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A still shows Saba, the victim of an attempted honor killing, in the documentary "Girl in the River". (Courtesy of HBO)


How two female lawmakers cracked down on honor killings in Pakistan

By WITW Staff on October 31, 2016

Earlier this month, Pakistan passed a law mandating that all perpetrators of so-called “honor killings” face 25 years in prison. Under previous law, those who murdered in the name of family honor could go unpunished if they received forgiveness from the victim’s family. Most victims of honor killings are women; fittingly, Pakistan’s anti-honor killing law was ushered through Pakistan’s parliament with the help of two women from disparate backgrounds.

According to The Associated Press, Naeema Kishwar and Sughra Imam have spent their political careers fighting to protect women’s rights. Kishwar hails from a conservative region in Northwest Pakistan, where women do not walk the streets unless they are shrouded in a burka. She belongs to a hardline political party with ties to the Taliban. Imam, by contrast, is a Harvard-educated member of the liberal party once fronted by Benazir Bhutto, Pakistan’s first female prime minister.

When Imam joined Parliament’s upper house, she began crafting a bill that would remove honor killings from an Islamic law known as Qisas and Diyat, which allows families to forgive a murderer. “I didn’t want even the mention of forgiveness in the law,” she told the AP. “I wanted someone who killed in the name of ‘honor’ to know he could be sentenced to death.”

Imam tried negotiating with religious leaders, but the bill never came to a vote. Then, in March of this year, A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness won an Academy Award for Best Documentary Short Subject. The film, directed by Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, highlighted the brutality of honor killings, and sparked outrage over the practice. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif promised that he would take steps to crack down on honor killings.

Imam was, by this point, no longer a senator, but she was consulted often as the government crafted their anti-honor killing law. Kishawar was a member of the committee that worked on the bill. She supported taking measures to protect women in this context; during her 24 years in politics, Kishawar has often spoken up for women’s rights. But she also knew that her party would never approve Imam’s push to remove the option of forgiveness from laws governing honor killings.

“It was very difficult for me,” she said. “I was the go-between between the government and my party.”

Ultimately, the government settled on a compromise: perpetrators of honor killings could continue to receive forgiveness that would allow them to escape the death penalty, but they would also face mandatory jail time. “Laws are a guiding hand for how a society evolves,” Imam said. “People will generally move in that direction. We can become more just over the years.”

At the 2015 Women in the World Summit, Obaid-Chinoy appeared onstage alongside Meryl Streep and Ava Duvernay to discuss the challenges facing women in the movie industry. Watch the full panel, moderated by Jon Stewart, below.

Read the full story at The Associated Press.



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