In the movie, Mulan, when the emperor’s advisor gasps “a woman!” upon realizing that Ping is indeed not who he said he was, one cannot possibly fail to detect the disgust in his tone. At the age of six, watching it for the first time, I understood that a female impersonating a male soldier was not only the highest act of treason, but going unnoticed was the harshest blow to the male ego, and THAT was the crime truly deserving of execution.
At the ripe age of twenty, patriarchy is more than just a word in my vocabulary. It has served, and continues to serve, as the most terrifying and unwanted reminder in my life that I am to remain in conformity with the terms dictated to me by society. It might as well be labelled my way or the highway (disclaimer: there is no highway).
Honour killing, the very same frightening concept that found its way into the plot of an American-made children’s movie, is, to the highest degree of misfortune, still an actively participated custom in many countries, one of them Pakistan. Commonly known as ‘karo-kari’ in Urdu, the term initially referred to an adulterer and adulteress respectively, but in recent times, the justification for such killings has well expanded beyond adultery (Patel and Gadit, 2008).
A whopping 1,100 Pakistani women were reported victims of honour killings in 2015, which could either suggest such killings were on the rise, or data compilation became more accurate due to more reports being filed (BBC News, 2016). According to women’s rights advocates, the concept of women as property and honour are so deeply entrenched in the social, political and economic fabric of Pakistan, it is normal for the government to overlook the killings of women at the hands of their own families (Hassan, 1999). The glorious tradition of honour killing is one that is centuries old, and while it is as barbaric now as it was then, what’s appalling is how the law is riddled with loopholes that almost serve as encouragement, allowing this to continue.
In 1979, General Zia Ul Haq attempted to restore Pakistan to the Islamic foundation it was based on, introducing the Hudood Ordinances. Among them, the most controversial related to sexual offences, because of how misogynistic they appeared to be. For a woman to prove zina-al-jabr (rape), she required FOUR MALE WITNESSES (Paracha, 2011). So many questions ran through my mind when I read that twice to make sure I wasn’t hallucinating because surely it was too ridiculous a requirement to actually be true.
- Which rapist would allow room for incrimination by allowing the possibility of anyone witnessing the act?
- What are the chances of the witnesses all being male? And why as many as four?
- If a female witnessed it, could she not testify? Is a female’s word not equivalent to that of a male’s?
- In the case that there were witnesses, if they did nothing at the time to protect the woman, what could possibly incentivize them to come forward and testify against the rapist in court? (obviously human decency is not an option)
The lack of evidence would instead convict the woman, as the case would be tried as adultery/fornication (Paracha, 2011). The only real choice women had was whose hands to be killed by, the law (since punishments ranged from lashes to stoning), or her own family, for bringing dishonor and shame.
Under the very same Hudood Ordinances, the killer could be set free by relatives of the murder victim, if they settled compensation out of court (Taipeitimes.com, 2004). It’s not just salt in the wound, but red hot chili pepper in there as well, knowing that there could be monetary value placed on the life of a human being.
In 2014, the most twisted case of honour killing in recent years, was that of Farzana Iqbal (née Parveen). She succumbed to her injuries after being beaten by her own family, with stones and sticks, right outside Lahore High Court. Their reasoning was that she married against their wishes and without their consent, and her father was quoted, saying he had no regrets over it (Chaudhry and Babar, 2014). Her husband, Muhammad Iqbal, also later beaten to death, protested against his wife’s honour killing and refused to forgive her family. However, in an interesting and awfully ironic turn of events, the grieving husband admitted to having strangled his own first wife in order to marry Farzana, justifying the baseless and unnecessary act under the pretense of love. He used Islamic provisions of Pakistan’s legal system to avoid a prison sentence, the same provisions he insisted his wife’s killers be denied (Boone, 2014).
Having Pakistan rank as the world’s third most dangerous place in the world for women, coupled with the international uproar, led to the Protection of Women against Violence Bill 2015. At first, thought to be a game-changer, the act established a toll free hotline for reporting abuse, shelters for abused women and even GPS bracelets to track perpetrators (Darnaud, 2016). However, little implementation has been seen this whole year. The bill received quite a bit of criticism from advisors to the government, and committees on faith issues in the country. It was declared ‘un-Islamic’ and met with resistance on a national level. The same council to declare the bill as plain wrong, was criticized before for ruling against the validity of DNA samples – real empirical evidence – in rape cases, stating the absence of four pious male witnesses to be grounds for dismissal. The head of Pakistan’s largest religious party went so far as to say “This law makes a man insecure. This law is an attempt to make Pakistan a Western colony again.” (Fenton, 2016) And that is where the problem lies. Giving rights to a woman, hurts a man. The possibility of equality is a shuddering thought.
