A young mother named La’ya in Mahshahr, Khuzestan killed herself earlier this month due to sustained abuse by her husband, a cousin. (IranWire)

By Maryam Dehkordi

February 15, 2022

On Saturday, February 5, hours after horrific images of the so-called “honor killing” of runaway teenage bride Mona Heydari sickened Iran, judicial authorities announced the arrest of her spouse, Sajjad Heydari. Sajjad had taken to the streets of Ahvaz shortly after the killing, with a smile on his face and his wife’s severed head in his hand.

The incident sparked further discussion about gynocidal violence in Iran and the effective legal green light given to “honor killings” where the woman or girl’s murderers are family members. It came after a wave of similar atrocities committed during the pandemic. Some Iranians used the hashtag “A woman is no man’s honor” to draw attention to the issue and in some cases, to their own bitter experiences.

“Concurrent with the beheading of Mona Heydari, an 18-year-old woman from our family in Mahshahr, the mother of a four-year-old, committed suicide because she could no longer bear her husband’s misplaced prejudices. She was called La’ya.”

The picture of La’ya sent to IranWire shows a neatly-dressed woman with her face carefully made up, a ring on her finger and a light-colored shawl on her head. She looks fresh, confident and content. Hard to imagine that underneath, she was profoundly depressed, and had been forced to marry her cousin as a peace offering in a conflict that had nothing to do with her.

“La’ya’s father had been married twice,” a source close to the family told IranWire. “She was born from his second marriage and has four sisters and three brothers. She fell victim to a family feud. One of her sisters, Fatimah, was supposed to marry her cousin, but ended up marrying someone she loved. When the cousin threatened to tell Fatima’s husband about their relationship, La’ya’s family offered him La’ya’s hand in marriage instead, so as to wrap up the story. La’ya was a child and her cousin didn’t want her. But they were married just to avenge the ‘failure’ of him by her older sister.”

Ever since then and throughout her formative years, the source said, La’ya had been neglected and abused. “La’ya’s husband was suspicious and mean. Because of what La’ya’s sister had done, he was wary of everyone, and La’ya was beaten and abused every day. There was no way out. On several occasions before she had a child, she complained to her parents that her husband was treating her like a slave. But sadly they were both drug addicts. They didn’t care in the slightest about La’ya’s fate, nor about what was happening to her.”

Suicide as a Form of ‘Honor Killing’

Saba Alaleh, an Iranian-born consultant and clinical psychologist, told IranWire that in her view, a person self-harming or attempting suicide – where it is compelled by the long-term behavior of a spouse or family member – should itself be considered a form of domestic violence. “Until recently, ‘domestic violence’ for many conjured up the image of a battered woman or child. But today we know it comes in many forms. In the case of ‘honor killings’, not all the victims are beheaded. The actions of their family can lead them to harm or even kill themselves.”

An untold number of women are suffering in silence from oppressive and domineering behavior at home, which Alaleh says derived from age-old, damaging patriarchal assumptions of ‘zeal’ and ‘honor’. “Men often dominate so much that the woman feels she has lost her own identity. Her sense of self-esteem is diminished to such an extent that she feels she no longer exists. This is the point at which a person is vulnerable to from anxiety and depression, and these disorders affect their performance in life too. These people may well decide to harm themselves or even attempt suicide.

“These people think they are worthless. They say, ‘I am the problem. I am causing the problem for my family’s honor and dignity; if I don’t exist, I will end the harassment against myself and my relatives will no longer suffer because of me.”

Children: The Unseen Victims

The murdered young woman in Khuzestan, Mona Heydari, had a three-year-old child. La’ya in Mahshahr had a four-year-old. Both of these blameless toddlers grew up in broken homes and were unable to rely on the wider support network – their grandparents, uncles and aunts – to shield them from the horrors of violence at home. Both of them will now grow up without a mother, due to nothing more than toxic notions of masculinity and patriarchy.

These children, Saba Alaleh says, are the forgotten second  victims of “honor killings”, and the ramifications are endless and lifelong. “The first circles of trust and confidence are built in the family. There must be fathers, mothers, and relatives who protect us and give us refuge, and build trust and confidence in a child before he or she enters the wider community, in school and in society. Otherwise, that entry will be harmful for both them and society.”

“Evidence shows that children who do not gain enough of a sense of security at home don’t find the world a safe place. These children are constantly on the defensive. They feel that no one should be trusted and that everyone wants to do them harm. Unfortunately, that can lead to further abuse.”

What to Do?

IranWire received a large volume of messages after publishing the news about Mona Heydari’s murder last week. One of them came from an Iranian woman who sent a picture of her own, battered face to our journalists. “Remember my face well,” she wrote. “I could soon be the next one beheaded in the street.”

As usual it has fallen to ordinary Iranian citizens, activists and experts to discuss what should be done. The perpetrators of violence against women are nowhere to be found in the debate, but nor is the government. Eli Khorsandfar, a sociologist, wrote on Instagram: “In the absence of protective laws, it is only the safe houses that can shelter female victims of violence. If Mona knew about these, if they were stronger financially and had enough support, perhaps the first option that would have come to Mona’s desperate mind would have been going to a safe house, not to her own slaughterhouse. These won’t solve everything but they might make things a little better.”

Iran Wire

About Track Persia

Track Persia is a Platform run by dedicated analysts who spend much of their time researching the Middle East, in due process we fall upon many indications of growing expansionary ambitions on the part of Iran in the MENA region and the wider Islamic world. These ambitions commonly increase tensions and undermine stability.