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4/18/2018 5,000 women a year are still being killed in the name of ‘honour’ | World Economic Forum

5,000 women a year are still being killed in


the name of ‘honour’

'There's no honour in killing.' Human rights campaigners hold up placards in Islamabad


Image: REUTERS/Faisal Mahmood

22 Jul 2016

Stéphanie Thomson
Writer

She was Pakistan’s first social media celebrity, the country’s answer to Kim Kardashian. Bold,
outspoken and controversial, Qandeel Baloch challenged the idea that a woman’s role was to
marry a man of her family’s choosing and be an obedient wife. In doing so, she called into
question archaic but deeply ingrained social norms.

For that she was punished. Last week, Baloch’s brother drugged and strangled her, in what he
would later describe as an “honour” killing. “Girls are born only to stay at home and follow
tradition, but my sister never did that,” he told journalists after the murder. “I am proud of what I
did.”

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“Masculinity, so fragile, a woman only needs to breathe to hurt it.” An image depicting Qandeel Baloch

Her death led to protests across Pakistan, made international headlines, and once again brought
attention to a practice that advocacy groups estimate claims 5,000 women’s lives each year.
How, in 2016, are women still being murdered for “offences” as innocuous as falling in love with
the wrong person?

A community affair
It’s hard for most people to comprehend how someone could ever be driven to murder their own
daughter, sister, niece or cousin simply to restore what they consider to be their family honour. To
understand, you need to look to the wider community in which these families live, says Deeyah
Khan, whose 2012 documentary on the issue, Banaz: A Love Story, received an Emmy.

“The ideas around honour go beyond any individual family: they are expressed by the whole
community. Policing the behaviour of girls and young women is central to the maintenance of
order and hierarchy within these extremely patriarchal communities, and those families that are
seen to be failing in this duty face extraordinary pressures. They can be excluded, even harassed,
until they take some kind of step to restore their ‘honour’.”

It’s this communal aspect that has made the crime so hard to root out, points out Sharmeen
Obaid-Chinoy. A member of the Forum’s Young Global Leaders community, she won an Oscar in

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2015 for A Girl in the River, which told the story of Saba Qaiser, whose father attempted to kill
her.

“From its origins to its execution, ‘honour’ killing is entirely community sanctioned. It is difficult to
change a mindset in a society where people feel it is acceptable to punish a woman for
transgressions against perceived codes of honour, even if it results in the death of a person.”

No honour in murder
Difficult, but not impossible. In places like Pakistan, it starts with a change of law.

“The law in Pakistan views honour killing as an offence against the individual and not the state,
making it possible for a victim’s family to ‘forgive’ the perpetrator. If a father kills his daughter, the
wife can forgive her husband. If a brother kills his sister, the parents can forgive their son,” Obaid-
Chinoy says.

It not only means murderers go unpunished, it also creates a society where “honour” killings are
not seen as crimes. That’s what Obaid-Chinoy found when she interviewed Saba’s father for her
film. “He was adamant that Saba was in the wrong, and he felt justified in trying to kill his own
daughter. He felt it was his duty as a father and husband to protect his family from the ‘dishonour’
Saba brought on them by falling in love and getting married.”

In 2011, 4 in 10 Pakistanis said ‘honour’ killing is sometimes justified

There have been moves towards legal reform in the country. Two years ago, Senator Sughra
Imam introduced the Anti-Honour Killings Laws, which attempted to make the crime non-
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compoundable – essentially preventing families from forgiving perpetrators. “Passing this bill
would right a long-standing wrong in Pakistani society,” Obaid-Chinoy argues. “Victims need to
be protected and perpetrators need to be punished, otherwise what acts as a deterrent for future
cases?”

Until recently, the law had been blocked by parliament, but in the aftermath of Qandeel Baloch’s
death and the uproar it caused, it looks like it might pass within weeks. “We have finalized the
draft law in the light of negotiations,” the daughter of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said a week
after the social media star’s murder.

Just as importantly, though, broader attitudes towards women need to change. According to
Khan, that is starting to happen.

“Certainly there are extremely regressive attitudes in our communities. At the same time, there are
very many progressive voices pushing for change.” But the reaction to Qandeel Baloch’s death –
with even liberal-minded people condemning her life choices, as though this in some way justifies
what happened to her – shows how much work is yet to be done.

“Some people seem to understand that freedom for women is important in theory, but still
women’s behaviour is scrutinized, as if the concept of freedom were conditional,” Khan notes.

“Freedom is meaningless unless women can do what they want with it, whether its twerking or
getting a doctorate. As well as challenging violence against women, we also have to work
towards understanding a wider range of behaviours as being acceptable.”
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Written by

Stéphanie Thomson, Writer

The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

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