A RECENT report by the HRCP reveals harrowing statistics on honour-related murders in Pakistan. It estimated that in the last three years alone, some 2,300 women have been killed in the name of ‘honour’. However, it is only recently that the state has adopted a somewhat serious attitude towards this issue. And, despite all the legislation, honour killings are still on the rise. Why is it that regardless of the state’s commitment to enhance the status of women, their effort seems to bear little fruit?
Pakistani women carry a heavy burden of cultural norms, social practices and restricted opportunities. Violence is often used as a tool to control and make them conform to patriarchal ideology. This makes Pakistan one of the worst countries in the world for women. According to the Global Gender Gap Report 2016, Pakistan ranks 143 out of 144 countries on the gender inequality index — even below war-torn countries like Syria.
When we talk about liberating and empowering women, we often focus on legislation while ignoring the attitudes, beliefs and practices that contribute to their disempowerment. Female sexuality and chastity, for example, is rooted in the belief that a woman is the repository of a man’s honour, and therefore liable to be punished for indulging in a relationship or in behaviour he deems ‘illicit’. Such beliefs trigger incidents of honour crimes. Culturally, although adultery is considered unforgivable, it is women who must pay its price (often with their lives) rather than men.
The issue of honour killings needs to be analysed historically, taking into account socio-cultural factors that trigger such incidents. This problem is not a recent phenomenon: it was very much a part of life in the subcontinent during the Raj, under which honour killings were well accommodated. The leniency of the British towards honour crimes resulted in strengthening this custom and transforming it into a legal defence.
Women continue to pay the cost of patriarchy with their lives.
This legal defence, in turn, became a useful tool in the pursuit of self-interest; the majority of cases seem to emerge from fake claims with no witnesses or evidence. In a number of cases, women are killed for exercising their right to marry a person of their choice. Such an act could lead to more women doing the same, which is perceived as a threat to male authority, as the disintegration of existing power structures within families and communities could overrule their power.
Freedom of choice is thus policed — often lethally. In several cases, such couples are called back by the woman’s family and killed. This is not just a punishment, but rather a warning to other women, should they choose to follow the same path and make their own decisions.
Latest figures on honour killings reveal an interesting fact that challenges the decades-old theory that this crime is generally prevalent in traditional rural areas. The new centre of such killings appears to be Faisalabad, the industrial hub of Punjab.
This finding stands in stark contrast to the old theory that the prevalence of honour killings in rural areas is linked to feudalism. Under feudalism, women undoubtedly have restricted opportunities for education, healthcare and employment, given that such access might weaken this system and transform the social order.
In contrast, industrialisation paves the way for increased employment opportunities for both men and women. Once demand for labour increases, women from lower classes make their way to the outskirts of cities where industries are often situated. This increases their bargaining power substantially, allowing for a somewhat improved position in decision-making. But this transition also threatens patriarchy, for its base starts to crumble with modernisation, industrialisation, and women’s access to mobility and engagement in economic activity. Under such circumstances, violence becomes an even more inevitable tool for maintaining patriarchal control.
For women who manage to survive an honour killing attempt, this issue continues to haunt them. Such a woman is often married off outside the community and disowned by her kin as punishment. She then enters a new world of agony — to be taunted as kari (‘black’, or corrupt, woman) and reminded of her status whenever she attempts to resist the oppression against her.
Unfortunately, most of the legislative reforms to criminalise violence against women in Pakistan meet with huge criticism and backlash, adding further to the plight of women. Given the current landscape, criminalising these acts and improving legislation for women’s protection cannot address the issue adequately unless such laws are strictly implemented. While the state finally appears to be shouldering its responsibility to punish perpetrators of honour killings, there remains a strong need to follow through on these initial steps lest more innocent women lose their lives in the name of ‘honour’.
The writer has a PhD in women’s studies.
Published in Dawn, January 4th, 2017
Without any incertitude, women are the most marginalized and discriminated gender in our society. They are often insecure and vulnerable to oppression at the hands of men. Every time a woman steps out of her home, she is weak and diffident; be it schools, workplaces or any other public space, a feeling of inferiority that surrounds most women goads them to face inhuman treatment, abuse and even domestic violence. Since men are, supposedly, the beings in our society who decide how honourable a woman is, it is considered a despicable act if a woman brings cases like these on the forefront or reports them to the police.
