Work and what it means for the female franchise — independence in industry, social emancipation, progress from our primitive psychology and a need to be better than the women before us — has belittled and disturbed the fragile foothold that patriarchy enjoys pummelling over our necks.
It designates a sense of purpose and realisation of identity, which has long been denied the women and girls of Pakistan. It makes them just as important (if not more) as men.
Hina Shahnawaz was finding her place of dignity and economic purpose, her role in the bigger picture. At the age of 27, this Kohat native worked for an NGO and earned a sizeable income due to sheer hard work and a mind that wanted to be more than the social mores around her.
The main breadwinner for her widowed mother and sister-in-law, Hina traversed the backlands of communal contempt and did not get married, did not sit at home and did not wait for rescue; she became 'the man' most men around her simply could not be.
In a patriarchy as blemished and contorted as ours, those are values that disfigure the status quo. The potential and perseverance with which Hina went out into the world now lies riddled with four bullet holes, a shadow play on the intimidation and fear under which Pakistani women still seek a more promising future.
It is a story all too frequently told: killed by her paternal cousin for either a) working and emasculating him and others from the male side of her genealogy or b) refusing to marry that same cousin. Hina had a Masters degree in Philosophy; the cousin, it is reported, had not studied beyond 10th grade. Hina wanted better for herself.
It is a tale all too often spun: when women dare thrash about in the unchartered waters of financial freedom there will inevitably be blood in the water and a feeding frenzy will follow. Qandeel Baloch was 2016’s loudest and brashest case of honour killing. Hina Shahnawaz’s will undoubtedly be 2017’s saddest. Both women belonged to that untouchable realm of confident resurgence, a progressive place that looks patriarchy in the eye and laughs at it.
It is a grey line that colourblinds our men but brightens our femininist aspirations. It is dangerous territory and too many women have been paying the price for treading too far out under a disapproving male gaze. And all too many women have fallen between the cracks, killed and never acknowledged because their murders are never reported. It is, after all, a matter of 'honour'.
It is important to recognise the real monster here: the musky, sweat-stained smut of honour and haaya is but a contestant in this competition of carnage; women are being killed because the space afforded to outrage against this butchery is being compressed and deflated.
Left simply to the online warriors of social media campaigning and silent strokes of the battling keyboard, only a well-intended niche crowd of Facebook and Twitter users gets to understand the consequence of this crime, the complex cruelty of these bloodied beliefs. They type and they argue, claim and exclaim but they cannot conquer the dominion of the dogmatic.
It is out on the streets that these crusades must be won, that these assaults must be accounted for. Only when the pulpit and the puritan are brought together to defend the autonomous and the female will there be a change in the statistics of the ‘honoured’ and forgotten. When men are told what they do, how they think, who they blame and what they commend is wrong will they begin the hundred-year process towards self-growth and personal evaluation.
It is our institutions that do not do enough. Our courts, our thaanas, our own communal hunting grounds still canonise this cruelty, still believe in keeping our bodies in check. It is the most basic, most demeaning form of regulation — of our anatomies and our abilities. And it is a travesty of justice, a deftly signed treaty of humiliation.
The clan-like alliance of our men is a predisposed patronage of tribal patriarchy. It seeks a social wealth of gender isolation where the male is all powerful and the woman/girl is always at their mercy. Honour is a very flimsy thing in today’s world where permission is not sought and freedom is taken, where women make decisions and not babies, where the male ego has been neutered.
Hina Shahnawaz was no doubt a satisfied woman, an unbreakable reminder that women like her have gone much further than the archaic incompetencies of men. No hole in the wall can contain the female spirit when it decides to persevere; no prototypal Pakistani man can disembark from these winds of change. He can snuff out lights like Hina but he cannot sentence further the suppressed of centuries old who are finally breaking free of his chains.
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