Honour-based abuse (HBA) is a prevalent issue that is often misunderstood in Northern Ireland. While gender-based violence is usually described as violence that is directed at a woman because she is a woman or violence that affects women disproportionately10, HBA is often described as the violence predominantly inflicted on women who are thought to have brought shame and dishonour to their family through actual or perceived immoral behaviour.
The Crown Prosecution Services describe HBA as relating to a collection of practices .which are used to control behaviour within families or other social groups to protect perceived cultural and religious beliefs and/or honour12. Such behaviour can occur when perpetrators perceive that a relative has shamed the family and/or community by breaking their honour code.
HBA can take place in many forms such as (but not limited to): threatening behaviour, assault, rape, kidnap, abduction, forced abortion, forced marriage, threats to kill and false imprisonment. Worryingly, the UK is considered one of the worst areas within Europe with almost 3000 ‘honour’ attacks per year and 12 ‘honour’ killings per year.
Awareness for HBA is low in Northern Ireland compared to the rest of the UK. It could be argued that it was deprioritised due to ongoing issues relating to the aftermath of the conflict. However, rather than dismissing HBA as an issue that isn’t as prevalent in Northern Ireland, an understanding of the unique manifestations of HBA within Northern Ireland must be developed, particularly in how cultural and religious beliefs and the prevalence of paramilitaries can also contribute to HBA.
A 2016 report on ‘Intimate Partner Violence in Conflict and Post Conflict Societies,’ in collaboration with Women’s Aid, highlights several examples of domestic violence and abuse being perpetuated due to links with paramilitarism and their values, community attitudes and traditional religious belief.
The lack of understanding or discussion of the ‘honour’ element of this form of domestic violence will enable this form of abuse to continue as root causes and societal attitudes are not addressed. Further, failing to recognise the ‘honour’ element of abuse can further prevent victims from speaking up about the abuse they have endured.
- Work with community leaders and the voluntary and community sector to raise public awareness on the issue and challenge dominant societal attitudes towards women.
- Ensure funding is attributed to specialist organisations working on both HBA and Domestic Abuse to ensure support organisations can avail of specialist training
- Update legislation and policy within Northern Ireland to ensure children or adults at risk of HBA are given a safeguarding response to ensure the HBA has been recognised for what it is
- Develop a strategy for early intervention and consistent intervention/aftercare with those at risk and ensure any upcoming VAWG strategy includes HBA.
- Increase awareness of various forms of HBA across the justice system in Northern Ireland, including Spiritual Abuse and Coercive Control16 through work with community groups supporting survivors of HBA.
This is an excerpt from the Women’s Policy Group Response to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee Call for Evidence: The Effect of Paramilitaries on Society in Northern Ireland. You can read the full response here.