Trigger warning: murder, honor killings

Romina Ashrafi was just 14-years-old when her father decapitated her during her sleep. Reza Ashrafi, a 37-year-old farmer, took a farming sickle to his daughter and conducted an “honor killing.” The New York Times reported that Reza Ashrafi consulted a lawyer before the murder. The lawyer told Ashrafi he would serve only 3 to 10 years if convicted. Three weeks later, he murdered his daughter.

Romina, according to her father, was going to dishonor her family by running away with her 29-year-old boyfriend. Her father is currently awaiting trial. In Iran, honor killings are rare. However, there is no way to prove this as officials overlook most of these murders. She was a teenager who bent the rules of her culture. She would post photos on social media without her hijab, and when wearing it, she would let her hair poke out. 

It also wasn’t the first time that Romina’s father had threatened her.
Romina Ashrafi

According to her mother, Rana Dashti, Reza became furious when he discovered Romina’s relationship. Romina’s relatives claimed that the boyfriend was pursuing her since she was twelve years old, promising marriage. Iran has no laws disbanding adults from having relationships with children, and girls can marry at the age of 13 with their father’s permission. 

Mr. Ashrafi had disapproved of Romina’s relationship due to disliking the boyfriend’s family. Mr. Ashrafi began to threaten and terrorize Romina, going as far as bringing her rat poison and rope, emboldening her to take her own life. She ran away, leaving a note that read, “Baba, you wanted to kill me. If anyone asks you where Romina is, tell them I am dead.”

Three days after she ran away, Mr. Ashrafi found where she was staying, called the cops and accused the boyfriend of kidnapping Romina. Investigators dismissed the kidnapping accusations once Romina said she left on her own free will. Romina begged them not to send her back home with her father and told investigators of his threats against her. Once Mr. Ashrafi assured the investigators of her safety, she was released. She was dead the next night.

Romina’s death, in a small village in northern Iran, has caused widespread outrage and opened up the incessant debate of women’s rights and failure of the country’s systems to protect them.

A Brief History

During the Qajar dynasty, which took place from the late 1800s until the early 20th century, women were confined within the household. The ability to engage in politics was nonexistent. It wasn’t until the Pahlavi dynasty (1925-1979) that women were granted more freedom. Women could finally attend university and had greater legal reforms in voting rights and family protection laws.

Iranian women hold 60% of university seats and compose 50% of the workforce. Women can run for office, hold seats in Parliament, but still need a man’s permission to work outside of the home. Iranian women are still required to cover their hair, arms, and bodies in public. In many ways, Iranian women are better off than those in other Middle Eastern countries, but their lives are still at stake. 

A #MeToo social media movement built of Iranian women’s stories has also emerged. Many women are accounting and sharing their stories of male relatives who have raped, physically, and emotionally abused them.

The Aftermath

Following Romina’s death, President Hassan Rouhani asked Parliament to create legislation that would protect women. The bill would criminalize sexual, physical, and emotional abuse and enforce jail time for perpetrators.

On Sunday, June 7, Parliament passed a bill that bans honor killings as well as a separate bill that bans abuse. The bill banning abuse has previously been stalled for the past 11 years.  In addition to criminalizing abuse, the new law sets monetary punishment and jail time for preventing children from receiving an education and forcing them to work.

Read also:
Is The Inclusion Of Iran In The UN A Step Forward Or Back For Women’s Rights Efforts?
The Perpetuation Of Honor Killings Through Legal Systems
The Virginity Myth, Sex Shaming, And Honor Killings