Honor Killings Still Occur Where Patriarchy Prevails

Claude Mariottini
Emeritus Professor
of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

The murder of a member of a family, generally a woman, by another member of the family because of the perception that the person has brought shame to the family is known as “honor killing.”

This practice has made international headlines twice in May 2014.

I wrote about the tragic story of a woman in Afghanistan who had run away to avoid marrying a man to whom her family had forcibly betrothed her in early May 2014.

The woman agreed to return to her family after her father had signed a document guaranteeing that she would not be harmed. The family did not honor their agreement, and the woman was killed.

On May 29, 2014 Ishaan Tharoor, a foreign affairs writer for The Washington Post, reported about a woman in Pakistan who was brutally killed in the name of honor killing because she refused to be forced into an arranged marriage.

“A 25-year-old pregnant woman, was confronted by a mob of 20 or so of her family members near the steps of the top court in Lahore, Pakistan’s second-biggest city. They proceeded to beat her to death with sticks and bricks while police nearby looked on and did little,” Tharoor wrote.

“The reason for the attack? She had chosen to marry a 45-year-old man named Muhammad Iqbal. That was a union deemed unacceptable by her family, which had filed an abduction case against the husband,” he explained.

Honor killings such as these still occur in societies where patriarchy is still prevalent.

Gerda Lerner, in her book, The Creation of Patriarchy, has a classical definition of patriarchy: “The manifestation and institutionalization of male dominance over women and children in the family and the extension of male dominance over women in society in general. It implies that men hold power in all important institutions of society and that women are deprived of access to power.”

There are many reasons given for this dominance of men over women.

One traditional reason found in many societies is that women are subordinate to men because this is the divine order in creation.

Others say women are subordinate to men because a woman brought sin into the world.
Another reason given for male dominance is due to sexual inequality because woman, at creation, was assigned the biological function to be a mother and a nurturer while man was assigned the role to be a provider and a defender.

In patriarchal societies, a man has legal and social power over his wife and children, and he has the power to forcibly remove a woman from her home through negotiated marriage, in which the daughter marries a man designated by the father.

Such a negotiated marriage may bring financial or social benefits to the family of the bride.
The church in the 21st century must challenge the concept of patriarchy and female subordination.

The message of the gospel of Jesus Christ is a call to freedom and equality.

As the apostle Paul wrote: “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). What Paul is saying is that in Christ there is no longer any distinction in spiritual privilege or status between male and female.

Men and women were created in the image of God and as God’s representatives; they were given authority over God’s creation.

Thus, in Christ, social and biological differences cannot be used as the basis of men’s authority over women or as a reason to deprive women of their dignity as human beings.
There is much the church can proclaim about the creational authority given to both men and women by God.

The church can also proclaim the spiritual rights and privileges every believer has in Christ. Patriarchy had a beginning and patriarchy can have an end. The end of patriarchy is the liberating message of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

NOTE: This article was published on Good Faith Media on June 4, 2014.

Claude Mariottini
Emeritus Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

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4 Responses to Honor Killings Still Occur Where Patriarchy Prevails

  1. Chris Hogg says:

    Thank you for publishing this. I just finished an intriguing (and troubling) book in which what you’re talking about here is highlighted.


  2. I’m not convinced that patriarchy is a sufficient explanation. There have been patriarchies in many societies; I’ve never seen a comparative study of how they viewed honor killings. I don’t think “patriarchy” is a monolithic thing without cultural variances that make a substantial difference in whether a patriarchy would tolerate the abuse of its daughters.


    • Dear Friend,

      Patriarchy is a strong factor in the issue of honor killing. There are societies where a mild form of patriarchy exists where honor killing is not present. Societies whose cultures resemble middle age cultures are more prone to honor killing than societies that have adopted a modern-day culture.

      Claude Mariottini


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