In 2014, a young woman Farzana was stoned to death by her family members outside the premises of Lahore High Court. Her crime was marrying a man she loved. This “honor killing” made global headlines, but Farzana just became another statistic as public outcry around this incident slowly died down and the government again failed to take concrete measures to curb this tradition.
However, if the recent announcements by Prime Minister Sharif are to go by, then the government is now getting serious about this social issue. After a special screening of a documentary based on an attempted murder of a girl in the name of honor, he has pledged to place highest priority on empowering women and eradicating violence against them.
According to figures shared by human rights groups, more than 1,000 women are murdered each year in “honor killings” across Pakistan. Even these alarming facts are not believed to reflect the reality as most cases never surface or go unregistered.
This despicable practice has been a tradition, especially in rural areas of the country. The strong influence of tribal councils, feudalism and inaction from police despite a 2004 law against honor killings has allowed these murders to go unabated. The disputes are often settled within families as victims “forgive” the offenders, allowing them to avoid legal punishments for their crime.
There is a dire need to amend existing laws against honor killings by addressing loopholes that allow the criminals to go scot-free after reaching a compromise with the victim’s family or paying them a compensation. To improve conviction rates, women rights groups have also been pushing for the state to be empowered to register honor killing cases in court.
However, changing the current laws will be a lot easier said than done as legal experts have already pointed out that this move could put the government at odds with Council of Islamic Ideology (CII).
It is hoped that the possibility of a collision between this institution and government authorities is averted, and a logical solution is worked upon by all stakeholders to get rid of this menace.
Even though Sharif has assured support to strengthen laws against honor killings, the sad part is that this tradition will continue to exist in the country because of its widespread social acceptance. In a society like Pakistan, the idea of a woman rising up to challenge the status quo and taking control of her own life is not welcome. When a woman shows autonomy and decides to go against the family will, nothing becomes more important than “saving face” even if it means taking a life. Promotion of education can play a major role in changing this mindset that tolerates violation of women rights. To become a progressive society, Pakistan must focus on elevating the status of women in its society. The government and all other societal power-holders should take urgent steps to raise awareness about the role of women in our society and condemn violence in all forms against them.