The case of a 25-year-old Pakistani woman stoned death for marrying against the wishes of her family is revolting. The global community should not only condemn, but push for an end to discrimination against women. No family should have a right to kill a daughter because of who she chooses to love and marry.
It is sickening that some 30 men stood by, and watched Farzana Parveen in the face of wilful murder by her own brothers and father. Equally disgusting is the behaviour of some officers of Pakistan police, tasked with enforcing law and order, but instead watched as this hateful act was executed before the very temple of justice – Lahore High Court – where Farzana had gone to defend her rights.
This repugnant act is not unique to Pakistan. Several forms of violence against women – some of them culturally sanctioned, like female genital mutilation and “bride burning” – are common, especially in African and Asian countries. Laws against such practices, while necessary, have not been very effective. Human rights organisations must, therefore, play a stronger and more prominent role in effecting change and influencing societies to drop these humiliating treatment and killing of women worldwide.
Specifically for Pakistan, there should be justice for Farzana. The democratic institutions in that country and elsewhere must not abdicate their duties of protecting the rights of women against honour crimes, which Pakistan Human Rights Commission says has occurred 9,000 times in the country in 2013 alone. This culture can be stopped because Jordan, for instance, has succeeded in taking tougher stance against the practice through activism.
Sadly, this positive progress is not yet acceptable in countries like Sudan, where another woman awaits to be killed by hanging for her choice of one religion over another. The ‘crime’ of Meriam Yehya Ibrahim is that she abandoned her original religious faith, converted to Christianity and married a Christian.
In contrast, the tragedies of Parveen and Ibrahim open us up to celebrating the triumph of a woman, Maya Angelou, who overcame several odds, including rape, racial discrimination, and troubled family upbringing.
A renowned poet, award winning author, and civil rights activist, Angelou died in America on Wednesday. Her victory and inspiration to millions over oppressive cultural practices is laudable and should be an inspiration and liberating influence to overcome restrictions on women realising their full potential.
If Jordan, with conservative Islamic traditions, has taken a bold step in enforcing women’s rights, all countries with oppressive cultural practices can model Jordan’s noble move and end violence against women.