Pakistan ranks 147th in a list of 188 countries for its poor record of women's health, education, political empowerment and economic status.
Sadly, women meet fates similar to Ambreen — a young girl who was choked, poisoned, tied to a van and then burned to death in the northwestern city of Abbottabad — almost on a daily basis.
This particular girl's killing was ordered by a 15 member tribal council in Pakistan, a country where over 1,000 women die in “honor killings” annually.
Her alleged crime was helping her friend elope.
More than a dozen members of an “honor council” have been arrested and will be tried under the antiterrorism court, says the police.
The group of men detained the girl, her mother and her brother, who allegedly consented to the punishment, according to the police.
“The council members… decided to punish the girl in a novel way so no one in future can dare to marry without consent of their parents and give a bad name to the village,” the local police chief Saeed Wazir told NBC.
The case was brought to light by Abdullah Khan of the Pakistan Institute for Conflict and Security Studies via his Facebook account.
The late Ambreen was not alone in her fate. The following are just a few glimpses of the horrors inflicted under the guise of "honor":
Pakistan: Man Shoots His Sisters in 'Honor Killing' After Being Forgiven for Murdering Mother https://t.co/dml9ybFIkR— Tricia Wingate (@PatriciaAHenso1) April 17, 2016
Recommended: Survivor Of Attempted Honor Killing Tells Her Horrific Tale
Killing in the name of honor, or “karo kari” in local terms, is something very common in Pakistan and it’s not just women who are victims, though they are a large majority.
Statistics, though staggering, are nowhere near the actual numbers as most of the cases go unreported.
According to Tahira Abdullah, a member of Human Rights Commission of Pakistan 's governing body, feudalism, tribalism and the continuing presence of elder councils are to be blamed for honor killings.
The councils allow the families to settle honor killing cases among themselves so that there is no legal punishment and the victim's family is given monetary compensation instead.
Pakistan’s Criminal Code (2005), Section 299(ii) defines “honor” crime as an “offense committed in the name or on the pretext of honor.”
By labeling the murder “karo kari,” or honor killing, the perpetrators expect to be forgiven by the victim’s relatives.
“Family Killing Fields: Honor Rationales in the Murder of Women,” a book on the subject by Nancy V. Baker, Peter R. Gregware and Margery A. Cassidy, defines honor-based violence as an act influenced by three basic elements:
1) Control, or desire to exert control, over a woman’s behavior
2) A male’s feeling of shame over his loss of control, or perceived loss of control, over her behavior
3) Community or familial involvement in augmenting and addressing this shame
Saroop Ijaz, a lawyer who works with Human Rights Watch in Pakistan, agrees and believes these killings were frequently “a means to assert dominance.”
“The state has to criminalize it, but also it has to be viewed as a serious, heinous crime by the population at large,” he said.
"Women are considered the property of the males in their family irrespective of their class, ethnic, or religious group. The owner of the property has the right to decide its fate. The concept of ownership has turned women into a commodity which can be exchanged, bought and sold," says Tahira Shahid Khan, a professor specializing in women's issues.
"To me honor killing is premeditated, cold-blooded murder, but the justification given by men when they kill a woman is that she did something without permission, or that is out of bounds of what society deems is OK for a woman," says Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, an Oscar winning Pakistani filmmaker who has made movies on issues like acid victims and honor killing.
There may not be too much hope when it comes to protecting the rights of women and ending practices like honor killing, but there are rays of hope that cannot be ignored.
In February 2016, against all the odds and massive resistance, country's largest province of Punjab passed a landmark law criminalizing all forms of violence against women. Two brothers were sentenced to death for the honor killing of their sister and her husband.
Organizations like the Pakistan Human Rights Commission and the Aurat Foundation work on grass root levels across the country to gather data, create awareness and push for reforms.
What’s more, the topic is no longer a taboo. People like filmmaker Obaid-Chinoy are pretty vocal about the issue. Her documentary, “A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness,” addresses the issue.
Social media has also done its part in not only creating awareness but also taking up the cause and acting as a pressure group to bring about change.
The change is still far off but it is in the making.
Even the Prime Minister of Pakistan Mian Mohammed Nawaz Shareef declared honor killings and violence against women unethical.
“This is totally against Islam and anyone who does this must be punished and punished very severely,” he told the Guardian. “Changing the law is something that needs to be done at the earliest possibility.”
Banner/Thumbnail Photo Credit: Reuters