Will chivalry or brutality prevail in Pakistan? That is the question being raised by President Pervez Musharraf in regard to so-called “honor” killings. As in other countries in South Asia, the Middle East, and elsewhere, hundreds of Pakistani women are murdered every year because their actions are thought to have brought shame on their family. Women may be murdered for marrying without the permission of their parents, for being raped, or for committing adultery -- or even for being suspected of committing adultery. The murders are generally carried out by male family members.
President Musharraf says that public officials, and all Pakistanis, need to abandon their “negative mindset” and deal forthrightly with these crimes: “I would like to urge these people, urge the population of Pakistan to try cases, appear as witnesses, to show that we are a tolerant, progressive, educated society and we do not tolerate honor killing.”
Pakistani women are hoping that a recent supreme court ruling will make honor killings less frequent and make prosecutions easier. In December, the Pakistani supreme court ruled that a woman can marry of her own free will and does not require the permission of her parents or a guardian. Strict enforcement of Pakistan’s laws is essential to stop honor killing. But, says President Musharraf, a change in attitudes is also needed:
“We must deal with any culprits of honor killing most harshly with all the force available to the government. . . . But unfortunately, it is not one man’s job. It is an attitudinal problem of the whole population of Pakistan, and I would like to urge men of Pakistan to show chivalry.”
One hopes these words will be heeded in Pakistan and other countries where honor killings remain a serious problem, including Bangladesh, India, Jordan, Egypt, Turkey, Yemen, and Iraq. All people -- men and women alike -- deserve equal protection under the law.