praised by both parents who pander to their every beck and call, while girls, (not in all cases), but in many, are looked upon as marriage material, who will soon leave home and become the servant of her in-laws. Boys should therefore be educated in both home and school, on how to treat girls and women with utmost respect and dignity, but most importantly, without this notion of ownership or that their honour depends on the behaviour, deeds and actions of women.

If the ideals, traditional norms and customs are tackled from the roots, then it will not only free women and girls from the shackles of living in fear and anxiety, but in doing so, it may also remove this dreaded anxiety that men carry around, as they too, are bound by ideals of honour and traditional norms. The problems surrounding honour concepts cannot be nipped in the bud, it has to be tackled from the roots up, and that means starting with patriarchal values and the pressures that ‘honour concepts’  place on men.

[1]   Interview with Noreen Naseer by Ali Arqam, www.newslinemagazine.com

Writer: Angelina Merisi

The writer hails from Ireland. She is part of the Pashtuns Times News Network. She is a PhD scholar at the University College Cork, Ireland. Her current research is focused on Islam and Pashtun male migrants in Ireland, masculinity and honour concepts. She can be reached at



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