When a Human Right Becomes a Matter of Courage

Zainab KhanJune 20, 2023Courage

Samia Sarwar. Farzana Iqbal. Ayman Udas. Saba Qaiser. Samia Shahid. Tasleem Khatoon Solangi. Qandeel Baloch.

How many of these names do you recognise? How many other names are left unmentioned, unheard of, unrecorded? How many more names are yet to come, killed in the name of ghairat (honor), subsumed within a statistic, a headline, or a hushed dinner conversation, only to be forgotten until the untimely arrival of the next?

Ghairat is a term oft-quoted to punctuate the stories of women like these. Women shunned for their perceivably unacceptable relationships, defiance of restrictive socio-cultural norms, or boldness in dressing, speaking, living.

Qandeel Baloch was one such woman, ostracized and ultimately killed under the pretext of honor. Seven years after her death, Qandeel’s remarkable courage in confronting deep-rooted patriarchal norms lives on - her struggle not only brought to the forefront the taboo issue of gender-based violence and femicide in Pakistan, but also inspired crucial revision of the law pertaining to honor killings.

Qandeel attempted to reclaim cyber spaces in a society that remains firm in its resolve to restrict women’s access to public spaces. She took to online platforms to vocalize her stance on female empowerment, and proclaimed her independence in living as per her free will. It was for this reason that her family felt affronted in the matter of their honor, and decided that in order to restore their tarnished reputation, she deserved to be brutally killed.

Qandeel’s story is just one of thousands. In the wake of her death, she has been revered as a symbol of bravery, resilience, and women’s liberation. But her murder also serves as a stark reminder of the fate of courageous women in Pakistan who dare to dispute the status quo, or call into question the conventions of what is considered decent, modest, or honorable.

Honor killings are not a new phenomenon. Stemming from socially constructed patriarchal notions and age-old cultural beliefs, they represent the most heinous aspect of misogyny in the modern world. There are a multitude of reasons that may motivate honor killings, most commonly a woman marrying someone of her own choice, refusing to marry a suitor selected by her family, or engaging in behavior that is perceived as immoral or shameful by her family or community.

Women’s emancipation is synonymous to their independence in exercising free will. But when employing such an absolute human right becomes a matter of courage, and this kind of courage is not rewarded, but instead scandalized and met with violence - we must ask ourselves: why is death a prerequisite for recognising a woman’s courage? Is courageousness a death sentence for women like Qandeel? And where is the honor in murder?

Zainab Khan is 16 years old and studying at Lahore Grammar School Defence. She loves watching true crime documentaries and fiction writing.