Academy Award-winning filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy’s new film has put the spotlight on honour killings, which claim the lives of an estimated 1,000 women every year in Pakistan.
Despite the passage of a bill in 2015 that aimed at closing loopholes in the law, the killings has continued. Chinoy’s film, “A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness”, has been shortlisted for the Oscars and she has now launched a petition to eliminate honour killings.
Chinoy earned a special mention from Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who praised the filmmaker’s work and expressed his government’s commitment to rid Pakistan of such killings through appropriate legislation.
Sharif said honour killings afflicted several segments of Pakistani society and invited Chinoy to the Prime Minister’s House for the first screening in Pakistan of her film, which focusses on Saba Qaiser, who survived an attack by her father and uncle at the age of 18.
Chinoy’s petition will also be sent to the prime minister, but in many ways, the government in helpless in the face of the widespread practice of women being killed by fathers, brothers and other male elders, mostly for refusing arranged marriages. Honour killings have been reported in almost all parts of the country.
In 2015, the Senate or upper house of parliament passed the Anti-Rape Laws (Criminal Laws Amendment) Bill of 2014 and the Anti-Honour Killings Laws (Criminal Laws Amendment) Bill of 2014, moved by Pakistan Peoples Party’s Senator Syeda Sughra Imam.
Imam said honour killings are common across the country but official figures do not include unreported cases or, indeed, the number of men who are killed alongside women in the name of honour.
Aurat Foundation, a women’s rights group, says while honour killings have no official sanction, they are treated differently by the police.
“Many of the decisions to kill women are taken by a tribal council of elders and implemented with their sanction,” said a report of the foundation. Local police officials almost never charge the elders for being part of such crimes.
Women have also been attacked and killed on suspicion of infidelity. There have been cases where women were killed for being seen in public without appropriate clothing. In other instances, women were murdered by male relatives when someone passed a comment on them.
“These misplaced notions of honour continue to survive in our society, particularly in rural areas,” said Saad Zuberi, who works with Chinoy.
But Chinoy is hopeful Sharif’s endorsement will go a long way. In her statement after the screening at the Prime Minister’s House, she said, “I just want to thank you for your recent statement saying that you are going to work against honour killings in Pakistan and, as a Pakistani woman, I am honoured to have a Prime Minister who is working on the issue.”