Honouring Qandeel Baloch

Last weekend, an outspoken Pakistani social media celebrity named Qandeel Baloch was drugged before being strangled to death by her brother, in retaliation for the “kind of pictures she had been posting online”. Her photos, which were often accompanied by politicised messages about women’s rights, included her posing seductively. The murder has been called an “honour killing”.

Today, Pakistan’s Prime Minister’s daughter, Maryam Nawaz Sharif, has announced that a loophole that permits the family of the victim to legally pardon the killer (of their daughter, sister, or other female family member) will be closed. [x] This is being seen as a huge step forward in women’s rights in Pakistan, as it essentially bans “honour killings”. The government has also chosen to prohibit the family of Baloch from legally forgiving her murderer, her brother Muhammed Waseem.

“Honour killings” in Pakistan, and other forms of violence, are extremely high. Roughly 1,000 honour killings are committed per year, and 9 out of 10 women are victims of domestic violence. In 2014, 232 women had acid thrown at them, and an average of 4 women were raped per day. [x] So why has it taken the murder of Qandeel Baloch for the laws to be changed?

In the conservative country of Pakistan, Quandeel, who was buried Sunday, was seen as controversial. Speaking out for women’s rights, she referred to herself as a “modern day feminist”, and had nearly 750,000 followers on Facebook. In one incident, she made headlines after posting selfies with a senior member of the clergy, Mufti Abdul Qavi. He was later suspended from his post on one of Pakistan’s religious committees due to the photographs. According to Waseem, it was this scandal that caused him to start planning to kill her - and Mufti Abdul Qavi is also being investigated. [x]

But having her name internationally known via social media meant that the whole world knew about her murder. Every news outlet featured the story, and Twitter was quickly ablaze with tweets about her. Feminists let their fury be known through Tumblr, Facebook, and Tumblr. She was famous for her outspoken opinions. She was murdered for her outspoken opinions. And now, that fame means that the discussion of “honour killings” and abuse in Pakistani communities has been brought to the forefront of women’s rights conversations across the world.

Honour-based violence is not just confined to Pakistan. In the UK there are approximately 12 reported “honour killings” per year. According to police records, over 11,000 cases of so-called honour crime were recorded between 2010-2014. That does not include the cases that were not recorded, of which there are many due to the stigma and cultural association. But let’s be blunt about this: there is nothing honourable about so-called “honour” killings or crime. It is, at its core, violence against women and girls.

Female genital mutilation, rape, murder, domestic violence, and forced marriage are among the many forms of violence against women and girls throughout the world. Honour killings and honour-based crime should be seen as just that: violence, caused by misogyny and patriarchal ideals. In 2015, it was reported that there were a record number of convictions and prosecutions for offenses categorised as “violence against women and girls” in the UK, with numbers up by 18% on the previous year. Danny Shaw, the BBC’s home affairs correspondent, stated that this appeared to be “a result of more victims having the confidence to come forward”[x]

In her death, Qandeel Baloch reignited the conversation globally on violence against women and girls, which has spurred the Pakistan government into action. The more widespread the conversation is, the more confident victims will feel about coming forward and reporting their attacks. The more it is discussed, the less stigmatised it will become.

On the morning of her death, Qandeel posted a photograph of herself staring into the camera, with the caption stating that she wanted to inspire women who have been “treated badly and dominated by society”. If you want to honour Qandeel Baloch, continue on with her message, and tell her story. Let it be known that this is something you will not stand for, whether it happens in your city, your country, or on the other side of the world. End the stigma, and support the victims.

Words by Sophie Elliott