The high-profile murder of social media star Qandeel Baloch is a tipping point in Pakistan, according to Oscar-winning director Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy.
The filmmaker told Eastern Eye the country had been galvanised into thinking about honour killings after she won an Academy Award for a documentary which shone a global spotlight on the issue.
Speaking ahead of a screening of A Girl in the River at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office last Wednesday (20), Obaid-Chinoy said: “Honour killings is a huge topic in Pakistan.
“It is being debated on the nightly news, editorials are being written about it, the prime minister has viewed a film – those are all positive steps.
“It shows that a society acknowledges a problem and they are discussing it. With discussion, comes awareness.”
Baloch, who was often described as Pakistan’s Kim Kardashian, was strangled to death by her brother on July 15 because he was incensed by some of her risqué posts on social media.
Following outrage in the country, Pakistan’s ruling party has said it plans to pass long-delayed legislation against honour killings within weeks.
The government there has faced mounting pressure to pass the law against murders carried out by those professing to be acting in defence of the “honour” of their family. Pakistan’s legislation would remove an outdated loophole which allows other family members to pardon a killer.
Baloch had long divided opinion in the deeply conservative Muslim society with her social media photos and posts. She was unapologetic about pushing the boundaries of acceptability for women and changing “the typical orthodox mindset” of Pakistanis.
Obaid-Chinoy’s film, which has been viewed by Pakistan’s prime minister Nawaz Sharif, follows the true story of Saba, an 18-year-old girl, who survives an honour killing attempt by her father and uncle after eloping with her lover.
“It was a very bold and progressive decision for the prime minister of Pakistan to view the film. He made a pledge that day to work on anti-honour killing legislation,” the director said.
Obaid-Chinoy, who campaigns for women’s rights in south-east Asia, added there had been several high-profile honour killings over the last 12 weeks.Women were burnt to death and had their throats slit, while others were shot in Pakistan.
“The government has begun to realise that this is literally an epidemic and something needs to be done about it,” she said. “What we are seeing in Pakistan is many young women who want control of their lives, and when they ask for it, there is a blow-back.
“That is going to have to stop at some point because there are a lot of young women who are pushing – the media is playing a big role in it and in educating people.
“The biggest thing (challenge) is making women aware of their rights. Forced marriage is a crime in Pakistan. We’re hoping that our awareness campaign will play a role in the change.”
The Oscar-winner said the protagonist in her film, Saba, was one of her heroes. “She comes from a socio-economic background where it is not okay to say no and speak out, or highlight what has happened to you. If you’re the victim, then stay the victim; don’t become the fighter and the survivor. From day one, when we entered the hospital where she was lying, she directed us as much as we directed her. She’s that kind of resilient woman, she can barely read and write, but her voice is the voice that has changed the way Pakistan looks at honour killings,” the director said.
Around 500 women are killed each year in the country at the hands of family members over perceived damage to honour which can involve eloping, socialising with men, or any other actions which go against the conservative values that govern women’s modesty.