Identity

Protests Erupt over Honor Killing of 'Pakistan's Kim Kardashian' Qandeel Baloch

Controversial social media star Qandeel Baloch was strangled to death by her own brother on Friday. We talk to the feminist groups across Pakistan who have been staging vigils and rallies all weekend.

by Sirin Kale
Jul 18 2016, 1:00pm

Photo via Instagram

On the day she died, Pakistani model and social media star Qandeel Baloch posted a message on her Facebook page to her 780,000 followers. "No matter how many times I will be pushed under...I will bounce back...[in] inspiration to those ladies who are treated badly and dominated by society." Hours later she was dead, killed by her brother in a murder that has shaken Pakistan.

Baloch's real name was Fouzia Azeem. The 26-year-old rose to fame after auditioning for reality TV show Pakistan Idol. When her audition video went viral, Baloch—from a working class family in the conservative town of Shah Sadar in Punjab—capitalized on her online fame to become a social media star. Sometimes labeled "Pakistan's Kim Kardashian," she increasingly commented on the status of women within Pakistani society as her fame grew. Shortly before her death, Baloch spoke candidly of her struggles in an interview with Dawn.

"I was 17 years old when my parents forced an uneducated man on me... It was my wish since I was a child to become something, to be able to stand on my own two feet, to do something for myself," she said. She went on to criticize the Pakistani media for not giving her "credit" for "speaking about empowerment of women, girl power," or for the fact she was the main breadwinner for her family of six brothers and six sisters.

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Baloch was a divisive figure within Pakistan and made headlines when she met with senior religious cleric Mufti Abdul Qawi. Pictures posted online of her wearing Qawi's hat went viral, and Baloch was shamed online. Before her death, she told police and press that she feared for her life and had begun making plans to move abroad. But her brother, Muhammad Waseem, strangled her to death on Friday as she slept at their family home. He subsequently confessed to the crime at a press conference, saying he killed her for "honor."

Photo via Facebook user Farooq Tariq

Baloch's death has opened deep rifts in Pakistani society, where an estimated 1,000 women are victims of honor-based violence annually (the true figure is believed to be much higher). Protests have been held across the country, and prominent Pakistani feminists have spoke to condemn her murder. On Twitter, Oscar-winning filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid asked, "How many women have to die before we pass the Anti Honor Killing Bill?" An online petition from Pakistan's Feminist Collective stands at nearly 3000 signatures.

More protests are being planned across Pakistan. Avami Workers' Party spokesperson Tooba Syed told Broadly that the feminist communist group is organizing a protest in Islamabad later this afternoon, after joining similar protests in Lahore. "We've been taking a position on Baloch's murder," Syed explains, "because she was a working class woman who supported her whole family."

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"This murder says so much about the economic situation of women in Pakistani society," Syed argues. "They don't have many options. Part of the reason she posted such provocative videos was because she was an uneducated woman with the burden of supporting her whole household. There were no other options for her. What other options does a woman have in a society like ours?"

Natasha Ansari from the women's rights group Girls at Dhabas organized a protest in Karachi with people from the Feminist Collective and the National Students Federation. In her view, Baloch's murder has little to do with honor. "The culture around shame and taming of women's sexuality is global. That said, Baloch was killed because insidious misogyny was coupled with state failure to protect her and compounded by a reckless irresponsible media with no journalistic ethics."

A protest in Karachi by Girls at Dhabas. Photo courtesy of Erum Haider and Zoya Anwer

Ansari highlights how personal details including Baloch's home address and speculation about her marriage were published before her death. The Feminist Collective aggregated all the times the press shamed Baloch on a Tumblr called No Country For Bold Women. It makes for grim reading.

Girls at Dhabas member Mehrbano Raja led the protests at Lahore. She tells Broadly she hopes Baloch's death will put pressure on the authorities to pass long-awaited anti-honor killing legislation, and expresses anger that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has failed to condemn her murder. "We are hopeful that the murder of Qandeel Baloch will spur the government into action regarding creating the requisite legislation to punish killers and create precedents for the future to end this practice. But first, of course, a change to the mindsets is what is needed."

"[The hope is that] this will lead to a gradual acceptance within Pakistani society of how many of us are ultimately responsible for Qandeel Baloch's death," she adds. "We are complicit for relentlessly shaming her rather than celebrating her independence and courage to be different in this society."