Without any incertitude, women are the most marginalized and discriminated gender in our society. They are often insecure and vulnerable to oppression at the hands of men. Every time a woman steps out of her home, she is weak and diffident; be it schools, workplaces or any other public space, a feeling of inferiority that surrounds most women goads them to face inhuman treatment, abuse and even domestic violence. Since men are, supposedly, the beings in our society who decide how honourable a woman is, it is considered a despicable act if a woman brings cases like these on the forefront or reports them to the police.
Domestic violence is one of the most gruesome acts committed against women in Pakistan. But, the plight of the repressed women does not end here. It’s horrifying and distressing that over the recent years many of the cases of domestic violence have led to the horrendous killings of women — most of them killed in the name of honour. And, this is the menace of honour killing that, undoubtedly, is a big, daunting challenge that our society is facing at present.
As the name itself suggests, honour killing is killing a person, in most cases women, to protect the honour and prestige of a person, family or clan. Women are subjected to honour killings when they are accused of bringing bad name to their families by committing an act their family disapproves. Although our religion and the law of the land are against this heinous crime, honour killings are still rampant in Pakistan and every now and then we hear news of such killings. It is on a frequent basis that women face violence especially at the hands of men, but the perpetrators of such violence often go scot free and even if they are punished, the punishments are often lenient.
However, it is quite encouraging for women that Pakistan’s parliament recently passed a piece of legislation whereby a punishment of life imprisonment for those who commit an honour killing, and 25 years’ of imprisonment if the family of the oppressed forgives the oppressor, has been introduced. The new honour killing law articulates that if a woman is murdered in the name of honour by a close relative or member of the family, they will whatsoever be held accountable and will be awarded strict punishment even if they are pardoned by another family member. This piece of legislation was sanctioned after an outrageous cry on social media over the heinous honour killing of the social media star Qandeel Baloch.
Although women rights activists like Aisha Sarwari and Farzana Bari have hailed the progressive nature of the law and have also recognized the efforts made for bringing such a pivotal issue on the forefront, yet it is important to note that out of the 446 legislators — 342 in National Assembly and 104 in the Senate — only one-fourth of the them actually attended the session. Moreover, only some of them understand the gravity of this issue. The principal reason behind such an overwhelming majority of the absentee parliamentarians can be deduced from the comments made by some senators. For instance, Senator Hafiz Hamdullah pointed out that the parliament should also address issues such as why women elope as the number of elopements has been soaring since 2014. He also blamed that the new law propagated Western ideologies. Hence, due to clashing mindsets, even after the approval of the honour killing law, there is a huge debate if the law should persist and be adhered to.
Even though the honour killing law faced tremendous criticism at the hands of some prominent religious parties like JUI-F, it did get supporters from other parties — PPP senators Farhatullah Babar, Sherry Rehman and others supported this law.
In a recent interview, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has also promised the implementation of the law in letter and spirit. “[H]onour killing was one of the most critical problems that Pakistan was facing and the government was determined to adopt all possible ways to remove this stain from our society … We will make it sure to fully enforce this legislation across the country,” he said.
Even after all the aforementioned statements and the vigour for the implementation of the law, it is important to see as to how the law will be implemented as far as the investigation of a case is concerned. For this law to not just remain merely a piece of legislation, it is important that there are no loopholes, and that is what will eventually showcase how serious the government actually is in curbing this menace of honour killings.
Another issue related to violence against women has been recently addressed by the government through the Anti-Rape Law.
In the Anti-Rape Bill, a provision to conduct DNA tests on both the victim and the alleged perpetrator has also been added; although rape persuasion rates are almost nil in the country, mainly because of the lack of evidence and flawed forensic testing. It is, nonetheless, important that the principal focus of these new laws is not just to eliminate violence against women in Pakistan but also to help effect a cultural shift in Pakistani society and enabling women to live safely without any vulnerability or insecurity engulfing them.
In fine, it can be said that though the passage of this law is a welcome step, sans efforts to effect a cultural shift in our society, it is highly likely that it will fail to accomplish the task of deterring honour killings. It is high time the government came forward to protect the women from being killed in the name of honour as there is no honour in killing anyone.
Conclusively, it shall be reminded that ‘honour killings’ must be stopped and the state as well as the civil society should play a leading role in stopping such crimes as they should be exposed for the brutal and ridiculous horror that they tend to spread. The government should not only pass such pieces of legislation or bills as they have prior to all incidents and as mentioned above but the execution of those is what will bring an end to the menace that is spread by this heinous crime. Being an Islamic Republic, the need to get religious scholars on panel is imperative too, as it is a national issue and they must educate the public and eradicate flawed notions propagating crimes such as honour killings. It is also important that we expand their outreach, especially to rural areas where leaders of the society would teach and educate illiterate masses on these atrocities and abuse committed against the women. Lastly, we should not undermine the significance of sustainable campaigns at grassroots levels that can be run in the future with a potential plan and help inform, educate and encourage to change the prevalent mindset of our society, finally making sure that these campaigns help eradicate this barbaric tradition from Pakistan.