Honor, Gender, and Violence: A Recap of Jennifer Fluri’s Lecture on Conflict Mediation in Afghanistan
After just a few minutes of listening to Jennifer Fluri’s lecture on gender and conflict mediation in Afghanistan, I was shocked by the drastic differences between the culture outside our doors and Afghan culture. Despite hearing about Afghanistan on an almost weekly basis for the last decade, I was astounded at how uneducated I was when it came to everyday life. Honor, for example, is exemplified in Afghan women, instead of men, who hold the honor in most cultures. In America, men in the military are seen as honorable for their self-sacrifice and acts of violence. Men may be awarded with honors such as a Purple Heart after they are wounded, or for acts of heroism and saving lives. In Afghanistan, honor works differently.
Women in Afghanistan are the physical embodiment of the family’s honor, even though men still hold most of the decision making power. By acting pure, obedient, and modest women are symbols who sacrifice personal autonomy and social freedoms to uphold the family’s honor. According to this tradition, women can also lose the entire family’s honor quickly and by mistakes seen as negligible in American culture. Women may face harsh measures for something as simple as exposing their skin to someone outside the family. In more extreme cases, such as when a woman runs away or marries someone without family validation, she may face more violent acts such as honor killings. In these situations, women taint their entire family’s reputation, and the only way to restore honor is through killing the woman, ultimately removing the problem. Though such acts seem in horrific in my eyes, it is important to note they are deeply rooted in tradition and supported by religion. Furthermore, the fact that such killings are seen as necessary to restore honor does not make it any easier for the families. Regardless of how honor was lost, executing family members to resolve conflicts must be an extremely sad and difficult process.
Interestingly enough, many Afghan citizens view the American prison system in a similar manner. Just like we see honor killings as a shocking violation of human rights, Afghan citizens see American prisons in an equally horrific light. In Afghanistan, seclusion is the highest form of punishment, trumping even that of death and torture. While death has a sort of finale, living a life void of human interaction forces individuals to live a life of shame.
I left the lecture with conflicting feelings. To me, honor killings resonated as the most abrupt way to end any kind of conflict. This seemed like something begging to be stopped, something we have an obligation to intervene in. However, there is a sense of culture and religion that blankets this tradition, and we may not have a right to change it. Further, because of the strict and seemingly unruly Afghan tradition, women have the capacity to mediate conflicts. Without honor killings and the continued sense of value placed on women, they would have far less power to act as a voice of reason. However, as the role of gender and power shifts in the world around them, Afghan women are in an incredibly unique position. Extreme oppression forces them to one side of the gender equality spectrum, while their power to hold up a family and mediate makes them pioneers of women’s rights. Although the latter is only beginning to gain recognition, the struggles and triumphs of Afghan women stand as an inspiring story for feminists and social rights activists everywhere.