Did Nawaz Sharif just wake up to honour killings in Pakistan?

Published: January 18, 2016

If that’s the only way get our foot in through the door to the power corridors, let’s hope Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy wins an Oscar every year.

When it comes to the barrage of crimes against women, Pakistan ranks among the highest in the world. Such crimes against women include violence (sexual and non-sexual), trafficking and murder in the name of “honour”. While no crime is worse than the other, the regularity with which honour killings occur in Pakistan is especially harrowing.

As a matter of fact, more than 1,000 women die from honour-based killings every year.

These are just the reported cases. Think about how far the number would jump up considering the fact that most of the cases of violence against women go undocumented.

Despite the uniformity of these crimes, neither the government nor the country’s leaders have taken any action to address this critical issue. Whatever little action they have taken is simply not enough, because the problem isn’t lack of legislation, but rather the fact that the country just does not care.

Well, the country didn’t care up until now, thanks to Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy’s latest documentary entitled, A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness, which focuses on the issue of honour killings in Pakistan.

Soon after being nominated for the 88th Academy Awards, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif decided it was time that he gave this issue some serious attention. He went as far as to promise to eliminate the practice from the country completely. The official statement is as follows:

“The Prime Minister also expressed the government’s commitment to rid Pakistan of this evil by bringing in appropriate legislation.”

While it’s commendable that the Prime Minister is finally deciding to take action against honour killings, I find it disturbing that it had to take an Oscar nomination for him to finally take heed of the issue.

I am sure the content matter of the documentary was of no surprise to him, as it wasn’t to every Pakistani who has gotten a chance to see it. Honour killings are so rampant in Pakistan that one would have to be living under a rock to be completely oblivious to the despicable practice. Yet, the country didn’t bother to take any action before, because unfortunately, they did not see the need for it.

Nobody flinched when Shabana Bibi was burnt alive and killed by her husband and father-in-law, simply for leaving the house without their permission.

Nobody gasped when Farzana Parveen was brutally beaten to death with bricks by her father, brother and former fiancé for marrying a man who her family didn’t approve of.

Nobody batted an eye when a 14-year-old girl was gang raped and The Friday Times thought it would be much more appropriate to talk about it in the gossip section of the weekly magazine.

As shocking as it may sound, these horrific incidences, while reported in notable Pakistani newspapers, never hit the country’s nerve.

Am I supposed to believe that a 40-minute documentary touched our prime minister’s heart more profoundly than millions of stories plastered in newspapers?

Does this imply, then, that the only way our leaders will start taking problems seriously is when Oscar-winning documentaries are made about them?

Is this what it has come to?

We have become so desensitised to the atrocities that occur in our society against women that the only way we become convinced of the magnitude of their cruelty is when they become Oscar-worthy.

I can’t help but wonder how the prime minister plans to rid the country of honour killings. Does he realise that a day after he made his statement, a man axed his wife and three children in Peshawar? The incident was met with stone-cold indifference from the PM office.

Lip service can you only get you so far, Mr Nawaz Sharif. Soon the women of this country will be banging on your doors and demanding justice.

You have said that appropriate legislation will tackle the issue. Is legislation alone enough to solve a problem like this?

We have legislation on sexual harassment, child labour and child marriages.

Are there no women in Pakistan who get assaulted and raped?

Do we not have children who are sold to be slaves?

Have there been no daughters who were given away to men much, much older than them?

Our dear prime minister has invited Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy to the PM House for a private screening of the documentary. Many dignitaries will be joining him to watch in complete amazement the miseries that women have to endure right outside their doorstep.

If that’s the only way get our foot in through the door to the power corridors, let’s hope Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy wins an Oscar every year.


Samar Esapzai

The author is a mommy, writer, visual artist and academic. Her areas of interest include gender relations, women's empowerment, maternal mental health, and anything and everything related to her people, the Pashtuns. She blogs at sesapzai.wordpress.com and tweets at @sesapzai (twitter.com/SesapZai)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • salman

    I’m still not convinced that he has actually woken up.
    They’ll have the screening, there will be one more statement, and then nothing…
    Nawaz will go back to building roads, etc….that’s all he’s good for.
    I hope I’m proven wrong…Recommend

  • Nawaz Sharif was the prime minister of this country when the blogger was likely still in school. So, no, he didn’t just realize there’s such a thing as honor killings. This was very much a front page issue through much of the 1990s, and while the country likely wasn’t as receptive to a progressive message around it as it may be is now, both the NS and BB governments paid at least lip service to the need to address it. I find it commendable that Nawaz Sharif clearly and promptly reached out to Sharmeen Obaid and pledged to do his part. It shows moral courage and commitment in an environment when Sharmeen Obaid is being targeted by all and sundry for shining light on these problems.Recommend

  • Hassan S Hakeem

    His daughter got involved with his staff officer from a very humble background. What counts is how he behaved and more than that how we ridiculed him for the episode.Recommend

