This is the follow up to my earlier post about forms of violence affecting Middle Eastern women in the UK.
There is a gendered pattern of chain migration, especially predominant within communities where women have less liberties to travel alone, where a man arrives as an immigrant and later receives a bride from his country of origin. Many of the women I have researched for my earlier discussion of differences between HBV and IPV fit into this category: they are first generation immigrants, dependent upon their husbands financially and legally. They may thus be distant from their own families who remain back in their country of origin. This shakes up some of the old established patterns of dealing with marital conflict. Muhammad Haj-Yahia, the most prolific researcher of violence against women in the Arab world, finds that families are the first line of support for a woman facing domestic violence: they intervene with the husband and encourage him to change, they provide a bolthole for her to escape – but they rarely encourage divorce or separation because this may lead to inter-familial conflicts in areas where marriage is arranged between families rather than between individuals.
Where the wife’s family are absent she has no place to turn besides the state, NGOs or friendship networks and little means to pressurise an abuser to desist. On the other hand, there are fewer barriers on the path of divorce or separation as a means of acheiving a permanent end to abuse.
Adding ‘honour’ to the mix adds an extra layer of complexity: if women are supposedly monitored and policed by their own relatives in order to safeguard a family’s reputation, then what happens when the normatively prescribed custodians of ‘honour’ are geographically absent? Scholars such as Nancy Tapper have suggested that ‘honour’ as related to the control of women has two distinct formulations: one where the responsibility for policing women’s behaviour remains with her own family in perpetuity, and a second where it is transferred at marriage. This second pattern – transferred honour – appears to be more common where marriage is exogamous, i.e. where women leave their natal families and communities to join a partner somewhere else. The gendered pattern of chain migration thus creates a kind of transnational exogamy wherein such a transference pattern may be emerging. This could be one explanation for the high levels of collective violence I found in the case files where the assailants were in-laws or friends of the husband: where the normal custodians of ‘honour’ are unavailable, other collectives step into the breach and take the responsibility upon themselves. Although it could simply be that, since Middle Eastern societies are more collectivist by nature, violence is more likely to be expressed collectively merely because of the closer connectivity between family members.
Into the second generation
However, where a second generation grows up within the UK, girls and young women will not be distant from their families, and may be subjected to the same kind of policing experienced at home, with the additional intergenerational tension of competing worldviews through exposure to the permissive culture of the UK. If there is a transference pattern this may be short-lived as traditional patterns reassert themselves in second generation families within tight-knit communities: or it may be that transference becomes complete and ‘honour’ comes under the custodianship of the husband rather than the family with in an increasingly individuated milieu. Either way, as a justification for violence it may remain, although what patterns of perpetration this will involve, and what kinds of responses may be required, are unclear.