Pak­istani women unite to take ‘honor’ out of killing

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Naeema Kish­war shrouds her­self in a burqa, show­ing only her eyes. She be­longs to a Pak­istani po­lit­i­cal party that has been linked to the Tale­ban. And she comes from deeply con­ser­va­tive tribal lands where girls have been killed for go­ing to school. Sughra Imam some­times wears a scarf draped lightly on her hair, but of­ten her head is bare. She be­longs to a lib­eral party whose leader, Be­nazir Bhutto, the first fe­male prime min­is­ter of this pre­dom­i­nantly Mus­lim na­tion, was as­sas­si­nated by ex­trem­ists. She comes from a prom­i­nent Pak­istani fam­ily and was ed­u­cated at Har­vard. So much di­vides the two politi­cians, but at least one thing unites them: they have spent their ca­reers fight­ing for women. They be­came un­likely al­lies in the bat­tle to pass a his­toric law to pro­tect women from mur­der by mem­bers of their own fam­i­lies. In Pak­istan, leg­is­la­tion passed decades ago has al­lowed many of those who kill in the name of fam­ily “honor” to go free.

A fam­ily’s honor can be “tar­nished” by some­thing as in­no­cent as sit­ting next to an un­known man, or help­ing a friend elope with the man of her choice. The law de­crees that rel­a­tives of a mur­der vic­tim can for­give the killer. Hu­man rights groups ar­gued that in the case of “honor” killing, this granted im­mu­nity to killers, be­cause both vic­tim and per­pe­tra­tor are usu­ally fam­ily mem­bers. Hard-line Is­lamic groups, how­ever, de­fended for­give­ness as a re­li­gious edict from the Qu­ran.

But the mood in the coun­try be­gan to shift in the last year with the rise of so­cial me­dia and a pro­lif­er­a­tion of tele­vi­sion chan­nels that started cover­ing “honor” killings. Pak­ista­nis grew out­raged over a series of grotesque mur­ders: a daugh­ter burned alive by her mother, a so­cial me­dia star drugged and stran­gled by her brother, a teenage girl or­dered by a tribal coun­cil to be bound and burned like Joan of Arc for help­ing a friend elope.

Af­ter Imam be­came a mem­ber of par­lia­ment’s up­per house seven years ago, the poor who tilled the land in her con­stituency in Pun­jab prov­ince started com­ing to her with sto­ries of a man who had killed his wife af­ter see­ing her talk­ing to an­other man, or of a brother who killed his sis­ter for hav­ing “il­licit” re­la­tions. She saw that the men who killed showed no worry of even go­ing to jail. “No one was ever afraid. They never felt they would be pun­ished. They knew they would be for­given,” Imam says. —AP

Pak­istani law­maker Naeema Kish­war

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