Pakistani women unite to take ‘honor’ out of killing
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