P.O. Box 41, 4000 Dundas Street West, Toronto, ON M6S 2T7
July 18, 2016
Qandeel Baloch, was a 26-year-old social media celebrity who had boldly decided to live “outside the box.” The box in this case being the parameters laid out by the majority of men in Pakistan dictating how much freedom a woman can have in their staunchly patriarchal society. She courageously pushed those parameters by publicly commenting on and challenging the restrictions placed upon women. Qandeel’s behavior was tame by our standards, but in the prohibitive society in which she lived, she was a true lightning rod. She dared to rebuke women’s subjugated position in Pakistani society and she was murdered by her own brother for doing so. He said that he “killed for honor” and has “no regrets,” because “girls are meant to stay at home.”
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan recently released a report noting that honor killings were on the rise. 1,096 Pakistani women were killed in honor-related attacks in 2015, which amounts to three killings per day. Globally, it is estimated that 20,000 women are killed in the name of honor each year. And these are just the reported cases.
Honor killing is a tribal custom wherein the honor of a village, a tribe, or a family lies in the body of a woman. As long as she follows the dictates of her family and abides by societal rules, she is considered noble. As soon as a woman decides to exercise freedom of thought or action, she is considered to have crossed the line – a line dictated by male members of her family. Once this happens, she is a marked woman, forever tainted and blood must be drawn in order to restore the family’s honor.
In 2016, the Pakistani filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy won the Academy Award for her film, “Girl in the River,” a documentary about honor killings. Obaid-Chinoy has called for an Anti-Honor Killing bill. However, this legislation will be difficult to pass in a country where according to a law based on Sharia, the family of a victim is allowed to forgive the killer. And, since most often the killers are part of the family as in Baloch’s case, relatives rarely even register a complaint. It’s a sickeningly vicious cycle. Other members of the family forgive the killer and he goes free, thus signaling to other men that they too can take lives without risk of prosecution.
In the Baloch case, almost as horrific as the actual murder was the social media reaction in which scores of Pakistanis applauded her killing and wrote that Baloch indeed needed to die as she was a ‘dishonorable’ woman. These killers go unpunished and they don’t even experience stigma in a society that considers their actions not only justified, but righteous.
Baloch had done the unthinkable. She had exposed the hypocrisy of Pakistani society, spoken out against abuse at the hands of her former husband and had the audacity to declare that she was master of her own body.
She also exposed the double standards of the Mullahs but perhaps her biggest mistake in the eyes of those who decided to snuff out her life, was the fact that she stood against patriarchy and misogyny in Pakistan. For this she gave her life.
We in the West are not immune to honor-based violence. In Canada, there have been 13 cases of honor killings since 2002. However a project was undertaken by grassroots activists to educate Members of Parliament by sending them a copy of the award winning documentary Honor Diaries. This allowed Parliament to host many round table discussions as well as invite testimony by women regarding the issue of honor-based violence. The result was Bill S-7, the Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act which was passed in June 2015.
The bill raised the legal marital age to 16 and added forced marriage to the Criminal Code. It also strengthened the laws around polygamy, with an eye to preventing immigration by those who engage in the practice and making it easier to deport people who do. And, it toughened the rules around honor killings, so that the defense of provocation could no longer be used in court.
The global struggle to eliminate honor-based violence requires grassroots activism as well as strict laws put in place that will deter the perpetrators of such crimes. If we don’t act, this barbaric practice will continue. Us girls cannot stay at home.