From Honor Crimes to 'Self-deflowering': Six Bizarre Traditions that Single out Arab Women

Thursday 8 September 201610:27 am
In the Arab world, where women have yet to win many of their rights, bizarre and outright appalling traditions continue to weigh heavily on their lives. Below are six practices still in place today, despite their primitive nature and hugely damaging effect on Arab women's lives,

Shame in the name

For some parts of society, the name of a woman is still associated with shame and family "honor". Many Arab men refuse to disclose the names of female relatives to others. Arab women's names are often omitted from invitation cards and even obituaries. It is almost normal in the Arab world to see a wedding invite that mentions the name of the groom but not the bride, who is usually replaced with a generic "and his bride" next to the man's name. Some are even ashamed of disclosing the names of their female relatives who pass away. It is customary to see obituaries of women without their names being mentioned, except as wives, sisters, or mothers of a man.


In some areas of Egypt, especially the countryside, a bride can be forced to "de-flower" herself in the presence of her relatives to prove her virginity on the night of the wedding. Though the custom is rare nowadays, it still exists. The bride is made to lie down on the bed in the presence of her mother, her mother-in-law or sister-in-law, and the groom. A "midwife" may also be brought in to help. A white cloth is used to "take her honor", a euphemism for breaching the bride's hymen. The bloodied cloth is then displayed as proof in order for the celebrations of her purity to begin.

Honor crimes

Honor crimes are still common in the Arab world, in their majority targeting women. These crimes are defined as the homicide of a member of a family by other members, due to the perpetrators' belief that the victim has brought shame or dishonor upon the family, or has violated the principles of a community or a religion. Honor crimes are considered a form of femicide. According to the UN, up to 5,000 honor crimes take place internationally every year, mostly concentrated in the Middle East, North Africa, and South Asia. In Jordan, for example, between 17 and 25 honor killings are committed every year.

Whitening women's honor

This is the name of a ruling commonly dished out by Jordan's tribal courts, but also in other countries of the Levant, where tribes still enforce their own laws. The ruling is given to women wrongfully accused of adultery. Their innocence is declared by literally whitening their honor, that is, by covering the home of the woman in question with white sheets by leading men of the tribe. The tradition is centuries old.

Fasliya: Tribal arbitration

In Iraq, women can be offered as tributes to settle tribal disputes, in what is known as Fasliya marriages. In the 1950s, the Iraqi government issued a law criminalizing the Fasliya marriage. But after the US occupation and the lawlessness that followed, people fell back to the resurgent tribes to solve their problems. Fasliya staged a comeback not long after. Fasliya marriages are common in the southern provinces. Recently, 50 girls were offered as tributes in villages north of Al-Basra province in Southern Iraq, after clashes between two tribes erupted there. Feminist activist Safad Abdul Aziz tells Raseef22 "Fasliya marriage is common in rural areas because the tribal system prevails there. The majority of women involved are minors." According to Safad, there have been nearly 3,000 cases in the past decade alone. "Each Fasliya woman is seen as worth around 500 thousand dinars (400 USD). This means if the verdict is two million dinars (1,600 USD) four women must be provided.”

Marrying the brother-in-law

This tradition is thousands of years old and is common in most Arab countries. It is even mentioned in the Torah, in Deuteronomy 25:5. "If brothers are living together and one of them dies without a son, his widow must not marry outside the family. Her husband's brother shall take her and marry her and fulfill the duty of a brother-in-law to her." "In the beginning, I could not accept how my brother-in-law, whom I saw as a younger brother, suddenly became my husband. Our relationship was very bad, and he also felt wronged because he was pressured to marry an older woman to whom he felt no attraction," says Muntaha. "Two years later, he took another wife. We are today wife and husband only on paper," she adds. This practice, which was widely acceptable decades ago, is slowly on its way out, but it remains commonplace in some quarters of the Arab world.
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