  • Bibloo

    The former portege of Zia ul Haq has no interests in women;s rights.
    He and his brother comes first.Their businesses come second.
    Anybody remember Mukhraran Mai in Punjab? ALL of her rapists
    were let go, by last year. The Shahbaz did nothing. The Nawaz did
    nothing. The Maryam did nothing. The Hamza did nothing.
    The Sharif cabal is interested in one thing. To loot and plunder as
    much as they can.Recommend

  • Sonia Khawaja

    You make a very good point. Nawaz Sharif showed true honor and courage by accepting his daughters not-so-stellar-choice in a life partner while all of Punjab was poking fun of him and his “manlihood” for doing so. the writer clearly didn’t do any research prior to writing this pieceRecommend

  • Parvez

    As long as the politics of patronage ( in this case patronage of religious extremists ) continues in Pakistan…….Bills to amend laws for the betterment of society will keep getting pushed aside and keep lapsing.Recommend

  • First, please stop frothing at the mouth and talk like a normal person. Second, PML-N is probably the most credible in this area. Shahbaz Sharif has a history of cracking down on rape; although neither the Sharif brothers nor any other party has ever seriously tried to address sexual harassment as a systematic problem. PPP only ever pays lip service, and the less said about the misogyny of PTI, the better.Recommend

  • stevenson

    Very interesting point I did not consider although you could say that Nawaz Sharif’s family were of humble means themselves. Regardless, he respected his daughter’s choice of getting involved with someone of a humble background. If anything I now have more respect for this understated man who has improved Pakistan the last few years. All over the world, the media highlights things and politicians are forced to take notice and react. Pakistan and Pakistan’s leaders are no exception. Every time there is a mass shooting in the US or another crime that grabs media and public attention, the President there is forced to react and make a public statement. Why is Pakistan or its leadership different here?Recommend

  • Humza

    The incident of Mukhtaran Mai took place in 2002 and the chief rapist is still behind bars if you were to check the facts. Lack of evidence by the courts let loose some of the acused. Moreover you would well to remember that it was Musharraf , the ruling dictator, who admitted to restricting her movement and it was Musharraf who made the shameful comments of her wanting to be raped for money and attention.Recommend

  • Bibloo

    Lack of evidence? Or dire threats by the local panchayat?
    Moving on, the family of Christian couple that was beaten, hanged and then burnt to a crisp, as the police stood and watched the ‘tamasha’, are still waiting for justice. The 387
    perpetrators that were arrested including the landowner who
    spread the false rumor are all released. Nothing, dead end,
    case closed. The mullah, who incited the villagers, from a
    mosque’s loudspeaker, absconded. Went to Faisalabad.
    Everyone knows where he is. Yet, he was not arrested.
    LordMaster Shahbaz bin Salman, was CM. Nothing from
    him. Not a squeak.

    Remember Joseph Town? Happened in 2013. No one
    arrested. If any token arrest, all released. No one brought
    to justice. More than 200 people were killed and a whole neighborhood went up in flames. Net action,… ZERO.
    Musharraf? Who is he? Ruling dictator? A broken down,
    ‘has been’? If memory serves right, there is a whole list of ruling dictators. Gen. Ayub Khan Gen, Yahya Khan, Zia ul Haq, Gen. Nawaz, Gen Shahbaz, Gen. Dollar Dar, Gen. Nisar…etc. There was even a Genrailnee Maryam Sharif, appointed director of Student Business Loan Commission. By her papa. She had to resign hurriedly after a hue and a cry went up on her ‘credentials’.
    Hey the Burqa Mullah is roaming free. Why? Because he is
    the Mureed of the Sharif Family……..any questions?Recommend

  • Humza

    No point in any discussion with you as you clearly have had too much Kool Aid and need to chill ! I get it, you hate the Sharifs and you will blame them for all that is wrong in Pakistan, even if things happened during the decade of Musharraf dictatorship or during 5 years of PPP or when MQM allowed lawlessness to reign in Karachi. In a democracy, that’s your right. Let the voters decide. The only thing important thing is that the leadership at all levels of government work to improve law and order by improving policing and applying laws. While you dig back over decade to find incidents over the last 15 years just think why Punjab is still the safest province in the country and where law and order is best preserved. Celebrate that the Rangers are also restoring law and order to Karachi too.Recommend

  • Bibloo

    Just about right. Gauged it perfectly. A petulant, juvenile
    response. When nothing comes to mind, just bluster.
    By the way it is not PPP now. It’s called the Party of Dead
    People of Garhi Khuda Baksh, Sindh. And MQM? What they
    have to do with all these ranting odes of yours? Anyone
    who points out the glaring lack of leadership in the Sharif
    Cabal, automatically belongs to PPP or MQM or Sindh?
    Outside of Punjab, the co regents and Rajas of Raiwind,
    Nawaz bin Salman and Mini Sharif, Shabaz bin Salman
    are given short shrift. Alleged PM barely step out of Punjab.
    Now, now, before you jump to conclusion, Taliban Khan
    is nowhere to be found. Somebody just blew up Charsadda.
    They need to tell him. Pronto. He may be in London for the
    wedding of Princess Pinafore of Punjab. That is PPP.Recommend