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Women like Qandeel Baloch must not die in vain

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Qandeel Baloch. Source: Facebook
Qandeel Baloch. Source: Facebook

Originally published for Sedaa on July 18, 2016

Yet another woman’s life has prematurely been taken in an ‘honour killing’.

Pakistani internet sensation Qandeel Baloch was strangled by her brother on Friday night while at her family home in Multan, Punjab.

After going on the run, her brother Waseem was later arrested. In his confession video, he expressed no regret. “I am proud of what I did. I drugged her first, then I killed her,” said Waseem.”She was bringing dishonor to our family.”

Qandeel’s posts were considered to be controversial in Pakistan. She rose to fame due to the sassy, and increasingly political, videos she posted on Facebook.

Her brother Waseem claims that having his friends share her pictures and video clips was “too much” for him and killing his sister was a better alternative than killing himself.

Qandeel’s brother Waseem, who has now been arrested.

Both adored and reviled, Qandeel, who was buried on Sunday, referred to herself as a “modern day feminist” and had nearly 750,000 followers on Facebook.

Funny how the media is now fawning over her, the same media that provided outrage porn for its Pakistani citizens, inviting them to get worked up over her ‘lewd’ and ‘inappropriate’ behaviour.

It has brought out all the hypocrites. Mourning the loss of a woman they had probably thought of as a whore or disgrace to her family hours before her murder.

“They could have disowned her”, wrote one person under an article about her death. But even that is a problem. Don’t murder a women, for goodness sake. Just disown her and ostracise her for life. Much better, eh?

As for those telling me not to call it an ‘honour killing’. Yes I know there is no honour in killing. But this type of murder is carried out in the name of honour.

On the list of 145 countries featured in the World Economic Forum’s 2015 Gender Gap Report, Pakistan is second to last with regards to gender disparity.  According to the Independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, violence against women is rampant, with as many as 212 women being killed in the name of ‘honour’ in the first five months of 2016.

When I heard the news I wept all day long, because I am all too familiar with this concept of ‘honour’ that robbed Qandeel of her life.

Just read some of the comments on this piece. There’s no justification for murder, they start by saying. BUT. There’s always a ‘but’ isn’t there?

I remember worrying for her safety after hearing the news that she had posted a video with Mufti Abdul Qavi in a hotel room. I wondered, how is this woman still alive in Pakistan doing what she does?

Where is that mufti now? He claimed that Qandeel’s death is a sobering lesson for those who mock clerics. Yet it is perfectly fine for these clerics to meet women alone in a hotel room and offer to marry them. Qandeel also claimed that he tried to hug and kiss her. Police have announced that Mufti Qavi would be included in her murder investigation. But I don’t see any women rounding up to kill him in the name of honour.

Whatever you think of Qandeel, at least she didn’t pretend to be someone she was not. Our societies have raised us to be liars and hypocrites. We can’t do what we want openly so we do it secretly. The worst culprits are religious men such as Mufti Qavi.

Pakistani men (and indeed men from many societies around the world) constantly police women’s minds and bodies. They are terrified of what might happen if women start thinking for themselves and behaving how they want to.

For Qandeel was not just murdered by her brother. She was murdered by them all; her society and nation.

And unfortunately there are women who propagate these beliefs and practices, defending Qandeel’s murder.

Qandeel tweet reactions



This woman clearly does not realise the irony of her words. She is against honour killings but against ‘bey-ghairat’ (shameless), yet ghairat (shame) is the name in which this type of brutality occurs. Shaming Qandeel’s lifestyle choices are exactly what led to her murder.

They say she deserved it because she was provocative. But let us not forget that women can be killed for things that we would deem almost trivial here in the West — going out at night with friends, having a boyfriend, marrying someone whom you love, wearing what you want.

We are constantly watched, monitored and regulated. If we step out of the line we pay the price.

We can’t dress a certain way because it’s ‘disrespectful’ or ‘unIslamic’.

We can’t go out late because that’s not what ‘good girls’ do. We’re not like those  gori (white) women who have no honour. We have to say where we’re going, with whom, why we’re going out and what time we’ll return.

Our male counterparts get to do whatever the hell they want with barely any repercussions. When was the last time you heard of a man being killed by his sister, mother or wife in the name of honour?

And this problem is not just restricted to the east. Even here in the west, though we are free in theory the reality is different.

Very few people understand just what it’s like to live a life where, every time you step out of the house, you are worried that someone, somewhere, will see you. And they will, believe me. Your family has eyes and ears everywhere.

Even women who seem free on the surface are suffering. They might have careers and they could even be financially well off, but they’re controlled in other ways.

I’m sick of this. Yet we accept it or tolerate it quietly because, well, that’s what women have to do. For how much longer? For how long must we continue to suffer mentally, emotionally and physically, simply because we’re women and it’s seen as ok?

How do you stand your ground when the odds are stacked against you. You’re standing up to your parents, extended family, the ‘community’ and wider society. Then there’s us. On our own.

We have one life and it’s being wasted away. Be good, they tell us, and we’ll get our reward in the afterlife. A clever way of ensuring we stay in line because, let’s face it, crossing your family is one thing but crossing the Almighty? No thanks. So we continue to suffer in silence.

It’s always women like Qandeel who apparently are a disgrace to their families or their country, but never the men who leer at them or murder them.

We’re labelled whores, goris, beghairat (shameless), coconuts. A man is not a whore — he’s just a man, exercising his rights.

