In an effort to combat sexual and gender based violence, Nai, Supporting Open Media in Afghanistan, urges Afghan and international media organizations working in Afghanistan to stop using the terms “honor killings” and “harmful traditional practices” in their stories and reports.
One of the strongest ways to influence people is in the choice of language. Mass media contributes to vocabulary building, influences language usage, and delivers conventional wisdom.
“Journalists must be aware of the effects that the words they are using and repeating in their stories have on society. This is part of our journalistic responsibility,” said Abdul Mujeeb Khalvatgar, Executive Director of Nai, Supporting Open Media in Afghanistan.
Killing a person for any reason is murder. Adding the word “honor” to “killing” has the effect of qualifying the crime and mitigating the offence.
“When journalists use the term “honor killing” in their stories, they are reinforcing beliefs of some readers and members of society who see murder as an acceptable expression of culture. For readers who don’t know what “honor killings” are, the term immediately gives them a biased perspective of the crime, exonerates the perpetrator, and places the blame on the victim,” said Halima Kazem, Nai’s consultant for a project that trains journalists to improve reporting on sexual and gender based violence in Afghanistan.
The term “harmful traditional practices” also needs to be avoided. These practices include badaal, baad, child marriage, and other harmful practices, most of which are illegal under Afghan law. Nai urges journalists, writers and researchers to name these practices as illegal acts or crimes.
“Labeling these crimes as tradition empowers conservative members of Afghan society to continue them under religious or cultural guises and makes it difficult for human rights activists, journalists and other members of society to advocate for the rights of victims,” said Kazem.
When these terms are repeated in Afghan and international media as well as reports by non- profit groups, the dangerous message behind the terms become part of a person’s subconscious.
“The effects are exasperated when the terms are translated from English to Dari and Pashtu, because often times the translations are inaccurate or lacking the context in which the term was originally meant to be used in,” said Khalvatgar.
There is no question that it is a good thing to heighten awareness and understanding of why crimes happen, particularly if this encourages people to come forward and seek help. However, it is equally important to raise awareness that these incidents are crimes – rather than acceptable expressions of culture.
For more information please contact:
Abdul Mujeeb Khalvatgar,
Executive Director of Nai, Supporting Open Media in Afghanistan
Media Adviser and Human Rights Researcher