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2.12.4. Women perceived to have violated family honour

Common analysis
Last updated: September 2020

COI summary

In Syria's patriarchal culture, the honour of a family is closely connected to the honour of women and girls in the family. This concept of honour is based on notions of female virginity before marriage and sexual fidelity while in wedlock. Rape and/or other forms of sexual abuse targeting women and girls is seen as bringing shame to the family and to the wider community. Therefore, survivors of sexual violence may face repercussions as described under 2.12.1. Violence against women and girls: overview. In addition, girls may be forced to marry the perpetrator or another man in an arrangement to cover up the ‘dishonour’ (see 2.12.3. Forced and child marriage). [Situation of women, 1.1.4, 1.2.2]

There is also a widespread assumption that women detainees have experienced sexual violence, which can be perceived by the family and the community as a stain on the victim’s dignity and honour. This stigma can reportedly lead to social isolation, rejection from employment, divorce, disownment by the family and even ‘honour’ killing. [Situation of women, 1.2.10]

Generally speaking, most cases of ‘honour’ killings are connected to sexual violence (but not necessarily rape) and are committed by family members of the victim. ‘Honour’ killings can be a reaction to street harassment or assault, to assumed sexual violence during abduction and even to an autonomous decision made by a girl concerning whom and when to marry. So-called ‘honour’ killings are also shared through social media to demonstrate the cleansing of the family’s ‘shame’. It was reported that ‘honour’' killings have increased after the outbreak of the war because of increases in both sexual violence and general lawlessness, while some sources suggested that the social acceptance of the practice has decreased. [Situation of women, 1.1.3]

‘Honour’ is still a mitigating factor in Syria’s criminal law, setting the minimum sentence for the crime to two years in prison. In addition, Article 242 of the Penal Code allows a judge to reduce the punishment for both men and women in the case when a murder is committed in rage and provoked by an illegal act of the victim, with extra-marital affairs being illegal in Syria. [Situation of women, 1.1.3]

Risk analysis

‘Honour’ killings amount to persecution. When the repercussions of a perceived violation of family honour would normally not reach the level of persecution in themselves, such as rejection from employment, divorce, and disownment by the family, the individual assessment of whether or not they could amount to persecution should take into account the severity and/or repetitiveness of the acts or whether they occur as an accumulation of various measures.

Not all women and girls would face the level of risk required to establish well-founded fear of persecution in relation to violation of family honour. The individual assessment of whether or not there is a reasonable degree of likelihood for the applicant to face persecution should take into account risk-impacting circumstances, such as: age, personal status, area of origin and residence, perception of traditional gender roles in the family or community, situation of the family, etc.

Nexus to a reason for persecution

Available information indicates that persecution of this profile may be for reasons of membership of a particular social group. For example, women who have previously been subjected to sexual violence may be at risk of ‘honour’ crimes for reasons of membership in a particular social group, based on their common background which cannot be changed and their distinct identity, because they are perceived as being different by the surrounding society, due to the stigmatisation related to being a survivor of sexual violence.

See other topics concerning women:

2.12.4. Women perceived to have violated family honour