Peshawar: Twenty cases of honour killing have been reported in the first one and a half months of 2017 in different parts of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province – one woman murdered in the name of honour every second day on average, according to data provided by Aurat Foundation, Pakistan’s leading women rights organization.
Hina Shahnawaz, 27, was one of the women who was killed in the name of honour. She was gunned down by her cousin on February 6, inside her home at Ustarzai Payan area of the Kohat district. According to the first information report (FIR) lodged in the Ustarzai Police Station, Hina’s first cousin Mehboob Alam Khan was upset that she worked for a non-profit organisation. He considered it detrimental for the honour of his family.
Hina had an MPhil degree from the University of Peshawar in social sciences. She had been compelled to take up a job in an NGO in Kohat district to support her family. She was the sole breadwinner of her family after her father, Shahnawaz, died of cancer recently and her elder brother was murdered in a fight the broke out in the village. Hina also supported her elder sister and her two children since her brother in law, who worked as labourer in Saudi Arabia, passed away due to cardiac arrest.
Another girl, Sadiqeen, 26, was allegedly shot dead by her brother Khalid Khan in the Shangla district in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa on February 9 in what news reports said was a suspected honour killing. And on February 10, police in Nowshehra Kalan recovered the dead body of a woman allegedly killed for honour.
Of the nearly nine cases of honour killing in Swat, several cases were not registered with the local police but only reported in local newspapers.
“The number of honour killing cases has been growing by the day while the government stays a silence spectator to violence against women,” a social activist Taimur Kamal told News Lens.
According to the statistics provided by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), a total of 4398 cases of honour killing were reported from different parts of Pakistan from January 2011 to January 2017. Of these, 390 cases were reported from different parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa with Peshawar on top – 71 cases – and Mardan second with 55 cases. 345 of those killed in the name of honour were women whereas 45 men.
As for cases of violence against women, the Aurat Foundation’s annual report on women rights in 2016 says that 7852 cases were reported last year. The report said that 287 cases of violence against women were reported from KP in the first nine months of 2016, with the highest number of cases taking place in Peshawar (102). The top three crimes against women, according to the report, were kidnapping, rape and murder.
Saima Munir, a women rights activist who works for the Aurat Foundation, said: “Compared to 2015, there was a 70 percent increase in honour killings in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in 2016.”
“These do not include cases from the tribal and rural areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where honour killings are not reported but settled mutually by families or men and women who decide to name it a ‘suicide’,” said Munir.
Most of these cases, she said, were reported from Peshawar. “Peshawar remains on the top of the list while we don’t know about the rural districts where [honour killing] cases are not reported. There needs to be greater awareness among the public about women rights to address this situation.”
The KP Social Welfare Department and the KP Women Commission drafted a Women Protection Bill, tabled by the provincial government in KP Assembly in March 2016. The bill was sent for review to the Islamic Ideological Council, a constitutional body that advises the legislature whether or not a certain law is repugnant to Islam, namely to the Qur’an and Sunna. In April 2016 the council rejected the bill saying most of its clauses were un-Islamic.
Khwendo Kor, a women rights group working in KP and tribal areas of FATA, says that lack of education, and an androcentric society and legislature were to blame as the main cause of honour killings.
“At one level, it is the society and on the other it is the non-existence or lack of implementation of laws,” said Khwendo Kor, focal person Nazra Syed. “Due to lack of awareness and education, the Pashtun society’s men are conservative. They consider women their property. In our male dominated society, women are entirely dependent on men, illustrated by the fact that a girl cannot go to school or medical treatment without permission from her father or a brother.”
Syed said that when domestic issues escalate, they often culminate in a killing, with society giving it the name of honour. “This makes the family members proud of the act [instead of regretting it].”
“If common people know about these cases,” she said, “why were the lawmakers, authorities and the judiciary silent? The government was not following up on the Women Protection Bill after the CII rejected it,” she said.
“In most honour killing cases, the accused are not arrested or released after the issue is resolved out of court because the families do not act with mutual conscience,” said Syed.
Khushnood Begum, a senior lawyer at the Peshawar High Court, said most cases of honour killing were resolved out of court. She said the police arrested the accused under section 324 or 302 which are compoundable. After some time, families enter a mutual settlement and the accused are released.
“In these cases [where the accused is free] the men go free whereas the women are held accused [for bringing dishonour to a family],” said Begum. “Increasingly though, family members kill the women and make it appear as if it was a suicide.”
Even though the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province has a Provincial Commission on the Status of Women that according to its Chairperson Neleem Turo, is working to eradicate gender-based violence in the province, they are not very successful if the recent spike in honour killings and domestic violence is anything to go by, the women workers said.
“In Hina’s case,” said Turo, “the police had arrested the killers and they would be awarded exemplary punishment, but killers got away because the families chose to resolve the issue out of court. The honour killing got sanctioned in society, without fear or let up. We have taken this issue seriously and will have a solution in the shape of a law soon.”