Hina Shahnawaz was powerful and financially independent, so patriarchy killed her

Published: February 16, 2017
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In the case of Hina Shahnawaz, it wasn’t necessarily her ‘illegal’ behaviour or her relationship with another man in particular. PHOTO: FACEBOOK.

News of honour killings, or karo-kari, is not new to Pakistan. Almost a thousand women are killed in Pakistan every year for allegedly bringing “shame” to their families.

In a society that feeds off hyper masculinity, a woman’s autonomy and independence of any sort is seen as a threat to the Pakistani culture as a whole. Last year, a renowned social media celebrity, Qandeel Baloch, was murdered by her brother in the name of honour, because of her financial and social independence gained from practicing what she preached – self-love and personal power. Although honour killings were (and still are) very common, this incident in particular is what led the government to finally pass laws for the first time in Pakistan’s history against the said practice and act.

These laws, known as the anti-rape and anti-honour killing laws were passed on October 6, 2016.

Many people celebrated this incredibly significant step towards curbing such heinous crimes against women, only to be let down over and over again not too soon after the laws were passed. The laws themselves came with various loopholes and vague descriptions, which is a subject of discussion for another time.

Since October 2016, cases of honour killings are still on the rise. One very recent example is of Hina Shahnawaz, whose case initially garnered attention on social media. Shahnawaz – a 27-year-old Masters of Philosophy degree holder and the sole breadwinner of her family in Kohat, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) – was murdered on February 6, 2017 by her male cousin, Mehboob Alam, in the name of honour. She was brutally shot four times until she died.

Shahnawaz, being the only educated member of the family had no choice but to financially support her father’s cancer treatments, which unfortunately did not pay off. Shortly after the death of her father, her brother lost his life in a fight, leaving his widow and son on Shahnawaz’s shoulders. To top it all off, her sister’s husband committed suicide, leaving her sister as another responsibility on her already burdened shoulders. As if she wasn’t facing enough issues, she was killed for reclaiming her freedom and bravery.

There are two different prevailing stories surrounding the case. The official story states that Shahnawaz was murdered for rejecting her cousin’s marriage proposal. However, the popular and viral on social media story states that her male cousin murdered her out of jealousy of the victim’s financial independence. Regardless of which story is factual, one common aspect of both stories clearly shows the inability on the male’s part to accept his cousin’s decision-making power along with her commitment to raise and support her family, all on her own.

Various cases of violence against women have been on the rise is Pakistan’s K-P province since the start of the year. More than 20 cases of honour killings have been reported so far already. In February alone, specifically in the past week, three women, including Hina Shahnawaz, have been killed in the name of honour.

Women in Pakistan are obliged to bear implications of oppressive and confining social practices and cultural norms. The most common tool of control used against women in order to force them to conform to cultural (read: patriarchal) norms and principles is violence. Pakistan ranks 143 out of 144 countries on the gender inequality index – according to the recent Global Gender Gap Report 2016 – which makes Pakistan one of the most dangerous places for women.

Empowering women should not solely focus on laws and policies. It also needs to address other, more pressing and deep rooted issues such as culturally influenced beliefs and attitudes, which in fact, result in nothing but the opposite — the disempowerment of women. When we hear of honour killings, we often assume that the killing took place because the victim was involved in an “illicit” romantic relationship with a man, without the parents’ or siblings’ consent. And more often than not, that is the reason, owing up to the fact that female chastity and sexuality is believed to be rooted in the fact that a woman is the ultimate bearer of a man’s honour, which puts her at the forefront of receiving punishment if she decides to indulge in behaviour or in a relationship considered illegal by man. These are the kinds of beliefs which lead to incidents of honour crimes.

However, in the case of Shahnawaz, it wasn’t necessarily her ‘illegal’ behaviour or her relationship with another man in particular. It was her courageous personality which led her to become the sole support of her entire family, making her powerful, independent and a responsible being. Since she knew exactly what she wanted and acted accordingly, she became ‘liable’ to pay with her life for owning herself and her decisions. Shahnawaz was brutally shot dead for becoming the voice of her home.

When women are killed for exercising their right to live according to their own terms and exercising the right to marry the person of their choice, it is simply because of the fear that other women will follow in the same footsteps. God forbid such an act leads to more women doing the same; the male authority would be severely threatened which would thus lead to the dismantling of the already existing power structures within the patriarchal community.

Therefore, freedom of speech and freedom of choice proves to be deadly – literally. However, it would be unfair to completely omit male victims of honour killings from this narrative, because in several cases, couples who dare to elope with partners of their choice are called back by the woman’s family and killed. The murder isn’t so much of a punishment; rather, it is more of a lesson and warning for other women.

The truth of the matter, which has resurfaced once again, is the fact that because men are brought up in a society and culture which restricts their understanding and accepting capabilities, it hinders their personal growth and forces them to undermine other talent that exists around them, especially in the form of women.

In this neo-feudalist era, women have fewer opportunities for education, healthcare and employment, given that such access may shake this system and transform the social order, weakening the self-proclaimed superior position that men hold. However, every once in a while, when a woman manages to break those very glass ceilings, she is often silenced or stopped all together.

Hina Shahnawaz was gunned down for practically sustaining livelihood, for taking her place in the public sphere which has predominantly been reserved for men, for being bold enough to go out and struggle to change her circumstances – for becoming the head of her family.

Eighty per cent of women in Pakistan witness violence or have personally experienced it in some form. Even though there are provisions for protection of women rights in its Constitution, Pakistan fails to prevent violence against women and fails to provide women with deserved justice. The judicial system continues to remain weak and does not carry out timely justice and fails to provide proper safety to victims. The victim, Hina Shahnawaz, represented the progressive thinkers, movers and shakers that exist in this country, and now, she too, is gone.

Purniya Awan

Purniya Awan

The writer is a Gender Studies graduate from York University, has been nominated as a Global Shaper of the World Economic Forum, is a former member of Youth Parliament Pakistan and is a founding member of Courting The Law. She is a women's rights activist and frequently writes on feminist and human rights issues. She tweets @purniyaA (twitter.com/PurniyaA?lang=en)

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

  • 19640909rk .

    What a shame. Pakistanis do not appreciate hard working decent women?Recommend

  • Ahmar

    Not a single day goes by where a man or two are not killed in Pakistan for one reason or another. The media doesn’t even bother to report their stories or tell us their names.

    Tell me why the society hates men so much that they get beaten up, imprisoned, raped or even murdered on a regular basis and no one gives a hoot?Recommend