Citizen Mobilization

Case Study: A Jordanian grassroots movement to act against injustices done in the name of honor

"No Honor in Crime" is a grassroots movement originated by three young Jordanian women who although they come from different backgrounds share a common commitment to act against injustices done in the name of “honor.” The movement aims to redefine what is called “honor crimes” by detaching the term “honor” from the “crimes” committed against women by one of their family members. 

Human Rights Watch defines 'honor killings' as acts of violence, usually murder, committed by male family members against female family members, who are held to have brought dishonor upon the family. A woman can be targeted by individuals within her family for a variety of reasons, including: refusing to enter into an arranged marriage, being the victim of a sexual assault, seeking a divorce—even from an abusive husband—or (allegedly) committing adultery. The mere perception that a woman has behaved in a way that "dishonors" her family is sufficient to trigger an attack on her life.

However, the social definition that is acknowledged traditionally in Arab societies, is that an honor killing is the murder of a woman who has, or (allegedly has), sexual contact with a man outside the frame of marriage. The premise is that the woman must be killed to maintain and protect the honor of the larger family.

Annually around 20 women are reported murdered in Jordan in these so-called “honor crimes.” In 2009, for example, the total number of murders related to family honor by mid-summer alone had already reached 13, including three cases reported in the month of July, according to the Jordan Times. Globally, UN figures in 2000 estimate that around 5,000 women are killed annually for sullying their family's honor, according to the United Nations Population Fund.

In Jordan, those who commit honor crimes often receive minimal sentences, ranging from three months to two years in prison. Article 98 of the Jordanian Penal Code allows criminal courts to issue reduced sentences in cases of murder when the perpetrator who kills a woman relative has done so “in fury” because that relative has “tarnished her family's honor.”

The “No Honor in Crime” movement started online early in 2009 through an initial action-plan wiki document that traveled the virtual spaces of Jordanian discussion forums, social networking websites and mailing lists.

Inspired by the idea that better understanding would lead to ideas about how the crimes could be prevented, the action-plan wiki aimed to collect views and suggestions from Jordanians about what they believed needed to be done to raise awareness about honor crimes. The wiki also sought suggestions for how the public could better understand the different factors that lead to men committing crimes in the name of honor.

After the wiki had circulated for two months, Jordanians who felt strongly about the subject were able to identify each other.  They decided to form a grassroots organization and started meeting regularly to lay out an action plan. The movement is volunteer-based and unaffiliated with the government or any NGO.  It is driven by Jordanians who are united by their firm belief in the urgency of addressing injustices committed in the name of “honor.”

"The movement wants to reach a stage where Jordanians from different communities are able to identify social and economic factors leading to the commitment of such crimes and the creation of victims out of both the murderer and the woman he kills," explains No Honor in Crime’s website.

The movement's website monitors all the news, articles and cartoons on “honor crimes” published and broadcast by Jordanian media as well as features news on No Honor in Crime’s activities.  The website includes a forum space and blogs. 

The leaders of No Honor in Crime are a group of young Jordanian women who originally organized themselves over email after three Jordanian university students, Deena Dajani, Carol Kaplanian and Reem Masri, decided to do something to stop the so-called “honor crimes.” The university students, two of whom were researching community development and social movements and the third who was writing a thesis on "honor crimes" in Jordan, decided that they needed to move beyond their academic engagement in the issue. 

Their idea was to create a campaign that would target local media's coverage of such crimes, believing that how media reports “honor”-related crimes affects the public’s acceptance of them. "Society, including media, justifies those crimes by distinguishing them from other murders and by classifying them under the name of ‘honor,’" the group has noted.

The three women targeted activists and journalists to join with them. Nadin Touqan, the director of Jordan Creative Forum, who recently joined the group, designated a space on the Forum organization’s website for the campaign and helped to further promote it among social activists and columnists in the Forum.

AmmanNet radio and website joined the campaign to produce a-one-hour radio show about the campaign. It also conducted a radio documentary on a case of a woman who was killed by her brother in 2008.

The community radio station highlights the issue in its news agenda by encouraging the station’s editorial team to conduct related interviews for AmmanNet’s news bulletins and stories, in addition to giving the issue attention through vox-pops and online polls.

Meanwhile, the “No Honor in Crime” continues to have a presence on social networking sites—its page on Facebook, for example, which includes links to related features and an active discussion board on related topics, has around 1000 members. The campaign also continues to attract more members, women and men, citizen and traditional journalists and non-journalists.

The 6-month-old movement has succeeded in utilizing the most popular citizen journalism medium in Jordan, i.e. Facebook, to expand the number of its members involved in the online discussions on the so called 'honor killings.

However, the movement considers Facebook to be just an initial stage that needs to be supplemented by other social activities, such as meetings with teachers and community activists who are influential in areas where 'honor crimes' are likely to happen.

The movement is also targeting journalists and columnists in the mainstream media, particularly the ones covering women and social issues. It aims to develop, among journalists, a better understanding of the factors that cause 'honor crimes' and of the social concepts behind this phenomenon. These journalists are expected to play a role in changing their audience's negative concepts of 'honor' that may lead to the commission of so-called honor crimes.