Honor Killings, Feminism, and the Death of Qandeel Baloch

Qandeel Baloch was both famous and controversial for her social media postings, which dealt with topics that would be deemed controversial or offensive in Pakistan, such as feminism, women’s rights, and sexuality. In fact, she would call herself “Pakistan’s Kim Kardashian” due to her Internet fame. On July 14, she had posted that “I believe I am a modern day feminist. I believe in equality. I need not to choose what type of women should be. I don’t think there is any need to label ourselves just for sake of society. I am just a women with free thoughts free mindset and I LOVE THE WAY I AM.” By the next night, she was dead, murdered in her sleep by her brother Waseem, who claimed that she had been going against traditional Islamic feminine values and had brought dishonor to the family.

The murder of Qandeel Baloch has led to a number of condemnations by Pakistani politicians as well as international figures and organizations. For example, Maryam Nawaz, daughter of Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, has said that legislation is being worked on currently that would further criminalize and punish honor killings in Pakistan. Other Pakistani politicians and celebrities who have condemned the attack include Sharmila Farooqi, Meesha Shafi, and Bakhtawar Bhutto Zardari.

Her murder has led to an increase in the discussion of honor killings in Pakistan. The Asia Times did a piece on honor killings in which the horrors of these killings and her death’s effect on Pakistan were discussed. According to the site, these killings occur in more inward-looking towns and communities, where “a more regressive interpretation of Islam is enforced”. At least 1,000 honor killings occur every year in Pakistan, according to the Honour Based Violence Network. Tragically, however, this number could be greatly underestimated as the crime might not have been reported to the proper authorities.

Looking more deeply at the possible religious aspect of honor killings, it has to be said that there is actually little factual basis to claim that an honor killing is a religious duty. Even though this is the case, this, “does not necessarily influence all members of a religion, who tend to view all aspects of their lifestyle and culture as being related to their faith”. This means that it actually might be more of a cultural practice that people blend in with their religion rather than a strict religious adherence. The foundation of this claim is that about 5,000 honor killings occur every year around the world (at least those that have been reported about). This means that only an extreme minority of people either believe in the concept of honor killings or have committed such an act, compared to the billions of people worldwide that don’t support such an act.

For the sake of argument, even when looking at Muslim-dominant countries, a majority of them disagree with the concept of honor killings.

The map above shows that out of the 23 Muslim countries surveyed, at least 14 of them showed that honor killings are never justified. The four countries that seem to support the concept the most would be Egypt, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Jordan. With Pakistan, the population is roughly split in half in regards to supporting honor killings.

For this practice to stop, several changes will have to be made. Relatively speaking, the easiest step would be enacting legislation in Pakistan and elsewhere that criminalizes and condemns honor killings, with a system put in place to effectively enforce the law and record and report any such killings. The more difficult aspect would be changing the culture of these countries so that they will see such killings as wrong and against any and all belief systems. The people will have to be educated on the inherent immorality of killing based on honor and at the same time, learn to respect women’s rights, as tragically, women are the predominant victims of honor killings.