Domestic violence is one of the most gruesome acts committed against women in Pakistan. But, the plight of the repressed women does not end here. It’s horrifying and distressing that over the recent years many of the cases of domestic violence have led to the horrendous killings of women — most of them killed in the name of honour. And, this is the menace of honour killing that, undoubtedly, is a big, daunting challenge that our society is facing at present.
As the name itself suggests, honour killing is killing a person, in most cases women, to protect the honour and prestige of a person, family or clan. Women are subjected to honour killings when they are accused of bringing bad name to their families by committing an act their family disapproves. Although our religion and the law of the land are against this heinous crime, honour killings are still rampant in Pakistan and every now and then we hear news of such killings. It is on a frequent basis that women face violence especially at the hands of men, but the perpetrators of such violence often go scot free and even if they are punished, the punishments are often lenient.
However, it is quite encouraging for women that Pakistan’s parliament recently passed a piece of legislation whereby a punishment of life imprisonment for those who commit an honour killing, and 25 years’ of imprisonment if the family of the oppressed forgives the oppressor, has been introduced. The new honour killing law articulates that if a woman is murdered in the name of honour by a close relative or member of the family, they will whatsoever be held accountable and will be awarded strict punishment even if they are pardoned by another family member. This piece of legislation was sanctioned after an outrageous cry on social media over the heinous honour killing of the social media star Qandeel Baloch.
Although women rights activists like Aisha Sarwari and Farzana Bari have hailed the progressive nature of the law and have also recognized the efforts made for bringing such a pivotal issue on the forefront, yet it is important to note that out of the 446 legislators — 342 in National Assembly and 104 in the Senate — only one-fourth of the them actually attended the session. Moreover, only some of them understand the gravity of this issue. The principal reason behind such an overwhelming majority of the absentee parliamentarians can be deduced from the comments made by some senators. For instance, Senator Hafiz Hamdullah pointed out that the parliament should also address issues such as why women elope as the number of elopements has been soaring since 2014. He also blamed that the new law propagated Western ideologies. Hence, due to clashing mindsets, even after the approval of the honour killing law, there is a huge debate if the law should persist and be adhered to.
Even though the honour killing law faced tremendous criticism at the hands of some prominent religious parties like JUI-F, it did get supporters from other parties — PPP senators Farhatullah Babar, Sherry Rehman and others supported this law.
In a recent interview, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has also promised the implementation of the law in letter and spirit. “[H]onour killing was one of the most critical problems that Pakistan was facing and the government was determined to adopt all possible ways to remove this stain from our society … We will make it sure to fully enforce this legislation across the country,” he said.
Even after all the aforementioned statements and the vigour for the implementation of the law, it is important to see as to how the law will be implemented as far as the investigation of a case is concerned. For this law to not just remain merely a piece of legislation, it is important that there are no loopholes, and that is what will eventually showcase how serious the government actually is in curbing this menace of honour killings.
Another issue related to violence against women has been recently addressed by the government through the Anti-Rape Law.
In the Anti-Rape Bill, a provision to conduct DNA tests on both the victim and the alleged perpetrator has also been added; although rape persuasion rates are almost nil in the country, mainly because of the lack of evidence and flawed forensic testing. It is, nonetheless, important that the principal focus of these new laws is not just to eliminate violence against women in Pakistan but also to help effect a cultural shift in Pakistani society and enabling women to live safely without any vulnerability or insecurity engulfing them.
In fine, it can be said that though the passage of this law is a welcome step, sans efforts to effect a cultural shift in our society, it is highly likely that it will fail to accomplish the task of deterring honour killings. It is high time the government came forward to protect the women from being killed in the name of honour as there is no honour in killing anyone.
Conclusively, it shall be reminded that ‘honour killings’ must be stopped and the state as well as the civil society should play a leading role in stopping such crimes as they should be exposed for the brutal and ridiculous horror that they tend to spread. The government should not only pass such pieces of legislation or bills as they have prior to all incidents and as mentioned above but the execution of those is what will bring an end to the menace that is spread by this heinous crime. Being an Islamic Republic, the need to get religious scholars on panel is imperative too, as it is a national issue and they must educate the public and eradicate flawed notions propagating crimes such as honour killings. It is also important that we expand their outreach, especially to rural areas where leaders of the society would teach and educate illiterate masses on these atrocities and abuse committed against the women. Lastly, we should not undermine the significance of sustainable campaigns at grassroots levels that can be run in the future with a potential plan and help inform, educate and encourage to change the prevalent mindset of our society, finally making sure that these campaigns help eradicate this barbaric tradition from Pakistan.