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Activists See A Surge In ‘Honor’ Killings In Pakistani Province

Pakistan is struggling with a scourge of 'honor' killings (screen grab)
Pakistan is struggling with a scourge of 'honor' killings (screen grab)

Campaigners in Pakistan’s northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa have seen an uptick in the number of so-called honor killings.

“There is a surge in the number of women killed in the name of honor in the current year,” says Erfaan Hussain Babak, head of The Awakening, a nongovernmental organization based in Mingora, the largest commercial city in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s mountainous Swat Valley.

His organization’s research noted that compared with the 34 women and three men murdered in honor killings in Swat Valley last year, at least 12 women have been killed there since the beginning of this year.

He claimed that in some cases the women are killed but their murders are covered up as suicides. Radio Mashaal couldn’t independently verify his claims.

Honor killings mostly involve close relatives killing a family member in the name of protecting honor. Women make up a majority of the victims, who are mostly killed after accusations of sexual misconduct.

The killings do not only occur in the countryside. Women’s rights advocates in Peshawar, the provincial capital, say that since February 1 at least 11 women were killed in the teeming city and the nearby districts of Nowshera and Charsadda.

The brutal murder of Hina Shahnawaz, 27, earlier this month provoked national outrage.

WATCH:​ Pakistan Struggles With The Scourge Of Honor Killings

Pakistan Struggles With The Scourge Of Honor Killings
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Shahnawaz was reportedly gunned down in Kohat, a southern city in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The aid worker was the sole breadwinner after her brother and father died.

“Her only crime was that she was an educated woman who wanted a share in her family property, which enraged her cousins and hence she was killed,” said Sanna Ijaz, a program manager at the women’s rights advocacy organization Shirkatgah.

Pakistan’s independent Geo Television, however, quoted local police officials as saying one of her male cousins didn’t approve of her work and killed her after she refused his marriage proposal.

Police are investigating the murder while the main suspect, Mahboob Alam, remains at large.

Pakistan’s Express Tribune daily quotes Khyber Pakhtunkhwa police as reporting that more than 187 women were murdered last year across the province.

Across Pakistan, the Pakistan Human Rights Commission recorded more than 1,000 cases of honor killings in 2016. A majority of the victims were women.

Qamar Naseem, a women’s and transgender rights defender in Peshawar, sees halfhearted government measures and the indifferent attitude of the society as factors contributing to violence against women.

“Unfortunately, violence against women is recognized as a norm, and even law enforcement agencies avoid dealing with the perpetrators,” Naseem said, adding that in most cases such incidents are referred to informal local jirgas or tribal councils where the demands of justice are often not met and only men make decisions.

Sher Muhammad, a lawyer and human rights’ advocate, says in Pakistan women are treated as property, which leads to their rights being denied.

“Certain state institutions like the Council of Islamic Ideology justifies violence against women, and that encourages people to treat women badly,” he said.

Muhammad says the spread of telecommunications and social media is now helping in bringing to light an increasing number of crimes committed in the name of honor.

Shaheen Buneri is a journalist with Radio Mashaal