Qandeel Baloch. We really need to talk about this.
Qandeel was murdered in cold blood by her own brother in the name of honor—for being a non-conformist, and for choosing to live life on her own terms. She was beautiful, hilarious and innocent, and she had every right to live the life she had built and chosen for herself!
1) It’s maddening that this must actually be said, but it must be—murder is never justified under any circumstances. I am sick to my stomach reading comments all over social media of people approving of this act, of calling Baloch a whore, prostitute, disgrace to Pakistan. Of saying her brother did the right thing. I can barely contain my horror at this.
The fact that we have among us, those that will condone killing off an innocent woman for some warped reasoning in their heads, is very scary. How in God’s name can looking or acting a certain way be grounds for murder? This is a human life we’re talking about! Have we really become so nonchalant about murder, so intolerant and bloodthirsty? Who gave us the right to decide who will live and who will die? As a friend said, “Conform or die!” cannot be the message we stand behind as a nation.
I reported many such vitriolic comments today as hate speech, something I’ve never done before. We must call out the people leaving such comments and shame them – these are the people that need to be shamed, not Baloch. Even more shockingly, there are more women than men amongst these commentators! Seriously, if you’re a woman condoning Baloch’s murder or pointing fingers at her character, shame on you – you are either really dumb or completely delusional. This murder happened because of the deeply patriarchal and misogynistic society we are. The reason you never hear of a woman killing her brother for honor is because it’s patriarchy that is at the root of this, not honor or morality. As a woman, you are supporting patriarchy when you point fingers at Baloch. No two ways about it.
2) Qandeel Baloch’s murder brings up a larger issue that is not limited to Pakistan—that of viewing women as gatekeepers of morality and honor. Do people realize how backward this concept is? How long will we stay obsessed with tying “honor” to a woman’s body and actions? My friend Mashaal so rightly pointed out that “honor” killings are just the ugliest / most extreme manifestation of the stifling culture where a woman’s every act is under scrutiny for how it impacts the honor of her parents, family, country, and religion. Every woman that has grown up in Pakistan – no matter how privileged—will tell you that she has experienced this. It is suffocating, and it turns you into a shadow of yourself by the time you are in your 20s. Enough of this.
It’s time for patriarchy to stop dictating society’s moral codes. The age-old expectation of women, and women alone, guarding their bodies like the Virgin Mary, of being “pure” and perfect embodiments of morality must go. The idea that women must be shamed and called sluts if God forbid they decide to have desires of their own and act upon them, just like a man would, must go. That women must act within the boundaries set for them by men and their egos, and no divergence will be tolerated, is a medieval concept with no place in today’s world. Women do not owe it to the men in their lives to act like the bastions of their honor and “ghairat”. It is not women like Baloch that are a dishonor to Pakistan, but men like her brother – senseless, disgusting, cold-blooded murderers.
Earlier, we’ve seen unbelievably maddening examples where a woman is subjected to the most horrific of violent crimes—rape—but she “brought it upon herself” due to her dress or manner; the man, powerless in the face of testosterone, a slave to his sexual desires, would get impunity or at best, a light sentence. Think the Delhi rape case, the Brock Turner case, and dozens other cases with commentary blaming the woman. Now it seems if a woman is murdered, she is bringing it upon herself because she was “provocative” and “overly sexual”? What absolute rubbish are we feeding young boys and girls about their sexuality! Women have a right to own their bodies and their decisions, just like men do. No one should be ridiculing or shaming them for it, or dictating what their life should look like.
Many of the frustrations above led me to the work I do with Popinjay and its women. I could never shake off the itch to challenge unjust gender norms and attempt to empower other women to do the same. To see that almost 15 years after I left Pakistan for college, we are no better (maybe worse?) than we were back then vis-à-vis how women are viewed and treated, saddens me to no extent.
We may feel powerless in the face of events like today’s, but we must speak our minds freely, express our disgust openly, and demand a more tolerant, sane and humane Pakistan, and world. I for one, am not giving up hope just yet. I will be mad, I will demand accountability, I will not be silenced! #StandwithQandeel #StoptheShaming #EndtheMisogyny #EndHonorKillings