Qandeel Baloch, a popular Pakistani model and social media star, was found murdered at her home on Saturday morning. The following day, her brother admitted that he drugged and strangled her because "girls are born to stay at home."
Baloch's death left people in Pakistan reeling and prompted a huge outcry around the world, particularly from some Pakistani women who hailed her as feminist icon and a champion of women’s sexual freedom.
Baloch — her real name was Fouzia Azeem — was known for being outspoken and had a huge following on social media. Young women praised her for not being confined by Pakistan’s conservative culture, and described her as a "rebel, an artist, and a gutsy feminist provocateur" in an open letter titled "No Country for Bold Women."
Baloch, who once escaped from a forced, violent marriage, described herself as a “modern-day feminist."
Since her murder, discussion over "honor killings" has grown in Pakistan — on Wednesday, the daughter of Pakistan's prime minister said her father will introduce legislation to close a loophole that allows family members of the victims of these crimes to pardon the killers.
BuzzFeed News asked Pakistan’s leading feminists how they think Qandeel's murder has reignited their fight for gender equality. Here are 10 things we found out.
* Nighat Dad, founder, Digital Rights Foundation
* Meera Ghani, feminist and climate activist
* Luavut Zahid, gender and tech coordinator, Digital Rights Foundation
* Sonia Qadir, legal advisor, Punjab Commission on the Women's Helpline
* Nabiha Meher Shaikh, founder, Pakistan Feminist Watch
* Mehrbano Raja, co-founder, Dhaba Girls
* Sadia Khatri, co-founder, Dhaba Girls
* Natasha Ansari, researcher, co-founder, Dhaba Girls
1. Baloch's murder divided the Pakistani community. While many people mourned, some celebrated her killing, including women who blamed her death on her sexualized persona.
"I was so disappointed to see many emancipated and independent women distance themselves from Qandeel, calling her 'vulgar', 'cheap,' 'immoral' and even a 'prostitute.' Qandeel was so free, confident, and self-aware that maybe many felt a pang of jealousy — in our culture, women are robbed of speaking their minds. We've internalized patriarchy and have found justifications in culture, societal norms, and religion.”
"The reaction proves that most people still believe a woman in control of her sexuality is a dangerous woman, and therefore deserves abuse and harassment. Aside from indulging in victim-blaming, women were accusing Qandeel of ‘destroying their homes.’ Or they’d bring up the ‘good woman vs. bad woman’ narrative to explain how she had it coming, as if any kind of behavior justifies murder. It’s a coping mechanism."
2. The celebratory reactions from some weren't a complete shock, as Pakistani women are often targets for "violence and abuse," including those in the public spotlight.
"For every one person who is tweeting against her murder, you will find another 20 who are basically saying she brought it on herself. Nothing seems to shock us anymore. A recent news piece about a man's limbs being chopped for 'honor' was found to be amusing by many Pakistanis. We're beyond watershed moments, it's like nothing affects us at all."
"Qandeel's large social media following and celebrity status belies the hypocrisy of the patriarchal institutions whereby women’s bodies are both fetishized and visually consumed, and at the same time propped up as easy targets for violence and abuse because of this visibility."
3. Although Pakistani feminists responded to Baloch's murder with horror, some of them still said they didn't approve of her lifestyle.
"Feminists responded with horror and condemnation. Beyond that, however, there has unfortunately been some qualifiers. While there has been condemnation across the board from many self-identified feminists, some of the public statements that have been made will be prefaced by variations on 'I didn’t agree with her/her lifestyle/her image, but...,' 'She was no role model, but...' — as if to qualify their support by indicating a form of 'love/support the sinner, but hate the sin.' This has not been the case for everyone, and this sometimes splits along age and class lines."
4. Baloch's murder was not an "honor killing" – it was gender violence, and all too commonplace.
"Honor killing has become a buzzword. This is femicide, and we need to shift our rhetoric away from honor to a more nuanced analysis. In this case, the state has declared this murder a crime against the state, not just Qandeel’s family. If Qandeel’s family is the aggrieved, then there is genuine fear her elderly father will be pressured or threatened into forgiving his sons."
