We should spend as much time discussing spousal homicides and murder suicides as we do “honour killings.” Maybe then we would get a handle on all this violence against women in the province.
There have been so many women killed by their partners in the last few years in this province that it is a wonder it still makes the headlines. It is so ordinary. Especially those spousal murder-suicides that are only in the news for a couple of days. They stop making headlines because the case is solved.
That’s what the killer thought when he planned it – killing her will solve it. We should do better. Nothing was solved. We are left with two more people lost to violence against women. And we are left with the certainty that there will be another spousal murder or murder-suicide in a few months, if our record of the last few years is maintained.
The ordinary murder of women doesn’t feature much in our water-cooler talk, unless the latest one was in our community. At most, we might say “Did you hear, there was another murder?”
Those shameful “honour killings” of women by families, on the other hand, usually get more conversation time. They’re not as routine, I guess. Plus we see them as exotic. “It’s their culture, you know,” we’ll say around the water cooler or at Tim’s.
Actually, it seems to be quite a part of our culture too.
To the victims, the difference must be lost. The ordinary murder of women by partners is more often than not because she wanted to lead her own life. Honour-based killings, on the other hand, are usually punishment for wanting to lead your own life. The one distinction is that honour-based killings are often done with some approval or knowledge of other family members. It remains that the victims are usually women who, according to their killer, did not do what they were told to do, did not follow the assigned code of behaviour.
Every day in New Brunswick, a woman leaves a relationship because she feels controlled or fears for her safety. That’s likely an underestimation since over a thousand women are sheltered in transition houses every year in the province and they would be only the tip of the iceberg since most women in that situation would not go to a transition house.
Every day New Brunswick police get one or two reports of stalking. We have a high rate of reports of stalking compared to other provinces. Over three-quarter of people laying those complaints are women, mostly concerned about stalking by a former or current partner. Nation-wide, the majority of those accused of stalking are found by a court to be guilty, so the complaints are not insubstantial or unfounded.
Recently, a book was published of articles written by the late Stieg Larsson, Swedish author of the Millennium book series published after he died in 2004. In one of the articles, originally published about a decade ago, he asks how honour killings differ from crimes of passion. Larsson notes that the murder of a Swedish woman never gets discussed by the media or academics “from a Swedish cultural-anthropological or broader cultural perspective. Such argumentation is reserved exclusively for immigrants, Kurds or Muslims”.
“The systematic violence directed at women – for systematic violence is exactly what it is, and what it would be called if it affected to a similar extent trade unionists, or Jews, or the disabled – is never regarded as a “cultural problem” in Sweden. Indeed, one could ask if it is regarded as a problem at all, apart from in a strictly legal context.”
We put too much emphasis on the distinction between the ordinary killing of women and honour-based killings – we dote too much on the fact that honour killings are often done with some approval or knowledge of other family members. It becomes difficult to suggest that the next murders we will hear about in the coming year in New Brunswick are not done without our knowledge or approval, given their regularity and inevitability, and our inaction following the last ones. Where are the inquiries, the domestic death reviews, the actions that would allow us to say we are concerned by the regular killing of women by their partners?
The first step would be to admit that these killings are a part of our culture and that something must be done to halt them.
Jody Dallaire is a Dieppe councilor reoffering in the current municipal elections. She is also a childcare and labour advocate, and columnist.