There is a need for immediate, co-ordinated, full and effective investigations into all cases of abduction and murder of women in the name of honour. The state has a key role in acting without delay to prevent violence against women and honour killings.
Mechanisms must be established across all agencies to search for women who go missing straight away. Successful prosecutions of all perpetrators who commit or conspire to commit honour killings against women also have to be pursued.
Two high profi le cases have recently been heard at the Old Bailey: one involving the disappearance and murder of Surjit Athwal, 27, in 1998, and the other the brutal and horrific so-called honour murder of 20-year-old Banaz Mahmod from Mitcham, South London, in 2006.
Cases reported in recent years show that there is still limited knowledge about the impact of family-based honour violence and little resistance to so called honour killings in communities where they occur.
So how can we respond effectively to the needs of those affected by violence based on so-called family honour?
Banaz’s case has several implications. First, there is a need to believe the testimony of a victim who reports that she has received threats of an honour killing from her family. This requires understanding how women view their experiences, how they respond to violence, where they go for help, what happens when they ask for help, and the effectiveness of that help. There is also a need to invest in specialist prevention programmes and to expand fi nancial, legal and support services for such women.
To deter this abuse, punitive responses must be made to those who perpetrate violence; those who conspire to commit murder must be pursued and punished with unrelenting certainty and severity. The criminal justice system must continue to remain steadfast in providing effective deterrents in the form of severe sentences, so that we do not have another tragic case like that of Banaz.
There also needs to be sustained long-term educational campaigns to highlight the various manifestations of honour-based violence. At the community level, communities need to participate in genuine efforts to prevent violence, such as attempts to change certain social norms.
On a wider scale this needs to be complemented by long-term work on addressing the structural inequalities that lead to every day forms of violence against women.
Dr Aisha Gill is senior lecturer in criminology, Roehampton University. She is active in two key South Asian women’s organisations (Newham Asian Women’s Project and Imkaan) supporting women and children experiencing violence.