Saying no more to “honour killings” in Pakistan
Violence against women and murder in the name of “honour” remains widespread in Pakistan. In most reported cases, the harshest punishments on grounds of “honour” come from male-dominated jirgas, tribal and village councils. In many cases it is a woman’s own relatives who will carry out the sentence and murder her to punish behaviour they deem unacceptable. Although often seen as a vestige of traditional, rural culture, so called “honour killings” have recently shocked the country’s largest cities: Karachi and Lahore.
In August 2017, a young Karachi couple were killed with electric shocks by family members because their decision to elope violated “honour”. In the same month, a man in Lahore decapitated his wife for refusing to leave her job as a factory worker. There are no credible figures to indicate the true scale of “honour killings” in the country because murders often go unreported or disguised as suicide or natural deaths by family members. Where cases do make it to court, prosecutions are rare. This complete lack of justice means men are allowed to continue to abuse and murder their wives, sisters and daughters without repercussion and women continue to live in fear.
“The Awakening” is a women-led, rights-based organisation that works in Malakand Division, northern Pakistan. They provide legal aid and psycho-social counselling to women who are survivors of domestic violence and run a free hotline for women in danger. They raise awareness on legal rights for women and tirelessly lobby local leaders on the issue of honour killing, co-pioneering the first ever women jirga (a traditional assembly of leaders).
17-year-old Seema was a victim of horrific domestic violence by her husband in 2016. Her husband attacked her after a dispute, cutting off her nose and imprisoning her in a room for 20 days until she escaped to her parents’ house. “The Awakening” team provided Seema with free legal aid and supported her to take her case to court. Her husband was found guilty and sentenced to five years in prison. Seema said she hoped the ruling would encourage other women suffering from violence to raise their voices against the abuse. “I was hopeless at that time. I had lost one of my body parts and I will never be able to see myself in the mirror again” she said. “I am very thankful to the Dastageer Legal Aid Center Swat of “The Awakening” that they encouraged me and provided free legal aid and assistance”.
Accessing justice through the legal system is often a lengthy and costly process. Women living in Swat District, where “The Awakening” focuses its work are predominantly impoverished, uneducated and have little power against their male relatives. They are in a legal void, which makes them extremely vulnerable to abuse. “The Awakening” works tirelessly to ensure that women are able to escape abusive situations. However the issue of “honour killings” persists. “The Awakening” recorded 50 “honour killings” in Swat District during 2017, a marked increase from the year before. They continue to lobby stakeholders about this issue, demanding proper legislation against “honour” killings and the extension of pro-women laws to PATA (Provincially Administered Tribal Areas of Khyber PakhtunKhwa) across the district.
“The Awakening” is a finalist for #WalkTogether Prize for Courage as part of The Grassroots Justice Prize.