No country for young women
On the night of July 20, as most Pakistanis prepared to celebrate Eid-ul-Azha, a young Pakistani woman was being brutally murdered and decapitated in the heart of the country’s capital. Noor Mukadam’s body was found by the police at a crime scene filled with blood, weapons and with the alleged killer mentally and physically present.
Zahir Jaffer, a successful businessman from an influential and privileged family is now on remand and has been charged with the penal code offence of pre-meditated murder. This murder has shaken the core of Pakistani society, with women questioning how safe we actually are, with the sense of fear of violence lurking at every shadow, now heightened and alert. It would be prejudicial to Noor’s case to discuss any further facts of this case. What is necessary is to question why violence against women and girls is rising and rampant, and why men are getting away with it.
The truth is that there is femicide taking place in Pakistan as I write. For those who think this is an exaggerated statement, they need only read the headlines of the last three days, where three different women, including Noor, have been brutally murdered. That is three women murdered in three days by husbands or partners in different parts of the country-- and this is only the news we hear of, the reported stories that reach social media and the press. Of the countless women buried in unmarked graves and sunk deep in murky rivers, there are equally gruesome details that reveal violent partners who know they can kill and literally get away with it.
Femicide is the most extreme form of gender-based violence, in which women and girls are killed because of their gender, and where the perpetrators are mostly always men, known and close to the victim. The term captures the patriarchal, misogynist and gendered nature of homicide, where the reason killing takes place is because the victim is female. The pretext for murder may vary from honour, rage, domestic disputes, suspicion of infidelity or control and power – yet the common thread remains. That of females being killed simply because they are female, regardless of age, social status or ethnic affiliation.
It is also extremely problematic that while irresponsible and factually incorrect statements are repeatedly given, important and necessary legislative bills, such as the recent federal domestic violence bill are being referred to an advisory body of the Council of Islamic Ideology, instead of being debated in parliament.
The rape and murder of young girls in Kasur, the shock and horror of the motorway rape case, the recent murder of a mother of four children at the hands of her husband, the gruesome and disturbing leaked video of a young couple being violated and humiliated by a group of men, and after the public details of Noor’s case, there is a surge of anger among women, which has created a social media uproar-- the reason for a more proactive law enforcement response. It has also begun a debate that should have started a long time ago – what is the place of women in our society? Is there a place for women and girls beyond subservience and subjection? Beyond deprivation and dependence? Beyond women ‘asking for it’ and death?
The debate that should also follow is, why are men getting away with it? Why is impunity so rife, both in informal societal settings and formal institutions of the state, especially where justice and accountability are sought? Why are we raising boys who learn about actions without consequences? A lot of answers lie in the political will shown towards the subject over the years, with the most recent coming directly from our Prime Minister. Imran Khan has repeatedly placed the burden on women for changing the rising statistics of sexual violence and crimes against them, without ever addressing men of their role and responsibility.
It is also extremely problematic that while irresponsible and factually incorrect statements are repeatedly given, important and necessary legislative bills, such as the recent federal domestic violence bill are being referred to an advisory body of the Council of Islamic Ideology, instead of being debated in parliament- sending a message that policing and controlling women is always seen from a narrow, conservative lens and offers no basis for clearly laid out constitutional guarantees of equality and non-discrimination. What the Prime Minister has done is given tacit approval to men that they are superior to women and in this the Prime Minister has reconfirmed society’s unsaid rule that justifies all crimes against women on how they behave, dress or what they say. Regardless of how proactively the government now begins to deal with some cases of gender-based violence, no doubt because of social media pressure, it will not be able to stop the tide that has taken hold where men know that flagrant impunity is theirs to own because if ever questioned, they can easily justify violence by blaming the victim.
Zahir Jaffer killing and slaughtering 28-year-old Noor Mukadam in the darkness of the night before a religious holiday that is marked by animal slaughter, should be a tipping point for all of us to ask how many more women will be scarified before society and state realize that women are just not safe in Pakistan; that they are angry and raging but not safe.
That they are human and equal but not safe.
– Benazir Jatoi is a barrister, working in Islamabad, whose work focuses on women and minority rights. She is a regular contributor to the op-ed pages in various Pakistani newspapers.