Pakistani lawmakers took an important step recently toward bolstering protections for women and pushing the country toward modernity. On Oct. 26, Pakistan’s National Assembly, or lower house of Parliament, passed legislation that would introduce the death penalty for so-called honor killings.
Honor killings victimize women who have stepped out of tradition or religious norms, particularly, but not exclusively, in Muslim societies. Women who have married without a family’s consent have been raped or are suspected of pre-marital sex or adultery can be victims of honor killings. Male family members kill the women in order to restore a family’s “honor” in the eyes of the community.
According to Pakistani officials, such killings have claimed the lives of hundreds of women each year. Many of the murders are not reported and are not investigated. Honor killings are prevalent in rural areas of Pakistan, including the frontier region with Afghanistan, where Taliban and al Qaeda militants are believed to be hiding. Men are sometimes also victims of killings in the name of honor, but the practice focuses overwhelmingly on women.
The bill, which was backed by President Pervez Musharraf, must still be approved by the Senate in order to become law. The legislation would impose jail terms of seven years to life, and proposes the death penalty in extreme cases. Also, pushing a woman into a marriage without her consent would be punishable by 10 years.
“This tale of horror and tears must come to an end now and we should have the courage to go for it,” said Nilofar Bakhtiar, a government adviser on women issues, according to the state-run Associated Press of Pakistan news agency. She added that last year alone, 1,262 women were the victims of honor killings in Pakistan.
The commendable, if belated, move by the lower house constitutes a check against the kind of Islamic fundamentalism that is threatening global stability and the lives of women in every continent. Lawmakers’ and Mr. Musharraf’s willingness to confront fundamentalists in Pakistan through the bill is broadly encouraging.
Some human-rights organizations maintain the bill doesn’t include penalties for a number of other traditions which discriminate against women, or address paying restitution to the victim’s family. While Pakistan’s government and Parliament should work hard to broadly institutionalize protections for women, the honor killings bill is a major step in the right direction. The Senate should give the bill speedy approval.