Pakistan floods: ‘Honour killings’ now threaten women | SBS News

For nearly four decades, Ghotki District Police Inspector Saba Mirza has dedicated her life to investigating violent crimes against women, including murder, rape and so-called honour killings, known locally in the Sinhdi language as Karo-Kari.On the surface, Inspector Mirza carries herself with a warmth and generosity of spirit that bears no trace of the horrors she’s seen during her career. Now in charge of a district-level women’s protection unit in Pakistan’s Sindh province, she is clear and outspoken about the reasons behind the violence faced by some women in this part of Pakistan.“Poverty is high. The second problem is they consider women as being of a lower standard. They don’t value women here in this area. For petty things, men will be suspicious of them. And that results in honour killings,” she says.Ghotki district Women’s Protection Unit office. Credit: Aaron Fernandes, SBS NewsIn this part of Sindh province, in southeast Pakistan, religious beliefs and traditional customs can run deep. Women accused of ‘dishonourable’ behaviour have been murdered, including by their relatives. The reasons given can include refusing a marriage, adultery, or just to settle disputes between tribal groups.“It could be something as trivial as a ringtone on their mobile phone, or standing out in a field on their own,” Inspector Mirza says.It could be something as trivial as a ringtone on their mobile phone, or standing out in a field on their own.Saba Mirza, Police Inspector More than 470 cases of honour killings were reported across the country in 2021, according to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, but the actual figure could be more than double. According to local women’s rights organisation Sindh Suhai Sath, around 176 people, women and men, died in honour killings during the same year in Sindh province.Ghotki District Police Inspector Saba Mirza. Credit: Aaron Fernandes, SBS NewsIn 2016, the murder of Pakistani social media personality Qandeel Baloch by her brother Muhammad Waseem led to the introduction of mandatory life sentences for anyone guilty of committing Karo-Kari. The law was also changed to stop the practice of family members pardoning the perpetrators of honour killings under Islamic law.While many religious groups in Pakistan – including the powerful Council of Islamic Ideology – which called the move “un-Islamic”, opposed the changes to the law, the bill was passed by the country’s parliament only months later with wide public support.Waseem had openly admitted to strangling his sister, saying her social media presence was ‘intolerable’. He received a life sentence for the crime, but it was widely reported in February he was acquitted. The BBC reported his lawyer said Waseem had retracted his confession and his parents had called for his release.Underreporting of Karo-Kari, as well as other forms of gender-based violence was already a major problem in Pakistan. But while inspector Mirza believes the frequency of honour killings in her community has reduced overall since the tightening of the laws, she now fears that months of rain and flooding across Pakistan will see even fewer violent crimes being reported.The floods, which submerged a third of the country, have led to the deaths of more than 1,400 people and left millions homeless. People are now having to deal with water-borne diseases. “The women don’t come [to report violence perpetrated against them]. How would they come? Because water is so high, rains are so high, so they can’t come,” Inspector Mirza says.“Also, they have problems with transportation. How can they come? It has made a major difference, as coming here has become difficult for them.”Ghotki District Deputy Superintendent of Police Hafiz Abdul Qadir ChacharSBS News spoke with two women from a village in Ghotki District who say they’ve seen multiple honour killings in and around the area.In one incident more than ten years ago, a dispute over money in a village in rural Pakistan turned into a gunfight, and Naazan Bozdar was shot trying to protect her brother. The bullet is still lodged in her back.“I was with my brother when the fighting started. I was with him when they attacked him. So I jumped in the way to try to shield him. And the bullet hit me in the process,” she says.She survived, but her brother was allegedly killed, and a local woman was murdered in retribution to restore honour.Naazan Bozdar was shot trying to protect her brother. Credit: Aaron Fernandes, SBS NewsPakistan ranked as the second worst country in the world in terms of gender equality in 2022, according to the World Economic Forum, and there are now concerns that the country’s flood crisis could further set back the progress of women and girls. With 33 million people – or 15 per cent of the country’s population – affected by the floods, human rights groups say women and girls face a greater risk of violence, slavery and trafficking in the years ahead.CARE Pakistan Country Director Adil Sheraz says the usual social structures have fallen away in affected areas.“When disasters like this hit, we know from experience that it’s women, girls and other marginalised groups who face the biggest challenges, including access to humanitarian assistance.” “With entire villages washed away, families broken up and many people sleeping under the sky, the usual social structures that keep people safe have fallen away, and this can be very dangerous for women and girls.”A camp of displaced people on the outskirts of Ghotki town. Credit: Aaron Fernandes, SBS NewsJust outside Ghotki town, several camps of displaced people have been set up, where women and children are among those now homeless after the floods. Some of them say they don’t feel safe, sleeping out in the open and waiting for aid to come.Local police are helping aid organisations to deliver food, tents and clean water, providing security to avoid surges on the limited resources.For now, Ghotki District deputy superintendent of police Hafiz Abdul Qadir Chachar says for the moment, the local police station has not seen an increase in reports of violence against women. But he says with roads closed and so many people displaced, they’re remaining vigilant.“There is no such threat at the moment. However, the threat does not warn you before it arrives.”If you or someone you know is impacted by family and domestic violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit . In an emergency, call 000.The Men’s Referral Service provides advice for men on domestic violence and can be contacted on 1300 766 491.