BY ALISHA NURSE
The murder of Pakistan’s social media star Qandeel Baloch has once again brought so-called ‘honour killings’ to the fore. But in a country where thousands of women are violently killed every year by their families, in retribution for bringing perceived dishonour to the family name, Qandeel is unlikely to be the last face of the cause.
Qandeel, who came from a conservative working-class family, constantly challenged the status quo of patriarchal hegemony, flagging up the hypocrisy of cultural norms through provocative and increasingly political posts on social media. Her unlawful murder at the hands of her brother, who has admitted his guilt but declared he remained unembarrassed for the deed, paints a clear and dreadful picture about society’s failings.
Murderer Waseem Baloch brazenly said “I am proud of what I did. I drugged her first, then I killed her. She was bringing dishonour to our family.”
A change in law, while insufficient on its own to bring about change to the practise of honour killings, is needed. Legally, family members of victims are still able to pardon perpetrators. #Failnumber1
Despite continuous platitudes from Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif who last promised to address the issue earlier in the year, nothing has been done. #Failnumber2
Not too long after Sharif’s empty promise, 19 year old Anum Masih was bludgeoned to death by her brother because she wanted to marry her boyfriend.
Masih’s family is Christian, and in a country with a 95% Muslim population, Masih’s murder showed that the far reaching pressures of cultural norms and practises aren’t exclusive to any one group.
The greater problem
Honour killings originate from tribal and cultural practises in South Asia, and are used as punishment for behaviours thought to bring dishonour to a family or village. Most of the victims are women. In Pakistan, honour killings form part of a wider problem of violence against women. Women are not valued, and are often seen as family assets rather than free thinking human beings with potential. Consequently, ‘punishing’ women who do not observe traditions is deemed acceptable. #Failnumber3
For the first five months of 2016 alone, 212 women were murdered in honour killings in the country. These are the reported cases that we know of – critics say many cases go unreported.
Qandeel, who said she wanted to inspire women who have been “treated badly and dominated by society”, spoke out against this. Her own life had been mired in violence and mistreatment, and in the end, showed up the very contradictions of the societal judgement she and other women have been forced to live by.
On his arrest, Qandeel’s brother said “girls are born to stay home and follow traditions. My sister never did that.” One would think her family might have been grateful for this. After all, the very home they lived in was bought by Qandeel with her hard-earned money. It is this same house where her brother drugged and strangled her.
Made to marry an older man at the age of 17, Qandeel spoke of the abusive relationship and said her parents did not support her leaving her husband. #Failnumber4
She courageously left her husband, and moved to a women’s refuge where she supported herself through school by working several jobs. She supported her family financially and eventually moved them to the house she bought in Multan.
Qandeel was seen by many women as a heroine, who dared to defy the odds, becoming a symbol of things hoped and dreamed for in the misogynistic society. She had hundreds of thousands of followers on social media. But she had also attracted heavy criticism by those who felt she was pushing her boundaries as a woman.
After she ruffled feathers by appearing in a photograph with a religious cleric who had previously denounced her, details of her private life, including her real name, were published by the media in a scathing witch hunt. Yes, the media. #Failnumber5
Qandeel begged the authorities, including the Interior Ministry for protection, but her pleas fell on deaf ears. #Failnumber6
A close inspection of Qandeel’s life reveals multiple failings by society, in all quarters – including the family, religious institutions, the media and the state, who were all complicit in her unlawful murder. Ironically, the word honour means “the quality of knowing and doing what is morally right.” And it is clear, no argument is needed to uphold that there is no honour in ‘honour killings.’ The opposite is in fact true.
Qandeel knew her own story wasn’t unique. All around her there were examples of women being mistreated as second class citizens under heavy moral policing. Pakistan comes almost last on the World Economic Forum’s 2015 Gender Gap Report – a rating of 145 countries on gender disparity. Unicef also reports that 21% of girls are married off before they reach the age of 18 in Pakistan.
In her last post on facebook, Qandeel wrote “As women we must stand up for justice...I am just a woman with free thoughts, free mindset, and I love the way I am,” using the hashtags ‘#Will do things my own way,’, ‘#just watch me.’
Qandeel has moved from Pakistan’s spotlight to the world stage, though tragically in death. An online petition calling for justice for her has now garnered over 3000 signatures.
The world is now watching, but the question is, what will we do?
Alisha Nurse loves curry, sharing stories and talking to random people on public transportation. She lives in London, and regularly blogs about fibromyalgia and depression at www.theinvisiblef.com
Follow Alisha on Twitter @AliApow