Violence against women in Pakistan: The alarming case of honour killing

Honour killings, a deeply rooted issue in Pakistan, have once again come to the forefront after the tragic death of a young woman who was seen in a viral photo with a man. The woman, whose identity has been withheld, was allegedly shot dead by her father and uncle on the orders of a tribal jirga, or council, in the remote Kohistan region of Pakistan. The photo, which police suspect was doctored, led to a series of threats and attacks targeting individuals whose pictures went viral on social media. The incident has once again shed light on the prevalence of honour killings in Pakistan and the urgent need for action to address this heinous crime.

Honour killings, also known as “karo-kari,” are a brutal form of violence against women that continues to plague Pakistani society. They are typically carried out by family members who claim to be defending their family’s honour. These killings are often a response to perceived violations of conservative norms, such as refusing to enter into an arranged marriage or being the victim of sexual assault or rape. However, they can also be motivated by more trivial reasons, such as dressing in a manner deemed inappropriate or displaying disobedience.

Pakistan has seen a significant number of honour killings in recent years, with hundreds of women falling victim to this brutal practice annually. Men, although in smaller numbers, have also been targeted in such cases. The case of the three Kohistani women who were killed for singing and clapping at a wedding highlights the extreme lengths to which some individuals are willing to go in order to maintain their distorted sense of honour. The subsequent blood feud resulted in the killing of four men, further highlighting the cycle of violence perpetuated by such acts.

The prevalence of honour killings in Pakistan reflects a deeply rooted patriarchal mindset and a disregard for the worth and autonomy of women. These crimes are often justified using tribal customs and outdated cultural beliefs that prioritize the preservation of family honour over the lives and well-being of individuals. This mentality perpetuates a cycle of violence and impunity, as individuals who commit these crimes are often able to evade justice.

In 2016, Pakistan’s government took a step towards addressing this issue by amending legislation to impose mandatory life sentences on honour killers. Previously, killers could avoid punishment if pardoned by the victim’s family. However, despite these legal changes, human rights groups argue that killers continue to evade justice. This was evident in the case of Qandeel Baloch, a social media star whose brother was acquitted of her murder on appeal, despite initially confessing to the crime.

The tragic incident in Kohistan once again highlights the urgent need for stronger law enforcement and a comprehensive approach to tackling honour killings in Pakistan. It is essential to challenge and change the societal norms and attitudes that perpetuate such violence, and to provide support and protection for individuals at risk. Education and awareness campaigns are crucial in challenging existing beliefs and promoting gender equality and women’s rights.

Furthermore, it is imperative to hold perpetrators accountable for their actions. This requires not only effective investigation and prosecution of honour killings but also ensuring the safety of witnesses and victims’ families, who often face immense pressure and threats from their communities. Collaborative efforts between law enforcement, judiciary, civil society organizations, and international partners are essential to combat the deeply entrenched culture of honour killings in Pakistan.

The tragic death of the young woman in Kohistan should serve as a wake-up call for Pakistan. It is a stark reminder that progress in women’s rights and gender equality cannot be achieved without addressing the pervasive violence and discrimination that persists in society. Only through comprehensive and sustained efforts can Pakistan hope to create a society where every individual, regardless of gender, is valued, respected, and safe from harm.