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Honour Killing: It’s Not Just Qandeel Baloch, ‘They Will Find A Reason For All Of Us’

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By Rohini Banerjee for Cake:

The murder of Qandeel Baloch sends a very frightening message to every woman in Pakistan: WE WILL CONTINUE TO BE KILLED. They will find a reason for all of us, one by one until we can challenge this toxic brand of masculinity and honour,” wrote Chayn (a Pakistani gender-based resource), in light of the horrific “honour killing” of this Pakistani social media star and model. These lines ring loudly and poignantly—because it’s a reality too many women have faced, and continue to face.

I first stumbled upon Qandeel Baloch’s Facebook page only a few weeks back, and was instantly fascinated by it. Here was a woman boldly staking claim to her body, her sexual agency, in a society where it was an absolute taboo to do so. There were pictures of her in what one might term “revealing clothes,” but none of them were even close to sexual objectification or pandering to the male gaze—they were expressions of herself, of her unabashed celebration of her womanhood and her refusal to stick to convention. She wore the same clothes often—a white bathrobe, a pink polka-dot dress—refusing to adhere not just the sexist norms which continued to police women’s bodies, but also traditional mores of fashion. But more than anything, she had a sense of humour and a powerful voice; she spoke up against the patriarchy and advocated women’s rights. “I am girl power,” she had said once in an interview; and in so many ways, she was.

But, in a society like ours, women with powerful voices like Qandeel’s are sadly, constantly put down, and so was the case with her. While going through her Facebook , I (predictably) encountered an extraordinarily large number of comments (all from men, mind you) slut-shaming her, vilifying her, and disturbingly—issuing death threats. Apparently, the death threats were not confined to just the internet, and were issued to her in her daily life as well—which had prompted her to move to Dubai for safety. Ironically, the blow came from within her family itself, and it was her own brother who murdered her—to “restore the family’s honour,” because apparently, a woman having agency and control over her own body is immensely threatening to the patriarchal family structure. “I have no regrets,” said the brother about the murder.

Qandeel is not the first or only woman to have fallen prey to the cold-blooded atrocity that is an “honour killing.” Last year, Oscar-winning Pakistani filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy had made a bone-chilling documentary on honour killings in Pakistan, called “A Girl in The River”, which brought to light the brutal, gory details of how so many girls and women in Pakistan are murdered by their own families for not adhering to their wishes (or to patriarchal norms). The documentary had spurred many to action, and the government was put under so much pressure that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had promised legislation to crack down upon honour killings. But sadly, no concrete bills prohibiting such killings have been put into place till date.

Qandeel’s case is extremely devastating, and shows just how much internalized misogyny our society continues to harbour. It is okay—and the norm, even—when a woman undresses for the male gaze (or when a man undresses her), feeding heterosexual male lust; but when a woman displays her body on her own terms, when her sexuality is under no obligation to pander to a man, then she is a “threat,” a “slut,” an “aberration”—vile enough to be murdered. Qandeel had escaped an abusive marriage as a teenager, had tried to break out of this “mardon ki society” (a man’s world), and had wanted to be an example to and inspire fellow Pakistani women to do the same.

The “honour killing” was meant to silence her voice—a voice which boldly rang out against the generations of violence and moral policing meted out to Pakistani women (albeit, in her own unique style)—but little did they know that such a voice cannot be drowned out so easily. In fact, this incident actually inspires more women to speak up, to rebel, to break norms, and to be “bold.”

Rest in Power, Qandeel. Your spirit will continue to shine on and smash the patriarchy.

Featured image source: Facebook/Qandeel Baloch.
Banner image source: Facebook/Qandeel Baloch

This article was originally published here on Cake

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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