EU failing to stand with Pakistani women and girls

The EU must take stronger action to put an end to honour killings in Pakistan, writes Emilian Pavel.

Emilian Pavel | Photo credit: European Parliament audiovisual

By Emilian Pavel

21 Mar 2017

In the EU-Pakistan joint commission and its sub-group on governance and human rights, the EU has been raising strong concerns about repeated cases of feminicides and honour killings, as well as targeted attacks against girls attending schools, and yet violence against women continues.

When Qandeel Baloch, a fashion blogger and YouTube sensation, was murdered by her brother for bringing "dishonour" to their family, her face was splashed across international newspapers, bringing shock and horror to many Europeans. Unfortunately, her case is all too common. Exact figures on honour killings are difficult to acquire, but estimates range from 1000 to 4000 murders per year. 

Last summer, 18 year old Zeenat Rafiq was burned to death by her mother. The previous spring, a girl of only 16 was killed just for helping her friend organise a love marriage. In 2014, Farzana Parveen was stoned to death in broad daylight, while bystanders and police watched. Each of these stories is tragic in their own right, but when taken as a whole, they are evidence of an epidemic. 


Honour killings were officially made illegal under Pakistan's criminal code amendment in 2004, but justice has been poorly enforced. Until 2014, Pakistani law still allowed the family of the victim to "forgive" the murderer, thereby pardoning him or her. 

Since most of the perpetrators are members of the same family as the victim, this law acted as a loophole for violent offenders. It was officially rebuked in October of 2016, but as with the criminal code amendment, it has not been unilaterally applied. Murderers continue to walk free as a result of Pakistan's deep "honour" culture.

Often families, or even entire communities, cover-up a murder by claiming the death was a result of natural causes. British national Samia Shahid died in July 2016 when she returned to Pakistan to visit family. Her husband, whom she married against her family's wishes, didn't believe his otherwise healthy wife could have died of a heart-attack. He petitioned the British government to investigate. The truth? Shahid was raped by her ex-husband and then murdered by her father. 

In both Shahid and Parveen's cases, international pressures were instrumental in bringing the attackers to justice. If the British government had not intervened, it is unlikely Shahid's murderers would have ever been arrested. Unfortunately, most of the murdered women and girls do not have such strong allies. 

In 2015, the documentary 'A Girl in the River: the Price of Forgiveness' won an Oscar. This film documents Saba's experiences as the survivor of an attempted honour-killing. Prompted by an international outcry, Nawaz Sharif, the Prime Minister of Pakistan, spoke out against honour killings. Although he must be commended for his words, words are not enough. 

When governments intervene and documentaries win Oscars, the administration listens. The EU has an opportunity to make a similar impact. Pakistan continues to benefit from the EU's GSP+ scheme, despite issues of human rights and freedoms in the country. 

If the EU cares about the women and girls currently threatened by Pakistan's honour culture, they must do more to ensure the government knows that these cold-blooded murders are not acceptable. The Union's bargaining chips are stronger than a documentary. The EU must show Pakistan what it means to be honourable.