Honourably dead

Published: December 24, 2011

At least 675 Pakistani women and girls were murdered during the first nine months of the year for allegedly defaming their family's honour.

We celebrated a year of violence in Pakistan by offering 675 girls at the altar of honour.

Ismat Parveen (whose name means ‘dignity’ and ‘honour’) married a man she wanted to, and because she didn’t want to divorce him, she was shot to death – by her brother.

A young woman by the name of Hajil Mai was axed by her husband earlier last month because he accused her of having an affair with the neighbour. He killed her with an axe in the name of honour. With an axe. She is just one victim amongst the many who die in the name of honour everyday in Pakistan.

What is sad is that the number 675 is just a reported figure. Much as the human rights organisations try to sum up the number of people who are being affected by these atrocities, there are thousands of cases that go unheard and unnoticed.

Are we proud of the Pakistani man who has to kill his wife/daughter/sister to prove he is honourable enough to be alive?

The question now ultimately becomes whether a man’s honour is more important than a woman’s life. Put the matter of whether or not the woman is guilty of adultery aside. Leave alone the possibility that she may have brought honour or dishonour to her family. Is her life really so insignificant that none of our legislators, politicians and religious authorities care to really take up this issue and put an end to these barbaric and murderous acts of sexism?

Why is it that we are easily able to pass high-cash budgets for ministers and their protocols, to debate session after session what a certain province has to be named, but we cannot find a simple consensus to an idea that a man cannot kill a woman, even if he feels she has done injustice to him?

Here’s another fun fact that may or may not be related to how we continue to treat our women: Pakistan’s literacy rate has improved. It is now over 50%. Apparently education isn’t helping.

Is it increasing religious fundamentalism that is at work? Does this mean we can quote religion,  peers, grandparents, and folk-tales to get away with murder and prove just how important it is for a man to keep firm control over his woman?

We’ve legitimised men to be more powerful, we’ve let them become leaders of everything and we have refused our women the right to question – or even think about questioning. Instead of creating a society where violence against women is taken seriously, we are somehow teaching our boys to grow up to be men who consider it okay to dominate a woman. Because there is little legal framework, and social protection offered to a battered woman, it’s easy for any man to accuse a wife/sister/daughter/mother of ‘ dishonouring’ him and ending her life.

We need these murderers behind bars. We need to stop beating about the bush and create a hard-line for these people who think that attacking the vulnerable makes them more powerful, more ‘honourable’. The bodies of innocent dead women piling up are enough reason for a serious need of a simple law; you kill a woman over your honour, you serve jail time. This law should be based on the simple rule that if you take the law into your own hands, you go behind the bars.

We need a society that can understand and empathise with an individual for the sake of humanity and not because they belong to a certain sex.

Instead we are stuck in a world where the general image of man is a glorious muscular superhero that can save the woman from a burning building. Maybe it is time for that image to change to that of a man who, in all his muscular, superheroic glory, can save a woman from himself.


Mahwash Badar

The author is a clinical psychologist, a mum to two boys and permanently in a state of flux. She tweets @mahwashajaz_ (twitter.com/mahwashajaz_)

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