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

Published: February 16, 2017

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, Sexuality and Women’s Studies graduate from York University. She has been nominated as a Global Shaper of the World Economic Forum, is a Founding Member of a Pakistani legal blog, Courting The Law, and is also the Co-Founder of The Gender Stories (TGS). She identifies as a feminist, and is currently working in Pakistan as a Publicist and as the Head of Social Media Marketing. 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.

  • Ahmar

    Here we go again. Feminists twisting the story to blame all men in Pakistan for Hina Shahnawaz’s murder because the killer happens to be a man. The background of this incident is disregarded and it is presented as a, “Oh they are just so jealous of women empowerment” crap.

    “Women have fewer opportunities for education and employment” declares the writer. I am sorry what? Wasn’t Hina Shahnawaz an M Phil? Some reports say she was earning Rs80,000 per month from the NGO. That is more than what the majority of salaried men make in this country. She had an education higher than what 80% of men get in Pakistan. And yet there are no opportunities for women here?

    You will not find men from any quarter in this country, happily rubbing their hands together and congratulating the killer on a job well done for defending “The Patriarchy”. Ask any man in this country and they will condemn this murder. Feminists however will use any incident to score points on their own twisted agenda to paint men as misogynistic, oppressive brutes. Pathetic.Recommend

  • http://booknsharemedia.com AudioBooks Lover

    You wrote an entire article based on fake news. Do you know who killed her? The “alleged” killer is actually innocent. His own sister works! Many others (females) in his family work, so why just kill her?

    The problem is also people who Judge, be the Jury and Executioner.Recommend

  • Kolsat

    Unfortunately in this case nothing will happen to poor Hina’s cousin as nothing has happened to qandeel’s brother. I put religion and its teachers as responsible for these murders.and Pakistan government should take strong steps to stop this atrocity. This means any relative who kills another to appease their honour should be hanged. no questions asked.Recommend

  • MiF

    Ohh please for GOD’s sake stop comparing this brave woman with Qandeel Baloch!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Did you really think whatever Qandeel Baloch is doing was right???? Pls dont glorified her actions just in the name of freedom of expression. That said YES, nobody has the right to end her life like that.Recommend

  • 19640909rk .

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

  • LS

    Have you ever looked at the % of educated women in pakistan it now 47% (in 2015) DOWN 1% from prior year?

    Have you ever looked at pakistan’s gender equality ranking?

    Just these two things destroy your whole argument about magnanimity of men in pakistan. The article is NOT just talking about Hina specifically but women in general.Recommend

  • siesmann

    Well,the comments here from many people confirm what the writer is saying.Misogynists will always find fault with anybody challenging their patriarchy.And where are the mullahs who go bonkers over little things?Recommend

  • Zubair Khan

    The writer had actually killed the honor of this nobel lady in real by comparing her story of courage with that of qandeel’s…..!!Recommend

  • QA
  • Ahmar

    And what is the % of educated men in Pakistan? 55-60%? Access to education is a problem for the whole of the country not just women in the country.

    The gender equality index is a sham. A report of statistical manipulation. It does not take into account the larger context of gender issues and only accounts for areas where women are behind men while not accounting for areas where women may be outperforming men in the society.

    As for this blog, the writer is specifically using Hina Shahnawaz’s case to score points for her own feminist political agenda. Hina Shahnawaz received a higher education than the majority of men(and women) get in this country AND she was earning more than the majority of people earn here. To use her example and lament that women don’t have access to education and employment opportunities in this country is an outright lie. I have not seen a more fact-twisting, blatantly lying article in recent times.

    Then again considering this was written by a feminist, gender-studies graduate should anyone really be surprised?Recommend

  • LS

    The issue isn’t the country’s educational level. Yes, I agree with you She used Hina as a bad example because she was earning relatively well and was educated very well and that is what I also say in my prior comment that the issue is more about “women in general” rather than Hina.

    Gender equality is very much the reality and it is not based on some imaginary things… They are based on following parameters and they are pretty exhaustive,


    The 4 pillars are:
    1) Economic Participation and equal opportunity
    2) Education Attainment
    3) Health and Survival
    4) Political Empowerment

    Each of them have various sub-indexes and covers Most aspect of an individual lives that would propel them as successful in the society.Recommend

  • Nisha Thobani

    Okay so this blogger is a feminist, scoring points on their own twisted agenda…so what is your analysis of this killing, lets hear it! Please educate us, for this is not just a problem limited to Pakistan, but the magnitude of this problem is a certain concern. Why are we killing our women, whether it is Qandeel Baloch, Hina Shanawaz, or Shafia sisters?Recommend

  • Ahmar

    Alright lets move on to “women in general”. I maintain that there are no systemic impediments to bar women from achieving a level of education and/or employment as high as men in Pakistan. Excepting places like FATA and tribal areas, women are legally allowed to gain employment, education and progress to any position.

    The Index

    The index is built on a female divided by male ratio among the four sub-indices with maximum value of 1 assigned to each sub-index. It only tracks the gaps in areas where women are behind men with no adjustments being made for areas where women might be ahead of men.

    These are big problems because designed in such a way, this index will always return a value where it shows that women have not achieved equality even if they have a vastly superior position in the society.

    For example, in a country where females have a higher economic participation and employment, educational attainment, health and survival ratio the index could still give a scoring of as low as .25 if the number of female ministers and parliamentary membership is 1/5th of males.

    The index also does not account for subjective factorsRecommend

  • 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