A few days ago in the wee hours of the morning (3:45 to be precise) I was reading the news as I usually do when I can’t sleep. I came across the story of Qandeel Baloch, the Pakistani social media star murdered by her brother in order to protect their family’s “honour.” Baloch, 26, was in an abusive arranged marriage from the age of 17 and left her husband after having a son. She first shot to fame in 2013 when she auditioned for Pakistan’s Pop Idol.
She became notorious on social media for posting provocative pictures of herself and most recently a selfie with a muslim cleric which caused a lot of controversy.
Baloch’s brothers were already upset about her modelling and provocative pictures on social media but the cleric picture was the last straw.
On 15th of July one of her brothers drugged her with sleeping pills and strangled her to death. He defended his actions saying they were to protect his family’s honour. In his confession he tried to justify this horrific murder by saying; “Girls are born to stay home and follow traditions. My sister never did that,”
Last week I was watching Prime Minister’s Questions – the session aired on the BBC every Wednesday when the UK Prime Minister answers questions from other Members of Parliament.
One of the more sensible questions was from Conservative MP Nusrat Ghani (not that I like Tories, but never mind) She asked Theresa May “Does the Prime Minister agree that such crimes are in fact acts of terror not honour and will she therefore direct that that her new Government takes the lead by ending the use of the word honour to describe these vile acts, in order to stop any legitimacy to the idea that women are the property of men.”
May agreed that these killings there is “absolutely no honour” in so-called honour killings and they should be referred to as acts of terror.
Indeed there is no honour in men—particularly family members, murdering a woman because she is not living within their desired parameters for what a woman “should” be. I’ve recently been reading Scars Across Humanity, an incisive and powerful book written by Elaine Storkey, a philosopher and academic. She talks precisely about the ubiquitous violence against women and the many insidious forms it takes. The book was published in November 2015 by SPCK Publishing and was launched in the Speaker’s House in the Houses of Parliament.
In this profound yet very readable book Storkey deftly weaves together women’s testimonies with academic analysis, facts and figures to form a stark picture of violence against women around the world.
Storkey reminds us that gender violence takes many forms “physical, sexual, psychological and economic – which are interrelated yet which remain largely hidden, suppressed by silence.”
Although there is a worldwide problem of violence against women, this does not mean that women around the world experience violence in the same way, as Storkey says, “Culture powerfully influences the kind of violence women are exposed to, and the ways in which it is manifest.”
The gender pay gap, sexist comments dismissed as ‘banter’, sexualisation of women in the media… all these things form part of generalised and systemic violence against women. These inequalities are all deeply entrenched in our society, in fact, as Storkey says they are “structured in some way into the very fabric of societies and cultures themselves.”
And yes, I can moan about being called “love”, “darling” or any other sexist occurrences many women encounter in western society, but after all, my life is not in immediate danger when I speak my mind, or if I choose to wear a short skirt, low cut top, or if I should ever choose to, twerk in a club (!).
However, many women, like Baloch, are not so free. Even in the UK in five years 11,000 cases of so-called “honour killings” were reported.
The part that worries me most about stories like Baloch’s and about other instances of violence against women is what that assumes about the value of women, or lack thereof.
Even in a supposedly modern and forward thinking society like the UK, a woman’s value is still measured to some extent by her marital status, her choice to have children or not, the number of sexual partners she has had…. I could go on. In contrast, men are not measured like this. The cold facts are that women are valued less than men in many societies in the world.
At the very beginning of Storkey’s chapter on “honour killings” there is a quote from a woman named Kamna Arora, from India which illustrates the lack of value women are given “He told me that in his society, a man is like a piece of gold, a woman is like a piece of silk. If you drop gold in the mud, you can clean it. But a piece of silk is ruined.”
Once while I was in a university seminar a girl on my course commented that we no longer need feminism in today’s society because men and women are equal. I find it incredible that a woman can think we don’t need feminism when murders like Baloch’s are still happening. Granted, there has been a lot of progress in women’s rights considering only a century ago women weren’t even allowed to vote… But the fact that killings like Baloch’s continue happening means that all over the world women are still considered inferior beings.
It is our responsibility (not just talking to women here!) to call out these instances of violence however big or small they might be, so that one day women won’t suffer violence in any form. I wholeheartedly agree with what Baloch posted on Facebook the day before she was murdered: “As women we must stand up for ourselves. As women we must stand up for each other. As women we must stand up for justice. I believe I am a modern day feminist. I believe in equality. I need not to choose what type of women should be. I don’t think there is any need to label ourselves just for sake of society. I am just a women (sic) with free thoughts free mindset and I LOVE THE WAY I AM.” (Facebook, 14 July)
If you want to buy the book, with free UK delivery, go here