On July 15 2016, Qandeel Baloch was strangled to death in Pakistan by her own brother simply because he believed that she was dishonouring her family. She was only 26 years old. In what became one of the most high profile cases of honour killings in Pakistan, Qandeel emerged as a symbol for a movement that has been raging in the country for years. Born Fouzia Azeem, she was a social media star, model, and celebrity who rose to fame under controversial circumstances. Using her sexuality and her business savvy, Baloch had managed to turn herself into a household name in Pakistan. But this didn’t come without its downfalls. Qandeel was a target for online harassment and bullying. She became a joke in Pakistani culture all because she was flirtatious, sexual, and provocative. People left comments on her Facebook page such as: “”Someone really needs to shoot her. So many Muslims die. I wish someone decides to blast you … you are a shame to Muslims and Islam.”
Baloch is just another name that joins a long list of Pakistani women slaughtered by their families in the name of honour. More than 500 people, mostly women, die every year in Pakistan because of honour killings. Just last year, 1100 women were murdered for the same reason. Many women get lucky and are spared their lives but not before they have been physically or sexually attacked, including the use of acid to harm their faces. If this is familiar, it should be. Just this year, Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy, a Pakistani filmmaker, won an Oscar for her documentary “A Girl in the River – The Price of Forgiveness” which tackled the issue of honour killings. Four years before that, she won an Oscar for her film “Saving Face,” which dealt with the issue of acid attacks on women in Pakistan. Chinoy, and activists like her, have been trying tirelessly to raise awareness on this atrocity facing Pakistani women.
In a country where religion, culture, the state and freedom are constantly in a tug of war, this issue is far from over. Under Pakistani law, honour killings are illegal and treated as murder. However, a family member of the victim may forgive the murderer and allow them to go legally unpunished. Many murderers and killers go free because of this loophole, leaving countless women dead and without justice. The Prime Minister of Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif, has committed to changing the law so that perpetrators of honour killings are punished for their vile crimes. Sharif has went on record saying, “This is totally against Islam and anyone who does this must be punished and punished very severely. Changing the law is something that needs to be done at the earliest possibility.” Just recently, a special parliamentary panel passed bills against rape and honour killings, paving the way for the bills to also be passed in Parliament. This new bill against honour killings will go to Parliament soon and under great international attention as well as mounting pressure on the Pakistani government. Nonetheless, religious groups and Islamic political parties are standing against it. They equate women’s rights campaigns with endorsing obscenity and immorality. Now, political and social tensions are rising and culminating around one name: Qandeel Baloch.
Baloch was a woman who managed to use her sexuality and her talent to break out despite being a part of male dominated media. She took control of the camera, with her countless selfies. She took control of her image, despite what people said. And she refused to be restrained or censored. She was a feminist and an activist who spoke out against the kind of society that holds women back under the guise of religious morality or respectability. We now need to take what she stood for to heart. Baloch had this to say in one of her last Facebook post:
“As a women we must stand up for ourselves..As a women we must stand up for each other…As a 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 with free thoughts free mindset and I LOVE THE WAY I AM.”
If you would like to pay your respects and show support for this issue, there is a vigil for Qandeel Baloch in Surrey, BC. For more information, click here.