The conspiracy continues. While Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy won the Oscar a second time around, many insist her latest documentary triumph “A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness” is yet another attempt to defame Pakistan.
This is part of the same international conspiracy, they say, under which Malala Yousafzai received her Nobel prize while there were more deserving candidates. But because the West wants to embarrass Pakistan, it only highlights the negative aspects of our country.
What is worrisome is that these are not the views of the uneducated and the under-privileged. These comments come from our educated middle class. Pakistanis who cry themselves hoarse over other issues like what is happening in Gaza, drone attacks or the country’s VIP culture.
They have been strangely silent over both Pakistan’s second Nobel laureate, and our two-time Oscar winner. The charge-sheet against both Malala and Sharmeen is long, while facts do not come in the way.
In any other country, Sharmeen’s return would have been met with a public welcome. Instead, we were all silent.
Addressing her first news conference upon her return to Karachi from the Oscars, Sharmeen said there are people in Pakistan who find nothing wrong in murdering women. “Obviously working on changing that sort of mindset comes with its own set of difficulties,” she rightly pointed.
At the time of her return, religious parties that remain silent on honour killings were busy protesting against the Women’s Protection Act, a bill passed by the Punjab Assembly recently.
The bill gives unprecedented legal protection to women from domestic, psychological and sexual violence. It also calls for the creation of a toll-free abuse reporting hot-line and the establishment of women shelters.
It is ironic that in our country, children cannot learn in their textbooks about Malala or Sharmeen. The PTI-led K-P government will not allow this in K-P and other provinces too have followed suit. As we mark the International Women’s Day this week, it is important to understand the challenges that Pakistan faces on issues highlighted by Malala and Sharmeen. Most of our girls are not enrolled in schools. They are denied equal opportunities from the day they are born. Their access to education is limited and the quality of education given poor. But the challenges do not end here.
Last year parliament was told by the ministry of law that some 933 women were murdered across the country in honour killings. A total of 456 and 477 cases of honour killings were reported in Pakistan in 2013 and 2014, respectively, with the highest reported cases in Sindh.
Unofficial estimates put the number much higher. As many as 500 women and girls are murdered in honour killings each year making Pakistan one of the most dangerous countries for women. These victims are not just statistics: they are mothers, daughters and sisters and their deaths destroy families. In most instances unfortunately, it is close family members who kill them in the first place.
Honour killings occur all over the country under various names like kala-kali (Punjab), karo-kari (Sindh), tor-tora (K-P) and Siyakari (Balochistan), while our government continues to ignore this as part of our local customs, or so we are told. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Recently, our parliament which is swamped by landlords who prolong this feudal custom took some notice. The Senate passed the Anti-Rape Laws (Criminal Laws Amendment) Bill, 2014, and Anti-Honour Killings Laws (Criminal Laws Amendment) Bill, 2014. This was moved by a senator from the Pakistan People’s Party, under whose government the situation is the worst in Sindh province.
Let us see what happens next. As things stand, honour killings rarely result in arrest or convictions and even if they are taken into custody, most of the killers are set free on bail. Things need to change. But the change should come in attitudes. For example, rape cases are reported and registered, yet convictions of the accused are abysmally low.
According to HRCP data, 1,957 incidents of honour killings had been recorded over the past four years. The average rate of honour killings of women between 15-64 years was found to be 15 per million women per year. This may be yet another dubious world distinction we have achieved.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 7th, 2016.