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@qandeelbalochquebee via Instagram

The Pakistani social media star killed for her sexuality

Social media star Qandeel Baloch was strangled by her remorseless brother in an ‘honour killing’ after posting raunchy and provocative videos on Facebook and Instagram

Last Friday, 26-year-old Pakistani social media star Qandeel Baloch was strangled to death by her brother in an apparent case of “honour killing”. She rose to fame in Pakistan for posting raunchy and provocative photos and videos on Facebook and Instagram which gathered both heavy criticism and admiration. The woman who auditioned for Pakistan Idol in 2013 had been dubbed by media “the Pakistani Kim Kardashian” but it doesn’t seem like a fitting comparison for somebody who dared to defy strict social norms by flaunting her sexuality in a conservative, religious society and challenge the idea that women could not be as truly alive as men. She paid the price with her life.

It is estimated that around 1,000 women die in Pakistan each year from so-called ‘honour killings’. While this is a cultural practice that has no basis in Islamic theology, varying interpretations of religious texts are often used to justify rigid restrictions imposed upon women. Controversial laws introduced in the 70s under Zia-ul-Haq’s military regime allowed for the criminalisation of sexuality with strict punishments, including laws which saw rape victims being charged with adultery – prompting a huge backlash from women’s rights groups. Later the status of women in many places lowered even further after the destabilisation of the region following the Cold War and the spread of extremist ideology and terrorism.

“Qandeel belonged to the younger, globalised generation of Pakistani women reacting to some of the stifling restrictions imposed on them, by carving out spaces for themselves online”

Today, violence against women can be seen in many parts of the country through instances of acid attacks, rape and domestic violence. While it is easy to condemn such atrocious acts, it is imperative that we remember why they are happening. As a Muslim woman of Pakistani origin, I believe that it is crucial to address the more commonplace, everyday misogyny and twisted notions of ‘honour’ associated with women that exist in our culture, and help to cultivate the environments where honour killings are taking place. It seems that this type of abuse tends to be fuelled by a certain level of religious incompetence and inconsistency, rather than a grounded, holistic understanding of Islam – and it is through Islam that these attitudes can best be challenged.

One only has to observe the way in which Islamic concepts of modesty and chastity seem to only be applied to women, when they are quite clearly addressed to both sexes in the Qur’an. Yet when it comes to men, we are happy to adopt a much more laidback approach in regards to religious practice. Many Pakistani men who drink alcohol and have girlfriends are rarely told that such actions will result in them “dishonouring” their family and ruining their marriage potential forever. These kinds of ominous threats and shaming are reserved only for women, like Qandeel, who dare to disrupt the status quo and challenge patriarchal tradition – while men quite literally get away with murder.

Qandeel herself spoke of how she was married at the age of 17 to an abusive man, with whom she had one son who she lost custody of. She also spoke frequently of women’s rights and was the breadwinner in her family. In her last post on her Facebook page prior to her death, she stated; “I am trying to change the typical orthodox mindset of people who don’t wanna come out of their shells of false beliefs and old practices.”

She represented much more than simply the social media celebrity culture we have here in the West. She dared to be visible and outspoken in a highly patriarchal society bound by tradition, where women simply do not dare to flaunt their sexuality in public. She belonged to the younger, globalised generation of Pakistani women reacting to some of the stifling restrictions imposed on them, by carving out spaces for themselves online. And in doing so, Qandeel subjected herself to a huge torrent of abuse and threats. She felt her life was in danger and even requested extra police protection for her and her family.

It’s as if men are allowed to be sexual beings while also being considered intelligent, useful members of society, because it is accepted that they are multi-layered human beings. However, the moment a woman expresses her sexuality she is simply a “whore”, and all her other qualities forgotten. Qandeel simply displaying her own sexuality made her a target for violence – which is rather ironic considering that Pakistan is one of the most porn-hungry countries in the world. It seems like men do not seem to mind sexualising women, but take issue with women sexualising themselves.

For a while, Qandeel defied that. But tragically, she demonstrated the harrowing reality of how misogyny can kill.