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Pakistan Social Media Star's Honor Killing Fuels Debate

Many outside of Pakistan probably never heard of Qandeel Baloch before this week. She was a young woman in the South Asian country who rose to fame on social media after being featured in a 2014 video that went viral. In it, she asked a man, "How am I looking?"

The social media star, who was in her 20s, called herself the Pakistani Kim Kardashian, a modern feminist. Her real name was Fauzia Azeem. Her outspoken views and sexually suggestive videos posted online provoked controversy in an Islamic state that is not comfortable with Western feminism – something that earned Baloch praise from many young people and condemnation from the more traditional elements of society.

Muhammad Waseem, Baloch’s brother, killed her on July 15 while the family was visiting the central Punjab village of Muzzafarabad for the recent Eid holiday. He confessed the next day, saying at a news conference that he’d given his sister a “tablet” to subdue her and then strangled her. Waseem said he had no regrets and did it to preserve the family’s honor.

Baloch’s parents claimed to have also been sedated the night of the murder, saying they had fallen “deeply asleep” in an interview with the BBC Urdu service. In the interview, Qandeel’s mother said the deceased social media star’s brothers always had “hatred in their hearts.” Muhammad Azeem, Qandeel Baloch’s father, is quoted has telling the service Waseem should be “shot on sight.”

Rights violations common

Human Rights Watch’s Pakistan researcher Saroop Ijaz calls honor killings “a violation of multiple human rights” and a problem that is pervasive there, adding that throughout Pakistani society there are “expressions of misogyny.” He notes an increase in anti-woman rhetoric and violence and calls the state of human rights for women in the country “grave.”

Salman Abid, a political analyst with Express Law in Pakistan, says one factor contributing to violence toward women is that “tribal and local traditions are relatively strong when compared to the law,” creating instances where “the local practice dominates the law.” This means that even if there are laws to prohibit violence or certain practices, there are sometimes no effective ways to implement them.

In Ijaz’s opinion, “Pakistan may not be on the right track” in curtailing violence against women, but at least those crimes are being better reported. He says Qandeel’s murder has served to further the conversation about honor killings, because she had such a high profile.

An apparent loophole of the honor killing law is that family members can forgive the murderer. In that instance, the killer tends to go unpunished.

In a rare move, authorities in Pakistan have prohibited Baloch’s family from forgiving her brother.

A good beginning

Ijaz calls that “a very good and much-needed first step,” but says it’s time for the government to enact laws that would eliminate forgiveness as a possibility. He says prohibiting the family from forgiving Waseem for his sister’s murder might indicate that the government recognizes a problem exists with the current system that allows for such actions.

Abid points out that over the years Pakistan’s parliament has taken up many initiatives to better protect women but that two problems persist.

One is that even with laws on the books, Abid says many times they aren’t implemented, so any new protections for women are not enforced. Then, he says, male parliamentarians may not pass new legislation because it would anger the conservative, rural, tribal base that helped them get elected.

Ijaz notes that it’s not only a matter of changing laws, but of having a larger conversation about rights, violence toward women and making changes.

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    Steve Miller

    Steve Miller is a veteran broadcast journalist with over a decade of experience. Much of that time he covered the Asia-Pacific region while living in South Korea. During Steve's time in Asia, he explored the region's rich history and culture (and not to mention food) while reporting on geopolitics, human rights, and tourism.

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