In Pakistan, 1,000 women die in ‘honor killings’ annually. Why is this happening?

Police said a 25-year-old woman was stoned to death in a so-called "honor" killing outside a court in Lahore, Pakistan, because she married the man she loved—an action that many Pakistani families believe bring dishonor on the family. She was supposed to marry her cousin. Around a dozen men, including the woman's father, two brothers and former fiancé, attacked her with bricks. (Reuters)

 

On Tuesday, a pregnant 25-year-old woman was stoned to death by her family for marrying a man she loved.

The stoning took place in the middle of the day, outside a courthouse, beside a busy thoroughfare. The woman and her husband had been “in love,” her husband said, and they’d gone to a courthouse to sign the paperwork. Outside, the woman’s father, brothers and extended family waited. When the couple emerged, the family reportedly tried to snatch her, then murdered her.

“I killed my daughter as she had insulted all of our family by marrying a man without our consent, and I have no regret over it,” her father told police, adding that it had been an “honor killing.”

The anecdote is horrifying. But even more horrifying is the regularity with which honor killings and stonings occur in Pakistan. Despite creeping modernitysecular condemnation and the fact there’s no reference to stoning in the Koran, honor killings claim the lives of more than 1,000 Pakistani women every year, according to a Pakistani rights group.

They have widespread appeal. Eighty-three percent of Pakistanis support stonings for adultery according to a Pew survey, and only 8 percent oppose it. Even those who chose modernity over Islamic fundamentalism overwhelmingly favor stonings, according to Pew research.

It’s the year 2014. Why is this still happening?

Some Islamic fundamentalists think that only through the murder of an offending family member can honor be restored to the rest of the family. Honor killings predominantly affect women — 943 women were killed under such circumstances in 2011 and another 869 in 2013, though not all of them were stoned. Some were just gunned down in cold blood.

One man in Punjab province suspected his teenage nieces of having “inappropriate relations” with two boys. So on Jan. 11, he killed both girls, confessed and said he did it for “honor.”

Another teenage girl, living in Sukkur, was allegedly shot dead by her brother while she was doing homework because her brother thought she was sleeping with a man.

One mom and dad allegedly killed their 15-year-old daughter with acid because they said she looked at a boy and they “feared dishonor.”

“There was a boy who came by on a motorcycle,” her father told BBC. My daughter “turned to look at him twice. I told her before not to do that; it’s wrong. People talk about us.”

The mother added: “She said ‘I didn’t do it on purpose. I won’t look again.’ By then I had already thrown the acid. It was her destiny to die this way.”

Those who are stoned in an honor killing are oftentimes accused of committing adultery. Both genders face stonings in Pakistan and across 14 Muslim countries, but women are more frequently the targets.

The reason is rooted in sexual inequality in such countries, where the punishment has survived through some interpretations of sharia, or Islamic law, that say adultery is punishable by stoning. In countries such as Iran, where stonings are legal and widespread, men often have significantly more agency than women. If accused of adultery, they may have the means to either hire lawyers or flee. But those options are frequently closed to women.

One 13-year-old girl named Aisha Ibrahim Duhulow faced such a fate. The Somali child claimed she had been raped by three men and told the authorities what had happened. But her report did not spur an investigation into her allegations. Instead, the girl was accused of adultery, buried up to her neck inside a stadium and stoned to death before 1,000 people.

Can anything stop the stonings?

It’s unclear. A petition circulated last year that netted 12,000 signatures called on the United Nations to enact international laws against stonings. But regardless of international pressure, rights activists say the number of stonings and honor killings have continued to climb in Pakistan.

“Stoning is a cruel and hideous punishment,” a spokesman for Women Living Under Muslim Laws told the Independent. “It is a form of torturing someone to death. It is one of the most brutal forms of violence perpetrated against women in order to control and punish their sexuality and basic freedoms.”

Terrence McCoy covers poverty, inequality and social justice. He also writes about solutions to social problems.

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