Honour killing debate brings intersection back to the feminist fold

Islamabad (Pakistan) – A study by Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung helps rethink strategies and alliances in debates and actions against gender violence.

  • Photo: Unsplash CC0 1.0

A form of gender violence, honour killings are severely underreported worldwide. Honour killings are understood to mean the murder of a relative by another for bringing the family dishonour, with victims mainly being women and girls. Yet, lack of focused documentation and recording internationally conceals the true extent of honour killings. In turn, the limited understanding of the scope and scale of this form of gender violence affects the way honour killings are addressed by the public, the institutions and the media.

The recent murder of Pakistani social media personality Qandeel Baloch, who was strangled by her brother, broke off a general silence that surrounds honour killings in Pakistan where estimated 1000 occur yearly. The reignited debate about the role of the state, schools, media and religion in encouraging violence against women included a reflection on the women and feminist movements in Pakistan over the years.

Feminists of all shades never tried to be inclusive

“A testimony to the failure of the women’s movement to overturn patriarchy in Pakistan,” writes journalist Zubeida Mustafa about Qandeel’s murder in a poignant commentary on the women movement’s past achievements and future. “The fact is that feminists of all shades never tried to be inclusive…[N]o group had the numerical strength to assert a claim to supremacy. […] it never brought in its fold non-professional disadvantaged women who constitute the bulk of Pakistan’s female population. […] To be effective, rights activists must address all areas and classes of human development simultaneously.”

In her conclusion on new alliances in the struggle for gender equality, Mustafa is prompted by a Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung study on the history and current debates of the feminist movement in Pakistan. Authored by Rubina Saigol, the study appears alongside a series of akin publications. All are part of “Political Feminism in Asia,” a gender equality project by FES that creates and connects impulses in feminism debates across Asia for structural change.

Women and feminist movements need to join hands across sections of struggle and action, in solidarity

The attention and debate surrounding Qandeel’s murder are hopeful catalyst to uniting the numerous women and feminist groups in the country. Protests and a signed petition with over 3000 signatures by Pakistan’s feminist collective in the aftermath of her death prompted the Pakistani government to pass a legislation against honour killings―mandating life imprisonment, 25 years in prison, for convicted murderers. The bill is an important step into the right direction. Yet, it will only work with broader social and legal reform, changing the institutional structures that support a patriarchal mindset to gender roles and improving enforcement of the law. Here, women and feminist movements need to join hands across sections of struggle and action, in solidarity.

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