Former UIndy Professor Speaks on Honor Killing in Afghanistan

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Laila Anwarzai Ayoubi, a former University of Indianapolis professor and current adjunct professor at Butler University, lectured on honor killing culture in Afghanistan and read from her book “Niki’s Honor” at UIndy on Oct. 9. According to Ayoubi, honor killing is the traditional practice in some countries of killing a family member who is believed to have brought shame or dishonor to the family. Many honor killing victims are young women.

“A common way these young women bring dishonor to the family is becoming pregnant before marriage,” Ayoubi said. “It is difficult for researchers to determine how many honor killings occur each year, but I have seen predictions as high as 5,000 every year.”

Karen Newman, an assistant professor of English at UIndy, said she was interested in Ayoubi’s lecture. She said she was astonished at honor killings and how family can do such horrific things to each other.

“The idea of killing a wife, sister, daughter or cousin because she is believed to have dishonored the family in some way by dating, having premarital sex, an extramarital affair or having a child without being married is unthinkable to most Americans and Europeans today,” Newman said.

Ayoubi is a native of Afghanistan and spoke about the true stories her book is based on. According to Ayoubi, honor killing isn’t just a practice in Afghanistan, it occurs in countries some might not expect like Italy, the Netherlands and Brazil. Ayoubi said she hopes that her writing can have a positive impact around the world.

“I want people to hear my voice to reduce violence against women,” Ayoubi said. “My message is that violence against women still exists in full flown in many parts of the world, which needs to be stopped. If this book can even educate one person to save one life, I believe that would be a difference.”

According to a 2015 press release about her book, “Niki’s Honor,” Ayoubi’s fact-based novel talks about the true stories of an innocent victim of honor killing. Niki is a young girl living in a rural Pashtun village girl in Soviet occupied Afghanistan. She becomes entangled in a series of events that brings an end to her dreams as she becomes a casualty of a cultural practice where a family’s honor and pride is more important than life itself.

At the lecture Ayoubi spoke about the Taliban regime and Soviet invasion that occurred in Afghanistan.  According to, the Soviet Union sent thousands of troops into Afghanistan and immediately assumed total military and political control of Kabul, the capital, and large portions of the country.  Ayoubi said the war left millions of women widows and when the Taliban began taking over and women were required to wear burqa, which are head coverings worn by Muslim women.  

“Before the Taliban, there was fashion in Afghanistan,” Ayoubi said. “Women would wear skirts and short dresses.  Afghanistan women were even on the cover of one of the Vogue issues.”

Ayoubi said that honor killings are a pre-Islamic tradition, and it is not a religious issue. Ayoubi grew up in Kabul and said when she was young she remembered hearing stories in school, at home from relatives and other people, but did not know what honor killing was at the time.

“I was not aware of honor killing terminology [while in Kabul], but I used our house in Kabul for Niki’s relatives’ house in Kabul,” Ayoubi said.

Ayoubi’s lecture was one of many events UIndy hosted for International Education Month. Newman helped organize and put on events for International Education Month. She said she met Ayoubi at the Institute for Curriculum and Campus Internationalization at Indiana University last spring.

“I was impressed by her commitment to feminist issues and sharing the story of female honor killings from the perspective of a cultural insider, so I thought it would be worthwhile to invite her to campus.” Newman said.

International Education Month continues with an International Movie Night playing Goodbye Lenin on Oct. 25, from 7-9 p.m. in room 138 of the Health Pavilion. To finish off the month there will be a Story Telling by immigrants and refugees from 4-6 p.m. in R.B. Annis Theater, located in the Health Pavilion.


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