By Melanie Spina
“A Girl in The River: The Price of Forgiveness” recently won the Oscar for short documentaries. However, this film holds way more significance than the act of winning a gold statue. For many women, this documentary is said to be a life saver since it tells the real-life story of Saba Quaiser, a 19-year-old Pakistani woman who survived what is known as “honor killing,” an act that is carried out by family members when a female has brought dishonor upon the family.
In 2014, Quaiser was beaten and shot in the head by her own father and uncle, according to the New York Times. Why? Simply because she fell in love with someone her family did not approve of, ran off with him and got married. Just hours after her marriage, her father and uncle drove her by the riverbank and attempted to murder her as an act of “honor killing.” This act is more likely to happen in Muslim, Hindu and Sikh communities although, according to an ethics guide written by the BBC in 2014, acts of honor violence can happen worldwide from South America to Asia but no all countries keep official statistics. It’s also important to clarify that “honor killing” isn’t justified by any of the world’s major religions, rather that it is seen more like a tradition with very patriarchal families.
Amazingly, Quaiser survived. The bullet tore through the left side of her face and left her unconscious as the men threw her body in the river. Quaiser managed to come out from the river and find help, eventually leading her to star in this documentary to tell her story in hopes of bringing light to this issue of “honor killing.”
Unfortunately, Quaiser is not alone. According to the United Nation’s population fund, a UN agency that addresses reproductive health and population issues, 5,000 women annually are killed for what they call “honor.” Many are not as lucky as Quaiser in surviving.
There are a lot of factors connected to the honor a woman holds to her family in a patriarchal culture. In the Islamic religion, there is the term “sharaf,” which is related to the honor that a family unit holds and this can fluctuate up or down; in other words, it’s the dignity a family name has. The Islamic term “‘ird” is the individual honor of women, and this value can only decrease; this is basically what we know as the purity a woman holds.
In patriarchal countries women are considered objects to men; this perception of whether women should be killed or not does not go through court of law. Word of mouth, how she is perceived, and rumors about her could potentially bring shame to her family. Even in North America, “Honor Violence Measurement Methods,” a 2015 study released by the research corporation Westat and commissioned by the U.S. Department of Justice, estimated that there are 23 to 27 honor killings per year in the U.S.; 91 percent of these cases are believed to be because of the women acting too “western.” The report also states that it’s very hard to know whether these numbers are exact since honor killings and violence go highly unreported and unidentified in the U.S. and are usually committed by those that follow the same way of thinking of patriarchal societies. Believe it or not, in some Muslim countries, if a woman is raped she must either marry her rapist or be killed due to the dishonor she caused her family.
The Frontline documentary “Outlawed in Pakistan,” tells the story of 13-year-old Kainat Soomro, who in 2007 accused four men of gang rape and, as a result, her village ordered her family to kill her and consider her an outlaw. When her family refused to do so, they went to court for justice but she did not get the justice she deserved, since it took two years for the hearing to actually begin. Instead, her family lost everything, having to take refuge in a small apartment in a rundown neighborhood in Karachi, Pakistan. As if that wasn’t enough, in 2010 her brother was killed because of the whole court process. Soomro is still fighting for her justice today.
It’s 2016; Quaiser’s incident just happened two years ago. Is it really necessary to kill your daughter because you believe she has dishonored your family? Isn’t there a better way to go about this? How is it possible that in the 20th century women in parts of the world ruled by patriarchal societies, are still being treated with such great injustice?
Should such a cruel act really be named “honor killing?” I don’t know about you, but I don’t see much honor in the act of killing a family member. It’s important to discuss issues like this, not only because it’s wrong, but also because we need to stand with those that can’t speak up for themselves.
Thankfully, this documentary is being recognized by the Academy, and has shined light on the situation. So much so that the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif, has promised to change the country’s laws to help diminish the act of “honor killing”.