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Last month on June 9th, I went to see a short documentary called ‘A Girl in the River’ followed by a discussion on ending Gender Based Violence. This was held at the World Bank Atrium moderated by Sudhir Shetty, Chief Economist, East Asia and Pacific.

The documentary narrates the story of a young girl who was almost killed by her father and uncle because she fell in love with a boy.  All of 18, the girl eloped with her lover. This was dishonor to the girl’s family. Her father called her back home, promising to reconcile. She reached home and what followed is a dark story she will never be able to erase from her memories.  Her father and uncle beat her up, shot her in the head, dumped her in a bag and threw it in the river. She survived and got help from people. Her father and uncle got arrested, however they were released soon after as Saba forgave them in court due to the pressure from society. As per the Pakistani Law, allows murderers to get away with their misdeed if the victim or victim’s family forgives them.

In countries such as India and Pakistan honor killings are rampant. Agencies quote that 1000 women are cut short per year however other sources say it’s much more. It is a vicious cycle where a brother or father will kill a girl and the family will save them or if the girl survives, she is forced to forgive them. In the movie, the father is heard saying what he did what was right and religious. The Islamic law says nothing about honor crimes rather it asks you to practice rationality, patience and forgiveness. Globally also there is a culture of toxic masculinity. Even in U.S.A 3 women per day are assaulted, raped or killed by husbands/boyfriends.  Strength of community norms supporting male privilege is aggravating this issue.

This documentary by Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy was awarded the 2016 Oscar for Documentary (Short Subject). This creates an opportunity to end impunity for relatives who murder women seen as source of family dishonor.

At this hour it is so vital to come with a stronger law stating that killers will be prosecuted no matter what.  We need to build resilient systems which act on behalf of the survivors when they can’t act for themselves. The new norms and cultural changes in progressive societies should go hand in hand with legal structure. Gender based violence is a global epidemic and requires a generational change in men. As one of the men rightly commented after the screening “why do we call this honor killing, there is no honor in it. Its absolute pure murder and the assassin is a murderer. “

A ray of positive hope is that 20 years ago not many countries had laws for gender based violence and now more than 100 countries have the law. Irrespective we have a long way to go.

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