—Nabiha Meher Shaikh
"The recent murder of Qandeel is a horrific act, but it is far from isolated. It is a sad reality that women all over Pakistan are regularly targeted by their own families as well as society at large, for daring to express themselves or challenge decisions regarding their own lives. Talk of ‘honor’ in this context though is a red herring – it serves only to obfuscate the brutalization of women’s bodies."
5. The international media get it wrong when they say "honor killings" happen because of religion.
"I think the biggest misunderstanding in the international media is pinning these murders on religion and religion alone. Toxic masculinity always gets a free pass whether it's in Pakistan or anywhere else. And violence against women is given the cover of tradition, values, and religion while it's all to do with privilege and power being challenged, especially that of the male population."
6. Pakistan still has many hurdles in its fight for gender equality, and Baloch helped pave the way.
"Even though Pakistani has had a female prime minister — Benazir Bhutto — and women do have rights in theory, the reality is that women still have to fight to get their voices heard. Much will be made of Qandeel Baloch being regarded as 'provocative' to certain parts of society, which garnered criticism. Yes she was, but Qandeel Baloch used that to poke fun at the patriarchy and displayed the hypocritical morality pervasive amongst the media and religious clerics. She declared herself a feminist, and spoke up for feminism loud and proud. And because she was bold and unashamed, she was killed."
"Qandeel’s brother may have been the one to kill her, but patriarchy as a whole slowly strangled her voice and her freedom."
7. Pakistan's existing laws make it difficult to hold perpetrators of "honor killings" accountable.
"What the world should know is that we are a country with multiple parallel legal systems which create impunity. The world isn’t aware that we are equal citizens under the Pakistani constitution, yet the same constitution allows for sharia courts. The state also turns a blind eye to community justice systems which greatly disenfranchise women, such as jirgas. We’re in a mess for a reason, and this is why I’m skeptical of the state’s sudden 'pro-women' rhetoric. I fear it will reverse as soon as their image-building project is over and patriarchy will resurge."
—Nabiha Meher Shaikh
"Perpetrators and inciters of violence against women are often forgiven because of loopholes in the law that permit compromise and weak investigation of cases, resulting in impunity for such crimes."
8. Feminists in Pakistan partly blame the media for Baloch's death: Many outlets released personal details about her life when she was already receiving death threats.
"I hope this jump-starts a much needed conversation on journalistic ethics in Pakistan. In a place where getting away with violence, especially against women, is not at all difficult because of current laws, the media has a significant responsibility to self-regulate and be careful about the people they are reporting instead of treating them as profit-making things in their quest for ratings. Her personal details should never have been leaked."
"The media in Pakistan probed deeply into her background and speculated how many times she married, how many men she must have slept with, and how this dishonours her family. We hope the hypocrisy of this society will be exposed, for the same people who followed her on social media are the ones now celebrating her death."
"People and institutions in Pakistan must be held accountable, especially the media, for their part not just in this murder, but in the murder of a thousand Qandeel Balochs."
9. Pakistani women are hopeful that Baloch's murder will lead to a significant change in their society.
"We hope that at a personal level, people become cognisant of the serious implications of slut-shaming women. We hope that the brutal murder by her brother will gradually change the mindset of this society that a man's honour and respect are dependent upon 'their' women. We hope this will lead to a gradual acceptance within Pakistani society of how many of us are ultimately responsible for Qandeel Baloch's death. We are complicit for relentlessly shaming her rather than celebrating her independence and courage to be different in this society."
10. Women in Pakistan — and many elsewhere — are urging the world to not forget Baloch.
"The next step is to make sure that Qandeel will not be forgotten. Feminists in Pakistan must push for greater accountability from the media, from the government, from the patriarchy for her death and the deaths of thousands of Qandeels. Feminists in Pakistan must continue to shout loudly for change. We are already hoarse from shouting for change for decades, but each lost life brings more urgency to the fight."
"The one thing that we are sure of is that the wheels have started turning. There was a time I would have thought it impossible for anyone to rally behind someone like Qandeel. With Qandeel it was different. Sensibilities are changing, albeit very slowly. Qandeel had little money, was supporting her family, and got nothing but intense hate for what she did, but she continued moving forward. To say that she was a mere 'celebrity' is injustice to her life and struggle. She was fast becoming an icon for many of us here — and that will not change even in death."
Rossalyn Warren is a senior reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
Contact Rossalyn Warren at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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