Pakistan’s neighboring countries such as Afghanistan, India and Tajikistan don’t fall far on the spectrum of domestic abuse and honour killings. In the famous 2013 Dehli gang rape trial, one of the defendants said the girl was wholly responsible for her own rape and death by being out so late at night, and resisting the rape when she should have let it happen while remaining silent. The lawyer defending the later convicted rapists, claimed he had never heard of a “respected lady” being raped in India, implying Jyoti Singh was deserving of the tragedy that took her life (The Sydney Morning Herald, 2013).
In an Amnesty International report about violence against women in Tajikistan, it was revealed that in Tajik culture, marital rape is not considered rape, thus making it a taboo and unapproachable subject. A UNICEF survey further revealed that 47.9% of Tajik women justify a beating from the husband if the wife refuses to have sex with him and 68% if she merely argues with him. The general social attitude and de facto policy of law enforcement in these countries is to ‘keep it within the family’ (the private sphere, where women belong and should stop trying to crawl out of), hence the lack of police intervention and the deaths of many women being reported as accidents or suicides upon the bodies being found (Amnesty International, 2009). In some cases they are not even discovered, and eventually forgotten since many of the marriages are undocumented, or the girls are underage, having left their education for forced marriage.
It seems as though the heavily embedded culture has created an inversion in the criminal system. The warped notions of morality have made the killer come out as the champion of justice for restoring the very same honour the perpetrator (the real victim) threatened to destroy by committing socially deplorable acts. After painting a very bleak picture of Pakistan’s past, present and seemingly its future regarding the protection and equality of women, it is almost unrealistic to be able to find a silver lining…
(Middlesex University Dubai)
Amnesty International, (2009). VIOLENCE IS NOT JUST A FAMILY AFFAIR WOMEN FACE ABUSE IN TAJIKISTAN. [online] Amnesty International. Available at: https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/EUR60/001/2009/en/ [Accessed 9 Dec. 2016].
BBC News. (2016). Pakistan honour killings on the rise, report reveals – BBC News. [online] Available at: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-35943732 [Accessed 9 Dec. 2016].
Boone, J. (2014). Pakistani man protesting ‘honour killing’ admits strangling first wife. [online] The Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/may/29/pakistan-man-protesting-honour-killing-admits-strangling-first-wife [Accessed 8 Dec. 2016].
Chaudhry, K. and Babar, Z. (2014). Pregnant Pakistani woman stoned to death by family. [online] In.news.yahoo.com. Available at: https://in.news.yahoo.com/pregnant-pakistani-woman-stoned-death-family-163143284.html [Accessed 9 Dec. 2016].
Darnaud, G. (2016). Pakistan’s new law protecting women against violence may be a game changer. [online] Global Citizen. Available at: https://www.globalcitizen.org/en/content/pakistan-law-women-violence-honourkilling/ [Accessed 9 Dec. 2016].
Fenton, S. (2016). Protecting women against domestic violence is un-Islamic, leading religious council rules. [online] The Independent. Available at: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/bill-protecting-women-against-domestic-violence-is-un-islamic-pakistani-advisory-group-rules-a6911161.html [Accessed 9 Dec. 2016].
Hassan, Y. (1999). The Fate of Pakistani Women. [online] Nytimes.com. Available at: http://www.nytimes.com/1999/03/25/opinion/the-fate-of-pakistani-women.html [Accessed 9 Dec. 2016].
Paracha, N. (2011). The Hudood Ordinances. [online] DAWN.COM. Available at: http://www.dawn.com/news/626858/the-hudood-ordinances [Accessed 7 Dec. 2016].
Patel, S. and Gadit, A. (2008). Karo-Kari: A Form of Honour Killing in Pakistan. Transcultural Psychiatry, 45(4), pp.683-694.
Taipeitimes.com. (2004). Pakistan’s honor killings enjoy high-level support – Taipei Times. [online] Available at: http://www.taipeitimes.com/News/world/archives/2004/07/24/2003180222 [Accessed 9 Dec. 2016].
The Sydney Morning Herald. (2013). Victims in Delhi rape case are to blame, defendants’ lawyer says. [online] Available at: https://web.archive.org/web/20130109203801/http://www.smh.com.au/world/victims-in-delhi-rape-case-are-to-blame-defendants-lawyer-says-20130110-2ch95.html [Accessed 9 Dec. 2016].