In the late hours of July 20th, unarguably the gloomiest night of the year, news of an innocent woman’s beheading was plastered across every television screen in Pakistan. Noor Mukadam, 27, was held hostage by her partner, Zahir Jaffer, when her life was mercilessly stripped away from her. As the wounds of this incident run deep within the public, women all across the nation continue to ponder the countless other cases of femicide that continue to wipe away Pakistani women, leaving them with a single question lingering in their head - could it be me next?
Noor Mukadam’s murder, along with a multitude of other instances of gender-based violence, provides a window into the deepening unrest, insecurity, and inequality that hovers over Pakistani society like a storm-cloud - unfortunately, her name belongs to a long list of women who have been the victims of the appalling phenomenon of 'honor killings'. At its very core, this archaic and extremely prevalent culture in all of Southeast Asia exists to restore the so-called honor of families, dismantling every bit of 'shame' that a woman causes them. In the past, women have been murdered for simply rejecting marriage proposals, dancing at weddings, wearing a pair of jeans that were deemed to be “too tight”, serving a cold plate of dinner, and not being a virgin the night of marriage.
In the wake of recent events, men across Pakistan distanced themselves from this heinous act, condemning it in the strongest of terms, and demanding justice for Noor Mukadam. Yet, a large chunk of them fail to acknowledge how they are also part of the problem, actively contributing to a system whose products are vile men like Zahir. While these men may not be committing violent crimes against the women in their lives, they are certainly, in less overt ways, enabling the patriarchy hovering above their households and playing a role in preserving the status quo. Pakistani men regularly police the choices of the females in their homes and workplaces, placing restrictions on their freedom and often treating them as perfunctory beings with little to no agency. Hence, the inability of these men to identify their male entitlement and work on their own shortcomings makes their cries for the justice of women like Noor seem fickle and superficial.
Parallel to this, despite Pakistan being labeled as the 6th most dangerous country for a woman to live in, its government faces great challenges in the process of passing the ‘Domestic Violence (Prevention and Protection) Bill’ as it breaches the Islamic Law, which permits the ‘light beating’ of women at the hands of their husbands. Victims, especially those hailing from lower-class backgrounds, spend their entire lives, fighting for justice in Pakistan’s infamous judicial system, yet cases plod along endlessly, never yielding any results.
Moreover, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan has publicly shared his problematic victim-blaming remarks, further rationalizing the vile acts of assault against women in Pakistan. When asked in an interview with the BBC about the rising sexual assault cases in the country, Khan replied that sexual violence was a result of “increasing obscenity” and that women should cover themselves to prevent “temptations” in society as men “are not robots”.
In the midst of it all, under the law and society that fails to be the backbone of its victims, women are instructed to constantly wear more and speak less, while perpetrators roam the streets freely, hunting down their very next prey. As the women of Pakistan continue to latch onto the fear overflowing within their hearts each time they exit through the gates of their homes, policymakers must strive to create legislations, implanting the seeds of hope today to protect the women of tomorrow.
Written by Manahil Naveed