Pakistani lawmakers have passed a legislation closing the loophole that allowed "honor killing" perpetrators to avoid a sentence. The country's powerful clerics opposed the bill as "anti-Islamic."
The anti-honor killing legislation mandates life imprisonment for those who kill women - typically members of their own family - in the name of "honor."
Until Thursday's vote in parliament, such killers could still be pardoned in court, provided the family forgave the perpetrator for the killing.
Honor killings "claim the lives of hundreds of victims every year," the bill stated, adding that the legislation was "essential in order to prevent these crimes from being repeatedly committed."
A 2005 amendment to the law had prevented men who kill female relatives from seeking forgiveness by declaring themselves as "heir" to the victim. But the judge still had the final authority to pardon the perpetrator if other members of the family said they forgave the perpetrator. Thursday's amendment mandated judges to sentence the killer to life imprisonment even if the family forgave him, said opposition lawmaker Farhatullah Babar.
The lower house of parliament (National Assembly) also increased punishments for some rape offences.
Opposition to pro-women legislations
Violence against women, particularly domestic violence, is rampant in Pakistan. Rights groups complain about the 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.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif vowed to push through a set of laws designed to protect women in February. 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, a powerful religious body that advises politicians on the compatibility of proposed laws 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.
Sexism and misogyny
In July, model and actress Qandeel Baloch was strangled to death by her brother in the name of "honor."
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.'"
Farid Paracha, a leader of the religious Jamaat-i-Islami party in Lahore, 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, arguing that only god could punish Baloch for her "mistakes."
But Pakistani rights activists said at that time that with Baloch's murder, the women's struggle for equality would gain more strength.
"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," Islamabad-based writer and activist Ashfaq Saleem Mirza told DW.