The HRCP’s recent report on honour killings in Pakistan indicates that the average woman continues to be victimised by patriarchal, clannish traditions even as legislation is passed to criminalise such abuse. The report states that 675 women were killed in the name of ‘honour’ between January and September 2011. Several aspects of this horrifying trend must be analysed in order to understand its persistence and halt its onslaught. On the one hand we can focus on the judicial system’s loopholes. We can insist that women be given adequate and impartial access to police protection and legal aid, and we can press for perpetrators to be dealt with harshly so as to deter further acts of violence against women.
On the other hand, we can seek to address the widespread cultural biases women face — biases that are often the motivating factor behind honour killings, acid attacks and similar abuse. These biases against women are so pervasive that often women are not considered independent, equal members of society even in Pakistan’s most advanced urban settings. A woman’s fate is tied to her (invariably) male guardian’s fortune throughout her life. Importantly, she is seen as both a reflection and a source of her guardian’s status in society. This ensures that she can be bought, sold, blamed and exonerated at the community’s will, in accordance with whatever her family believes will increase or restore their ‘honour.’ These cultural biases may be the hardest to overcome, but ultimately social awareness is the only way that honour killings will gain widespread public disapproval. It is essential that women be made aware of their right to live free from the tyranny of arbitrary dispensations of justice. It is equally important that women’s participation in public life be enhanced, so that they are valued and viewed as more than easily disposable accessories. In the absence of concerted government efforts to eradicate honour killings, most women have no choice but to submit to whatever punishment their community metes out to them simply because they have nowhere to turn. In the meantime, short-term measures like establishing safe havens for women who choose to flee their homes instead of submitting to sweeping tribal judgments may have a positive impact on the chilling death toll presented to us.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 22nd, 2011.