In a historic declaration this Thursday, women’s rights groups vowed to exercise ‘zero-tolerance’ for ‘honour’ killings; and, told the Government of Pakistan to measure up in eradicating all forms of violence against women.
Stunned by the inhuman ordeal of five Baloch women who were buried alive by their male relatives and local political goons ostensibly for ‘family honour’, women activists and leaders from 13 cities came together in Islamabad for a day long consultation. The Consultation was called by Joint Action Committees (JACs), Women’s Action Forums (WAF chapters), Insani Haqooq Itehad (IHI) and Violence Against Women (VAW) Watch Groups.
The outcome in the form of the ‘Islamabad Declaration on ‘Honour’ Crimes’ is inspiring, moving and insightful as it lists all the pitfalls and barriers that can befall a mandate that promises to protect women from this religio-cultural gendercide.
‘… we will employ all our strengths, energies and efforts to prevent any form of a cover-up of such heinous crimes against women by the entrenched tribal, feudal and patriarchal structures and systems, whether demonstrated by the political elites, the legislators, the judiciary, the police, or the federal, provincial, district or local administrations; or by self-styled religious vigilantes; …That we will no longer allow women to be used as pawns – as convenient expendable targets – in feuds between men over murder, property, money, political and tribal rivalries, blood vendettas and misplaced perceptions of “honour” issues;’
Islamabad Declaration on ‘Honour’ crimes. Complete text.
Another crucial understanding that permeates the set of demands and proposed actions is about honoring the lives, contributions and the stories of women who have been honour-killed. Every single woman who is murdered by her family/community for the ‘honour’ of her family is a martyr because either she was killed for being someone’s wife/mother/daughter/sister or she was sensitive/insightful/leader/brave who refused to live a life of complete subjugation. The Declaration proclaims all women killed for ‘honour’ as ‘Shaheed AurtaiN’ Martyr Women.
There are ‘honour’ killings where women of one family are made to suffer for the crimes of their men by the men of the aggrieved family; such killings are often ordered by a Jirga, and are indiscriminate as to the role of women themselves. However, in my view, a majority of women are honour-killed for asserting their basic human rights. Usually in their teens, a mere expression of their dignity as human beings where they begin to think for themselves and make decisions for themselves, becomes a death-deserving crime; a jirga may become involved but it is basically up to the men of their families to pronounce the judgment and to execute it.
‘Eh kon khaRae poordae/mere apnae peyo bhra’
Who are these burying me/my own fathers brothers
Every death for ‘honour’ sends shock waves through the land imparting another message of fear and intimidation to an already controlled and coverted population of women in Pakistan. Every death for ‘honour’ questions the values and the structures of the family where on daily basis and in our homes, some members enjoy fear-inducing power while the others are made to live at their whims. The mere concept of the ‘honour’ of such a family renders us homeless, brotherless, fatherless, sonless. In such families, each of us regardless of our gender, are made to afford a harsh, callous and unjust family life. Women have to confront and change this murderous ‘family’ and its values because we, more than men, are paying with our lives to keep it going.
So, the most honourable thing would be to question the validity of the ‘family’ that is based on greed, discrimination and inequality; and, to replace it with a democratic family structure that allows for equal and wholesome opportunities for all its members to shape our futures, to be supported through difficult times, to be protected and nurtured so that we can all live our lives to the fullest potential.
Sounds good but it is not that simple in a social setup where religious extremists are throwing acid on girls and young women and bombarding their schools for not wearing veils; the ‘respected’ jirgas order women to be gang-raped for an offense committed by their male relatives; where over a dozen young women and girl children are declared ‘vani’ and handed over to the aggrieved to resolve a feud between two families; where women are raped in police custody; where declaring a woman/girl ‘kari’ (adulterous) and then killing her is a matter of convenience for a husband/father/brother; where five women are buried alive and the elected representatives justify the action in the parliament; where a woman have to produce four Muslim men of upright character as eyewitnesses to prove that she was raped; where the qisas blood money for killing a woman is half that of a man.
This is the case in a political situation of deteriorating lawlessness where to make it worse, the biggest bully of this whole wide world has resolved to hunt its prey. The direct military assaults by the US forces in Pakistan are causing civilian casualties, inciting explosive responses from the Taliban, embarrassing Pakistan Army, and shaking an already tenuous government of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP).
Though the PPP government has sidelined the Lawyers Movement to appease the Army, it is however, moving in favor of women’s demands by invoking the Anti-terrorism Act of 1997 (ATA) that was passed to protect women against gang rape, the Women Development Minister has resolved to make changes in existing laws to protect women in future, and the Supreme Court of Pakistan has taken suo-motu notice of the killings.
It may seem weird but the truth is that the only chance women of Pakistan have of achieving the objectives of Islamabad Declaration is if the United States of America withdraws, at the very least, its military presence from Pakistan. In this life-and-death struggle between women’s rights and religion-supported traditions, it is not going to help women in Pakistan to be identified with the United States even when the Bush Republicans’ prey is one of our perpetrators.
Islamabad Declaration calls for action to accomplish the following:
– Acknowledge the courage and stance of Senator Yasmeen Shah and many media persons who have continued to report on this issue despite threats to their lives.
– Protest outside Joint Session on 20th Sept in Islamabad and provincial capitals
– Women killed in the name of ‘honour’ are Martyrs: Raise to hero status
– Long March for Shaheed Women
– Dua for Shaheed Women and offer Namaz-e-Janazaa
– Visit and offer Fateha at graveyards of women killed for ‘honour’
– Dedicate 16 Days of Activism this year (2008) to Shaheed Women Killed in the name of Honour
– Signature campaigns
– Send letters of concern to Parliament
– Disqualification of Senator Zehri and all those public representatives who defend ‘Honour Killings’.
– Demand a legislation against Jirgas/Panchayats/Informal judicial structures
– Focus groups with legislators to discuss the Honour killing law (Dec 2004) and the necessary amendments.
– Launch poster, documentary and media campaign
– Demand that public representatives denounce all forms of killings particularly of women whether in the name of ‘honour’, ‘tradition’ or ‘custom’
– Form a group of concerned individuals including lawyers, retired Judges, Human Rights activitsts and media personnel that should include some eminent personalities to follow such cases
– Vigilant committees in region to monitor day to day updates and reporting to everyone
– Women and human rights group will hold 4 seminars at Provincial levels in the interior of the country in order to build vocal support against ‘honour killings’
‘Assein ve koi kaleyan neesae/punj lukayan lakhan vaikheiN’
We are not alone either/you hid five will see millions