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Head Chair: Lauren Low

The topic guide can be accessed here.

Honor Killings

Every year, young women and girls are murdered by their own families in the name of honor. According to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), an estimated 5,000 honor killings occur annually; however, many of these crimes go unreported or are covered up as suicides and the actual number is likely far higher. Few studies have been done on honor killings and the term remains loosely defined.

Honor killing has been defined by the Human Rights Watch as “acts of vengeance, usually death, committed by male family members against female family members, who are held to have brought dishonor upon the family.” Honor killings are particularly prevalent in the Middle East and South Asia; however, acts of honor-based violence have been reported across all regions of the world, including Europe and the United States. The idea of honor is difficult to define but is deeply influential to many cultures and communities, particularly in patriarchal societies. The concept of honor has been typically linked to female sexuality and has been theorized to be connected to a male desire of control over female reproduction. Women have been viewed as causing dishonor towards the family by violations of traditional cultural norms related to the subordinate sexual role of women. Such examples include actions such as premarital sex, refusal of an arranged marriage, adultery, divorce searches, improper dress, conversation with a man other than their husband, marriage with a man with family disapproval, or disrespect towards their husbands. Victims of rape are oftentimes murdered by family members or forced into marriages to protect the girl’s family’s honor. Even rumors of improper behavior can result in violent retaliation, due to familial desires to protect their reputation in the community.

While honor killings are the most notorious form of honor-based violence, women who are viewed as dishonorable face a variety of forms of violent retaliation. These can include beatings, mutilations, and acid attacks. Women who become pregnant before marriage may be subjected to forced abortions or forced marriages. Those who flee a family home or abusive marriage for protection may be abducted and forcefully returned. All of these forms of violence deny women agency over themselves and their bodies, a problem in common and relatable towards honor killings, a problem this committee seeks to solve.

Infertility

Infertility is a pressing and often overlooked issue in regards to women’s rights and wellbeing, particularly in lesser developed nations. Infertility is defined by the World Health Organization as “A disease of the reproductive system defined by the failure to achieve a clinical pregnancy after twelve months or more of regular unprotected sexual intercourse.” Infertility can have large negative impacts on the lives of women in cultures that ascribe to the ideology of natalism. Natalism is a belief that human reproduction is highly desirable and necessary for social continuance. The term is frequently used to describe policies that have been implemented in countries with declining birth rates, such as Japan, to promote population growth; however, pro-natalism can also describe deeply held cultural beliefs regarding the responsibility of women to become mothers. While having children is seen as a personal choice in most Western countries, in many developing nations parenthood is seen as a social obligation. Children can secure marriages, carry on the family name and inheritance, and care for their parents as they age. Women who cannot produce children risk being divorced by their husbands, assaulted by their families, ostracized by their communities, and in extreme circumstances even driven to suicide or being killed. Childless women often face negative psychological effects and feel their female identity as threatened.

Additionally, elderly women without children lack a caretaker and face poverty while they face health decline. Infertile women have been viewed as a burden and the stigma against them can extend as a source of shame for their entire family. These attitudes persist strongly throughout Africa and can also be found in Latin America, Asia, and the Middle East. Fertility treatment using assisted reproductive technologies is extremely expensive and unavailable to impoverished women. In order to better the lives of infertile women in developing countries, both the social stigma and medical aspects of infertility must be addressed.

Lauren can be contacted at dmunc.unw@davismun.org