Two main factors contribute to violence against women: women's commodification and conceptions of honour. The concept of women as a commodity, not human beings endowed with dignity and rights equal to those of men, is deeply rooted in tribal culture. Dr Tahira Shahid Khan of Shirkatgah, a woman's resource centre worker, explains: "Women are considered the property of the males in their family irrespective of their class, ethnic or religious group. The owner of the property has the right to decide its fate. The concept of ownership has turned women into a commodity which can be exchanged, bought and sold..."1
Ownership rights are at stake when women are to be married, almost always in Pakistan by their parents. A major consideration is the property or assets that the young woman has a right to inherit one day. A woman is handed over to her spouse against payment of a bride price to her father; sometimes that bride price includes another woman given to the father as a new wife. Some men accept a low bride price on condition that the as yet unborn daughter of the couple will be returned to them to be married off for another bride price. The commodification of women is also the basis of the tradition of khoon baha (blood money) when a woman is handed over to an adversary to settle a conflict.
Can't they trade goats or something? Does it have to be people?
Obviously, the men in traditional societies in Pakistan don't think women are people.
Women are seen to embody the honour of the men to whom they 'belong', as such they must guard their virginity and chastity. By being perceived to enter an 'illicit' sexual relationship, a woman defiles the honour of her guardian and his family. She becomes kari and forfeits the right to life.
In most communities there is no other punishment for a kari but death. A man’s ability to protect his honour is judged by his family and neighbours. He must publicly demonstrate his power to safeguard his honour by killing those who damaged it and thereby restore it. Honour killings consequently are often performed openly.
So, if you wife or daughter gets raped, you have to kill her to show you're a bad-ass.
Now, that's progressive!
The perception of what defiles honour has become very loose. Male control extends not just to a woman's body and her sexual behaviour, but to all of her behaviour, including her movements and language. In any of these areas, defiance by women translates into undermining male honour. Severe punishments are reported for bringing food late, for answering back, for undertaking forbidden family visits. Standards of honour and chastity are not applied equally to men and women, even though they are supposed to. Surveys conducted in the North West Frontier Province and in Balochistan found that men often go unpunished for 'illicit' relationships whereas women are killed on the merest rumour of 'impropriety'.
A society insecure in its masculinity, perhaps?
(Does that make them a bunch of wimps, with something to prove?)
A man's honour, defiled by a woman's alleged or real sexual misdemeanour or other defiance, is only partly restored by killing her. He also has to kill the man allegedly involved. Since a kari is murdered first, the karo often hears about it and flees.
To settle the issue, a faislo (agreement, meeting) or jirga is set up if both sides - the man whose honour is defiled and the escaped karo - agree; it is attended by representatives of both sides and headed by the local tribal chief (sardar), his subordinate or a local landlord. The tribal justice dispensed by the jirga or faislo is not intended to elicit truth and punish the culprit. Justice means restoring the balance by compensation for damage. The karo who gets away has to pay compensation in order for his life to be spared. Compensation can be in the form of money or the transfer of a woman or both.
Official claims that women's rights are not understood in backward rural areas ignore the fact that there are many urban honour killings and considerable support for them among the educated. For example, Samia Sarwar's mother, a doctor, facilitated the honour killing of her daughter in Lahore in April 1999 when Samia sought divorce from an abusive husband (see below). Shahtaj Qisalbash, a witness during the killing, reported that Samia’s mother was "cool and collected during the getaway, walking away from the murder of her daughter as though the woman slumped in her own blood was a stranger."
Divorce from an abusive husband leads to murder of the abused wife by the father.
Now that's progressive women's rights!
The frequency of karo-kari killings and the unexpectedness with which women are targeted contributes to an atmosphere of fear among young women. The poet Attiya Dawood quoted a pubescent girl in a small Sindhi village: "My brother’s eyes forever follow me. My father's gaze guards me all the time, stern, angry... We stand accused and condemned to be declared kari and murdered."2
"The frequency of karo-kari killings and the unexpectedness with which women are targeted contributes to an atmosphere of fear among young women."
International support for women fleeing abroad when they fear for their lives from their families' death threats has been hesitant. The threat to the lives of women who refuse to accept their fathers' decision relating to their marriages has only recently been recognized as grounds for granting asylum to such women.3
"International support for women fleeing abroad when they fear for their lives from their families' death threats has been hesitant."
Why is that?