Model and actress Qandeel Baloch was strangled to death by her brother over the weekend. Baloch, who boldly defied Pakistan's patriarchal norms, is the latest victim of the Islamic country's masculine "honor."
"Nothing is good in this society," remarked Qandeel Baloch, a Pakistani model and actress who was killed by her brother at her family's home near the southeastern city of Multan on Friday, July 15.
Baloch was bold enough to expose the flaws in Pakistan's male-dominated society, the behavior of men toward women and religious conservatism. Not many people, including the liberal section of the country, took her seriously while she was alive.
She was also criticized for using social media for publicity, her unsophisticated demeanor, and her deliberate attempts at gaining popularity by courting controversy.
But Baloch offended the dominant conservative classes even more. Her candid videos, pictures and commentary on her personal life stirred controversy in the Muslim-majority country, but at the same time it garnered her many fans online. Her Facebook videos have been viewed millions of times.
Last month, a scandal broke out after Baloch posted pictures of herself with Mufti Qavi, a prominent cleric, adding that the two enjoyed cigarettes and soft drinks during the day in the holy month of Ramadan. During the month, practicing Muslims fast from sunrise until sunset.
The cleric denied the allegations and said he only discussed religious matters with her during their meeting.
Local media reported Baloch, whose real name was Fauzia Azeem, struggled to balance her conservative family's values with her social media activity and frequently received threats from the public.
She reportedly asked for authorities to provide protection for her, but did not receive it.
Baloch's brother Muhammad Wasim was arrested on Saturday, July 16, and reportedly told police he had drugged his sister and then strangled her.
"Wasim confessed to his crime, saying he killed his sister for 'honor' after her recent objectionable videos, mostly posted on Facebook," Multan City police chief Azhar Akram said on Sunday.
"We can't tolerate it as a Baloch community… I have no regrets," Wasim told media, referring to his sister's videos and photographs.
The reaction to Baloch's murder from the conservative sections of Pakistani society clearly reflects the patriarchal mindset prevalent in the Islamic country.
"I pray to god that no one should ever have a sister or a daughter like Qandeel Baloch. She disgraced her whole family," said Shahnawaz Khan, a Facebook user.
Another user wrote: "Vulgarity and nudity are forbidden in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan."
One of Pakistan's leading newspapers, Dawn, wrote that Baloch's killing exposed the sexism and misogyny that women faced in the country.
"The death of Qandeel Baloch conveys an insidious message: that women will be kept back at all cost; murdered, if they dare nurture ambitions to break the glass ceiling," the English daily Dawn newspaper wrote in an editorial on Sunday. "Her murder... must serve as an impetus for legislators to renew demands for legislation to protect women who are threatened under false notions of 'honor.'"
Resistance to women rights laws
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif vowed to push through a women protection legislation in February, but no action has been taken since then. While the bill was praised by rights groups and liberal sections, religious parties and organizations denounced it by saying it conflicted with the Koran and the teachings of Muhammad, Islam's prophet.
The Council of Islamic Ideology (CII), a powerful religious body that advises lawmakers on the compatibility of legislations with Islam, also condemned the bill. The organization of clerics said in March that the new law was "un-Islamic" and should be taken back.
"The law is wrong," Muhammad Khan Sherani, the head of the council, told reporters in Islamabad. "The summary of the law is, as we understand, that the Muslim families are encouraged to violate the sanctity of matrimonial relations. The law also facilitates women to leave their homes and become part of the workforce," Sherani said.
Violence against women, particularly domestic violence, is rampant in Pakistan. Rights groups complain about state's inaction to protect women from "honor killings" and marital torture.
"Last year, over 178 women were murdered in Pakistan in the name of 'honor,'" Mumtaz Mughal, director of the Aurat Foundation women's rights NGO, told DW. "Usually, the family members are involved in the crime. They are quite often pardoned by the family head under Pakistani laws," she added.
Prominent Pakistani activist Nazish Brohi wrote on Facebook that Baloch's father could legally forgive his son for murdering his daughter under qisas (death penalty) and diyat (blood money) laws. "The laws pave way for 'honor killings,'" she added.
Sexuality and religion
Women's rights activists say that in a male-dominated country like Pakistan, women have to pay a heavy price for challenging men's authority and defying norms.
Salman Abid, a columnist, slammed Baloch's murder but criticized the deceased actress at the same time. "It was Qandeel Baloch's mistake that she crossed the 'red line.' She was after self-projection and violated the traditions," Abid told DW.
Farid Paracha, a leader of the religious Jamaat-i-Islami party in Lahore, also blamed Baloch for her death.
"But she was not the only one to be blamed; Pakistani society, government, our educational system and the media are also responsible for her death," Paracha told DW, adding that only god could punish Baloch for her "mistakes."
That infuriates Pakistani fashion journalist Mohsin Sayeed, who says that "Pakistanis are particularly hypocritical when it comes to sexuality and religion."
"Isn't it proof of our double-standards that women like Mukhtaran Mai are paraded naked publicly on the orders of the panchayat (tribal courts) and raped by groups of men, and nobody in Pakistan says it is against Islam? The mullahs do not make any hue and cry about such acts," Sayeed told DW.
Some say that with Baloch's murder, the women's struggle for equality will gain more strength. She is not a feminist activist, but she has given voice to many Pakistani women who are not ready to submit to "masculine honor" and patriarchy.
"Before her murder, Qandeel Baloch was a one-woman army; now everybody is talking about her. Her death has given us more women like her," said Islamabad-based writer and activist Ashfaq Saleem Mirza.
Additional reporting by Tanvir Shahzad, DW's Lahore correspondent.