Honor killings in Pakistan are a well-known issue: 1.000 honor killings occur in Pakistan each year, amongst the 5.000 happening worldwide. On December 2008, the country, pressured by social activists, feminists and the international community, passed a law prohibiting honor killings, which could be punished by a prison term of seven years or, in the most extreme cases, by the death penalty. In November 2006, the law was strengthened as “honor killings” were qualified of being “un-Islamic”. However, the mentality of the population is proving more difficult to change as honor killings remain a major problem in the country.
Talking about honor killings is of utmost importance and more relevant than ever, as the documentary "A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness", directed by Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, a Pakistani woman, was rewarded by an Oscar last Sunday, allowing the the issue to be at the center of the mediatic sphere.
If laws, theorically protecting women, have indeed been passed in the last few years, the whole Pakistani patriarchal system that allows such a crime to happen remains the same. Indeed, under the current law, honor killings are seen as a crime against an individual but not against the State. The consequence of that perception is that people are free to privately handle and settle the matter, often for monetary compensation and by forgiving the murderer, most of the time a man in the family.
Social activists, NGOs amd feminists are more and more openly raising their voices on the matter, hoping to change the mentality of the society as well as getting the law to be strenghtened. Khalida Broh, a Pakistani activist for women’s rights and committed against honor killing in Pakistan, founded the Sughar Empowerment Society, a non-profit organization in which women can work together as well as learn about their rights, as a reaction against honor killings and to empower Pakistani women.
Khalida Brohi’s trajectory
Khalida Brohi has an unconventional trajectory: she was the first girl of her village, in the province of Balochistan, to get an education. In 2004, when she was sixteen years old, a close friend was the victim of the so called “honor killing”: she was murdered by her family after having told her mother that she intended to marry a boy she was in love with. For Khalida Brohi, it was the spark that convinced her to try to stop these practices.
She launched the “Wake Up! Campaign against Honor Killings”, by doing door-to-door, trying to get support, to engage people and to stir dialogue. It soon gained a lot of visibility, as she was contacted by several interested media.
An initial failure
Unfortunately, a growing visibility did not automatically imply popularity and success. She was accused by the tribal leaders of her province of using her education against the practices and customs of her province, disrespecting their culture, as well as becoming “un-Islamic”. Soon, the resentment turned into actual aggression: stones were casted at her house and her family was threatened. Feeling no longer secure, Khalida Brohi chose to flee to Karachi, in which she also went to school. In 2009, the campaign, while still remaining a subject of interest for the journalists, was more or less abandoned.
A more subdued approach
Though it was the end of the campaign, it was only the beginning of Khalida’s activism. She returned to the tribal leaders with her mind set on gaining their cooperation: more conciliating, she apologized and explained that what she truly wanted was to promote their traditions rather than fighting them. She wanted to launch a new project enabling women to be reunited in a center and to make embroidery. The unmentioned purpose was also and foremost to educate them on their rights, in order to get them to be on more equal grounds with men, while remaining respectful of their Islamic beliefs. The idea is to challenge certain pervasive ideas, such as the natural inferiority of women and the need to murder women in order to restore or maintain the honor of the family and/or of the village.
The Sughar (which means “skilled women” in Urdu) Empowerment Society was therefore funded. However, some husbands, who caught words of the purpose of the Society, kept their wives from coming back. Paying women for their work was an essential step for the Society, as families did not want to lose any additional incomes that could be provided and thus did not prevent women from going to the center.
In these centers, women are taught for a period of six months on three essential chapters: on enterprise development, on life skills, with a part especially focused on women’s rights, and also learned professional skills through traditional embroidery, which is then sold to the fashion industry.
Women are not the only ones targeted by the Society: it also manages to touch men, for instance by organizing cricket tournaments and talk about women’s rights in the middle of it: a way to make oneself heard on a topic that tends to leave most men indifferent. Today, the organization educates up to 800 women from 23 villages and graduates are also able to receive a small loan in order to help them in their potential future endeavors. Khalida Brohi’s goal is to attain up to one million women in the next ten years.
Khalida Brohi’s project enables women to be economically as well as socially empowered: as they’re able to economically provide for their families, their value in the society is perceived as being higher. By educating them on their rights while respecting their traditions, the Sughar Society, while not directly confronting Pakistani’s beliefs, slowly changes the mindset and the mentality of the population on the matter of women’s rights.
Léa Guinet, Research Assistant at CIPADH
Kate Torgovnick May, “Embroidery for empowerment: a Q&A with Khalida Brohi that reveals much more of her incredible story”, TedBlog, October 9, 2014. Available online: http://blog.ted.com/embroidery-for-empowerment-a-qa-with-khalida-brohi/.
Kate Torgovnick May, “How embroidery is helping women in Pakistan stand up to honor killings and inequality”, Ideas.Ted, October 9, 2014. Available online: http://ideas.ted.com/how-embroidery-is-helping-women-in-pakistan-stand-u....
Honor Based Violence Awareness Network. Available online: http://hbv-awareness.com/.
“Honor killings continue, despite law”, Irin Website, 8 March 2007. Available online: http://www.irinnews.org/report/70575/pakistan-honour-killings-continue-d...
Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy & Maheen Sadiq, "This Oscar-Winning doc is getting Pakistan to reconsider laws about killing daughters", The World Post, 3 March 2016. Available online: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sharmeen-obaidchinoy/honor-killings-film-o....