Much of the blame for the stoning of Farzana Parveen lies with a toxic, patriarchal culture across much of Pakistan that deems women subhuman, writes Shaista Aziz
Source: The Guardian
The bludgeoning to death of 25-year-old pregnant Farzana Parveen, by members of her family for defying them and marrying a man of her choice, has once again put Pakistan at centre stage regarding the treatment of women.
It isn’t just the mob outside the court in Lahore who picked up bricks and sticks to break Farzana’s body that are responsible for her death. The blame also lies with a dominant toxic, patriarchal culture across large parts of Pakistan that deems women and girls as subhuman, property owned by men who can be discarded and tossed away in the blink of an eye and a ‘justice’ system that allows men to kill women with impunity.
Farzana Parveen is the latest name to add to a long list of women whose lives have been cut down in the land of the pure, Pakistan.
According to human rights and women’s groups at least 900 so called ‘honour’ killings have been carried out in Pakistan over the past 12 months. The term ‘honour’ killing is abhorrent and feeds into the narrative that killing a woman is justified. There is nothing honourable about killing a woman. There is nothing honourable about killing anyone.
A society is judged by the way it treats its most vulnerable. Pakistan’s treatment of its most vulnerable, women, children and minorities speaks volumes about the state of the nation. My beautiful motherland is sinking under a growing tide of blood and broken bodies. Each horrific killing leaves a lasting stain and a pain that throbs deeper with time refusing to fade.
I was 17 when I first understood how little a woman’s life is worth is in Pakistan. How the ‘love’ of a brother and a mother can lead to a woman, a girl, being hunted with brutality, killed and buried in an early grave.
I met Sania (not her real name) when I was 16 and staying in my grandfather’s village in Pakistan Kashmir. She had travelled to our village with her family from rural Punjab to visit some people. I remember Sania. She was 16. She was wearing a red scarf. She had beautiful almond-shaped eyes and whenever she was asked a question she would cover her mouth with the red scarf, look down and then whisper. Like most girls her age she was painfully shy.
Sania appeared curious to meet a Pakistani woman around her age from the west. Because of her shyness we communicated mostly through smiles and she spent a lot of time giggling at me.
The following year when I returned to the village and asked after everyone, I remembered Sania and asked how she was. My aunt raised her finger to her lips and told me to hush. She then pulled me inside the house and sat me down.
“She’s dead. Her brother killed her. She was in the kitchen at the time. He entered the kitchen and told her that she was a shameful woman and had brought shame and disgrace on the family. He accused her of looking at a man. He then stabbed her over and over. We heard that she was stabbed at least 20 times.”
Sania’s brother had killed her in the family home and nobody did a thing to stop him. The police had arrested him but he was released a few days later because their mother had forgiven him. A mother had forgiven her son for killing her beautiful daughter with the almond-shaped eyes. He was free to live his life while Sania was in the ground, covered by the soil of a country that continues to betray women like her.
A week into my trip I spotted Sania’s brother, back in the village meeting friends. He was a tall man, he looked strong and arrogant. I observed him from the roof of our house as he swaggered past and felt a deep burning rage inside me.
Every time I returned to Pakistan I would hear countless stories through my female relatives and friends in rural and urban Pakistan of women being beaten – one was attacked by an axe and left for dead, another’s body was discovered by her children when they returned home from school.
The newspapers were full of stories that tripped off the women’s tongues almost like a weather report. Most of the time the women’s killers were members of their own families and very rarely is anyone punished for their deaths.
Some of the strongest and bravest women I’ve met anywhere in the world are Pakistani. The housewives, teachers, students, health workers, doctors, human rights workers, lawyers, writers, journalists, activists and artists who step out of their homes not knowing if they will return in the evening. Many face the prospect of extreme violence in their own homes as much as they do outside them.
As the horrors mount, it’s Pakistani women who are on the frontline and instrumental in strengthening and building networks and alliances to force Pakistan to provide justice for those who have continue to be denied it.