For hundreds of years, honor killings have been used in various cultures as a way to inspire fear in others and to maintain control.
In many countries, women are frequently targeted as victims of honor killings, and throughout the years, they have been subjected to brutal forms of murder, including burning, strangulation and stoning.
Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, a Pakistani filmmaker, has made it her mission to bring the heinous crime of honor killings to the forefront of news and culture with the release of her new documentary, A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness.
Obaid-Chinoy’s film focuses on the story of a rare honor killing survivor, Saba Maqsood. Maqsood was shot and thrown into a canal by her family members after she refused to an arranged marriage and chose to marry a man of her own choice. Obaid-Chinoy wanted to tell Mapsood’s story in a very honest and direct manner so as to give viewers a unique insight into the life of a survivor. In Pakistan, nearly 1,000 people fall victim to honor killings each year, according to Obaid-Chinoy. “With the world watching, I want to send out a strong message that although honor killings are prevalent in Pakistan, they are not a part of our culture or religion,” says the filmmaker in an interview with India West.
A Girl in the River has been nominated for an Oscar in the Documentary (Short Subject) category and it seems that the public’s praise for the film has inspired the government of Pakistan to take action. The Pakastani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif personally congratulated Obaid-Chinoy for her documentary’s success and has expressed the government’s desire to use appropriate legislation to rid the country of crimes involving honor killings.
In March 2015, the Pakistani Senate had passed the Anti-Honor Killings Laws Bill, which aims to ensure that a convicted person cannot escape liability for an honor killing by simply receiving “forgiveness” from the victim. Unfortunately, this bill never passed in Parliament and Pakistani advocates have been petitioning for its passage ever since. These advocates believe that by passing this bill, the Pakistani government would finally be righting a wrong that has existed in society for hundreds of year. For the first time in Pakistani history, it would be ensured that honor killing perpetrators would be punished and victims would receive justice.
Whether the film wins an Oscar or not, Obaid-Chinoy is optimistic that A Girl in the River will impact the way the global community reacts to instances of violence against women. In regards to her film, Obaid-Chinoy says, “It speaks volumes about the kind of choices women have in the world and how our lives are impacted by the decisions made by others.”