As she wakes up every morning, she, as a daily ritual, goes through a mental instruction manual handed down to her for as long as she can remember: she must keep herself covered when she steps outside of the house; she must not, regardless of her age, remain outside of the house during specified hours; she must complete all domestic chores prior to undertaking any ‘allowable’ personal tasks; she must make it clear to every man, from the outset, that she sees him as a brother; and she must not, under any circumstance, lose her virginity before she is handed over, like a commodity from the local bazaar, to a suitor of her father’s choosing.
To hit the final nail on the coffin, the poor, voiceless woman is reminded of the following Quranic verse, as if it would actually ease her misery: righteous women are devoutly obedient…
This is your average Pakistani woman, a voiceless soul who, from the moment she comes out of her mother’s womb till the day she is buried in dirt, has been assigned, without an iota of say in the matter, the task of preserving the ‘reputation’ of men in her family. It is perhaps the last ‘directive’ in the Pakistani woman’s instruction manual that is absolutely non-negotiable lest she gets outcasted by the community or, worse, sent to the guillotine. Even the suggestion that she might have a physical relationship with a man before an arranged-marriage can bring serious consequences for her.
Recently, in May 2020, two Pakistani teenage girls were murdered by a family member in a village in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, a province in the northwest, after a simple video showing the two girls hanging out with a boy went viral. According to the police report, the alleged murderer is the girls’ cousin, who apparently considered it his duty as a ‘man’ to carry out this double-homicide in the name of ‘honour.’
This guy and a girl was killed in an alleged honor kiling incident in Battagram District of KPK. As usual, the local Masharans will solve the dispute within Jirga and no one will get punished. Please spread the word. @KP_Police1 Model Police??? @MJibranNasir @Xadeejournalist pic.twitter.com/NoCsr5XtsL
— Mukhtiar Ali (@MokhtiarAli) March 19, 2018
Honour killings have long been a problem in Pakistan. Although in 2016 the Pakistani legislature amended the law to close loopholes allowing defendants in honor killing cases to walk free, the law has done little to put a stop to this heinous crime. This is because it is a cultural problem.
While it is true that not every man in Pakistan goes on to murder his daughter or sister upon finding out that she is in a relationship before marriage, the fact is that the vast majority of men in the country feel infuriated upon such a revelation. The only thing that sets apart a man who does not kill from the one who actually carries out the murder is a slight bit of ‘civility’ and, perhaps, some level of education; this relative difference in education is wholly due to the social class structures prevalent in Pakistan. As a substitute for killing, the relatively civil one—usually the father— takes other measures, such as putting her on absolute lockdown in the house and speeding up the process of finding a ‘suitable’ man for her to marry.
Pakistani men have a genuine, irrational fear of their daughters or sisters losing their virginity before marriage, which, to say the least, is merely a religious ritual. It is as if the loss of virginity transforms the woman into a wholly different person; the honour, respect, and repute that she brings to the family are stripped away by virtue of a purely biological act—an act that is mostly carried out because of love.
It is precisely this culture of control and patriarchal insecurity in Pakistan that needs to be eradicated in order to put an end to honour killings. Even the men in Pakistan who condemn honour killings reinforce the culture and mentality that drives the killings by treating women as objects that need to be protected; this tribalistic framework of thinking is engrained in the mentality of the average Pakistani male.
But make no mistake: this mentality of control and insecurity does not stop when the woman gets married; it goes well beyond that. Once married, she is expected to withstand, like a cataphract in a battlefield, whatever blows that is headed her way. When she dares to complain about her subjugation, she is told by her in-laws and parents alike to compromise and reconcile her differences as she was instructed to do so in the instruction manual handed to her since birth. To hit the final nail on the coffin, the poor, voiceless woman is reminded of the following Quranic verse, as if it would actually ease her misery: “righteous women are devoutly obedient….”
In the end, what Pakistan needs more than legislation is, simply put, a cultural revolution that puts an end to making women carry the baggage of ‘honour’ in the family. This cultural change can be brought about by one, and only one, way: education. Only education and social awareness will empower embattled Pakistani women hoping for a better future. As the old English saying goes, “The pen is mightier than the sword.”
Noor F. Amin is a Pakistani-American. He has a Juris Doctor from the University of Maryland School of Law and a B.A. in Political Science. He can be reached on Twitter @noorfamin. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.