Pakistani social media celebrity, Qandeel Baloch, was murdered by her brother on Friday. In a society where women are rarely heard in public spaces, Qandeel owned the world around her. She was fearless, identified as a feminist, and openly called out the misogyny of those slut shaming her.
Qandeel was a working class woman who escaped an abusive marriage and went on to use her social media celebrity to support her entire family. She spoke up for women who wished to own their bodies and her boldness drew attention, good and bad, from all spectrums of society. Her provocative posts, pictures and videos divided opinion in a deeply conservative country, and the reaction to her murder has been no less polarising.
Amid the voices justifying and celebrating her murder, there are those who have strongly condemned the actions of her brother. The local village in which she grew up mourned her death and gave her a traditional funeral, putting henna on her hands and feet. Her father called her ‘brave’ and vowed to never forgive his son for his actions. Demonstrators have gathered in public places to raise their voices for all abused and murdered women.
It is obvious to call this a despicable crime. Those of us who realise this killing was less about defending a misplaced sense of ‘honour’ than it is about deeply entrenched misogyny, know that patriarchy fears the voices and bodies of women in public spaces. Those who justify and celebrate her murder believe a stain on Pakistan’s fragile reputation has been wiped away. At least we know clearly where they are stand, however ignorant and infuriating it is.
Amongst these voices are those who condemn yet use Qandeel’s death to launch a defence of patriarchy. It’s these voices that expose the most about the way we think. It’s indicative of how delicate masculinity is that those who condemn ‘honour killings’, use these tragedies as a platform to lecture on acceptable ‘modesty’ and the limits of ‘sexual liberation’, using it as a synonym for western values. These men and women qualify their condemnation with warnings of the damage that exposure of a woman’s body inflicts on their culture, using examples such as rape statistics of what they deem to be societies full of ‘disease’ and ‘crime’.
Of course, nowhere in the world, including the west, is truly safe for women. Violence against women is not confined to countries or creeds because no space holds the value of a woman on equal footing with that of a man. These viewpoints are prevalent throughout the world. But the distortion of statistics and perceptions that a conservative country holds about those on the other side of the world cannot excuse or promote the control of women’s minds and bodies. Those who use her life and death as a way of imposing patriarchy on women need to be called out for their false moral standing when they call ‘honour based’ murder wrong, but in the same breath, mansplain the boundaries within which a woman’s behaviour is acceptable. They ignore the irony that her brother, addicted to drugs and dependent on Qandeel’s financial support, felt the honour of the family was held by her body. Their narrative is exposing of the never ending agenda to outline socially accepted norms for women.
When these voices shout loud enough, we realise that Qandeel was not just killed by her brother. She paid, like other women, for all our actions. The media who sold her out by revealing her real name and address. Insecure men and the internal misogyny of women who shamed her. Our societies that tell women how to behave, talk, dress and think rather than tell men not to rape, maim and kill. Men who speak on our behalf, who suppress our right to choose how we live our lives.
And those who condemn yet validate - your hypocrisy is just as culpable as the people who shamed her, the man who killed her and the media who exposed her.