Conflict Alerts

Conflict Alerts # 97, 27 May 2020

Pakistan: Killing in the name of honour continues; this time in Waziristan 
Abigail Miriam Fernandez

In the news

On 17 May, North Waziristan police arrested two suspects who were involved in the honour killing of two teenage girls. Both are relatives of the victims, one being the father and the other is a cousin of the girls. The two of the three girls were killed on 14 May, after an 'objectionable' short video of them with a young man in a secluded area outdoors surfaced on social media. 

Issues at large

First, the belief of women as property and thereby a source of honour is deeply rooted in society. For many within Pakistan, women and girls are seen to embody family honour, their identity, existence and social respects are derived or measured by their obedience to family demands. This is even more prominent in tribal societies, where anything a woman does can compromise the honour of the family. Thus, honour crimes are committed as a way of policing or disciplining women and girls who are seen to be violating the social code. 

Hundreds of women and girls are killed in the name of "honour" in Pakistan every year. Clapping, dancing, enjoying at weddings, living life independently or even desiring to be educated are crimes that are believed to put in stake the honour of the family and society, thereby sanctifying their killings.

Second, tribal practices and customs possess a higher status than the federal law. Given the geographical context of this incident, women in tribal areas like in North Waziristan, have little freedom, and local customs often hold greater influence than federal laws. In many regions, honour killing is not considered as a crime by the jirga (tribal council) but a legitimate action of the man whose family was dishonoured. 

Third, successive governments have failed to govern mainstream legislations. The lack of governance in tribal areas has left conservative and archaic practices to continue. The federal government has not been able to implement legislation in these regions. Thus, the government of Pakistan has failed to exercise due diligence in protecting the rights of women. Further, the rise of militancy in tribal areas has not been efficiently tackled by the government, leaving women a target of violence.

Fourth, the limited reach of the judiciary in tribal areas has made fighting a legal battle inaccessible for these women. Seeking justice is extremely problematic in Pakistan where many legal loopholes currently exist which allow perpetrators of honour killings to escape any punishment. Under Pakistani law in cases of murder, the victim's family is allowed to pardon the perpetrators. The culprits are then free from prosecution and sentencing.

In perspective 

First, crimes against women seem to be a private matter in Pakistan where the law or state authorities are unable to 'break the glass ceiling'.  Despite the government's legislative initiative and achievement, the law has not prevented the murder of women for honour, and the number of victims who have been prone to violence has only increased.

Second, 'honour killings' are an extreme expression of patriarchal violence, and this practice needs to be strongly condemned and timely justice must be delivered. However, killing in the name of honour is not driven by customs and traditions only but also by the local gender system, a feudal structure that upholds the conceptions and sanctity of manhood, and the complicit role of state institutions and law enforcement agencies. More leaders will have to speak about the issue and initiatives to change attitudes.

Third, from a larger perspective honour killing are not an exclusively Pakistan's problem. Cases emerge routinely from countries such as Turkey, Jordan, Syria, and even Muslim diasporas in Western countries. Nor are honour killings an exclusively Muslim problem. Thus, a major key in tacking this issue is starting from the bottom; it is only when communities see these crimes as unethical can transformation and change occur.

Abigail Miriam Fernandez is a Research Assistant at the National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bengaluru

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