“Men can go out and have shit on their faces but still sit at the dinner table,” one Pakistani woman told me. “But you’re a girl, it’s different.”

Our family honour rests on our bodies; it is a terrible burden to bear.

Despite reports that she was scared for her life, Qandeel wrote that she was a fighter.

“I will bounce back,” she said, adding that she wanted to inspire women who have been “treated badly and dominated by society.”

Sadly she did not and paid with her life. But all over social media, people are speaking up, condemning this murder.

I implore everyone out there, both men and women, please don’t let Qandeel Baloch die in vain.

Because one day the ‘honour brigade’ might come for you too. And there will be no one left to speak up.


Written by Iram Ramzan

July 25, 2016 at 11:58 am

The forced marriage ban: will it work?

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Originally published for Left Foot Forward on 30/06/2014

Forced marriagej

“When we’re born, we have that seed embedded in girls on how to behave and what to do. When you grow up we put food in front of the men – they eat first, we pick up the dishes and we eat last.”

Mother-of-four Habiba Jaan is not shy about expressing her thoughts on the issues facing south Asian women in Britain and a culture that keeps them under control.

The mental health worker, from the West Midlands, has spent many decades and her own financial resources in helping vulnerable women who have had to leave home because they were being forced into marriage.

And she has even more of a reason to help such women because as of June 16, parents who force their children to marry can be punished by up to seven years in prison. Previously, courts have only been able to issue civil orders to prevent victims being forced into marriage.

Jasvinder Sanghera of the Karma Nirvana charity appeared on Woman’s Hour to defend this legislation, which she believes is a step in the right direction and many victims who she has spoken to wanted forced marriage to be punishable under the law.

According to Amrit Wilson, however, BME women regard this as “an example of the government’s hypocrisy, and its cynical use of gender to intensify repression, criminalisation and Islamophobia”.

Let us believe for one moment that it is only Muslim families who have forced their children to marry against their will (Jasvinder is Sikh), surely it would be more ‘Islamophobic’ to allow victims to continue to suffer for fear of being labelled Islamophobic.

It seems at times that there is one law for the majority of the population and another for those with brown skins. This would not even be an issue if the girls involved had been white.

Habiba believes it is too early to know what effect the legislation will have:

“It has sent a strong message to parents, that you can’t take your girls to Pakistan,” she said. “It probably has worked in other places and it probably will work here in time. Some will prosecute, some won’t but I just want them to be safe and we have to respect that.”

She believes more needs to be done to support those women who have left home and for this she has set up a refuge in Wolverhampton –  ‘Aurat supporting women’. She has been working on this for the past two years but has only managed to find like-minded women in the last year.

Their aim is to help south Asian women who have been victims of anything to do with so-called honour violence, trafficking or grooming.

“I thought: someone needs to make a move,” she said. “We have had no funding from anyone, we’re just a group of women. We’re trying to make a change within our culture – that’s what my aim is.

“It’s early days. We found that there was nothing in the West Midlands that’s actually catering for South Asian women. There’s no helpline, no support network for them. There’s nothing here.

“It’s a shame, there’s so much abuse going on out there and they don’t know where to go.

“We got to the stage where we said it’s about time we create something here. We don’t care about religion because the culture is the same.”

And who better to advise such vulnerable women than someone who was a child bride herself. Aged 15, Habiba’s father decided that it was time for her to get married to someone in Pakistan.

Thankfully she was able to escape at the age of 19, with two children in tow at the time.

She then started voluntary work in refuges and hostels and went back into education in order to make something of her life.

“We’ve put our personal money into this because there’s a big need out there,” she continued. “I think the government is too shy and hesitant to put its hands in to anything to do with culture or Muslim women.”

Aurat (meaning ‘woman’ in Urdu) are trying to get a helpline within the next month and trying to gather statistics so that that the women will no longer be under the radar.

But what is the difference between Aurat and the other refuges and charities in the country?

Habiba hopes to offer support not just during their time in the shelter but after they have left.

She said: “We may offer them a job to support other women too. Because what happens next. what happens to those women? They’re left on their own, they don’t know what to do. They need a lot of support after that.

“All these groups create awareness but what are they doing to take these problems away? We’re saying there’s a problem, we’re working on it. We want these women to be successful in life. I want someone to come back in ten years time and say ‘you’ve changed my life’.

“Once up and running, we can expand to support these women.”

One of the reasons young girls and women are reluctant to leave abusive homes is because there is nowhere for them to go and some organisations may not understand their cultural needs. For south Asians (and many other cultures) one is not an individual but part of the family and the wider community. Without that family support and backing, those individuals can feel lost.

Aurat is setting up a helpline and one-to-one counselling to continue supporting these women. The people they are unable to help will be signposted to organisations that can help them

“Everyone in a Western society should have a choice, but our cultures hold girls back. A lot of incidents within our communities are brushed under the carpet. There’s so much abuse within Asian communities

“Let’s face up to it, let’s say it’s wrong, it’s happening and let’s deal with it. We can’t keep destroying children’s lives because our culture doesn’t allow us to say it’s wrong.

“If we don’t raise these issues then no one else will. If I can make a change to one woman’s life then I’m happy.”

Anyone wanting further information can call Habiba or her team by sending an email to, or by calling 07432 306 582. Habiba can be found tweeting @HabibaJaan.

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