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THE cold-blooded murder of two women in Swat, who had run away from abusive husbands and sought refuge in a women’s shelter (Darul Aman), demonstrates just how helpless — or uncaring — the state is when it comes to protecting the life and dignity of half the population of the country.

Both women were shot dead by their husbands on the pretext of ‘honour’ after the men, seemingly after persuading them, took them back home from the Darul Aman. One of the men, belonging to the Khwazakhela area, has been arrested and a case has been registered against him, while the police in Kadono Manglawar are searching for the other suspect.

According to local women’s rights activists, 21 women have been killed so far this year in Swat alone on different pretexts, including ‘honour’. Such cases expose the state’s legal and administrative weak spots that allow thousands of women to either stay with abusive relations or give the perpetrators enough room to commit crimes and escape. It is baffling why the administration of the Darul Aman, that was set up for the protection of the vulnerable including women with no family support, allowed the two women to return to their abusive husbands.

Unfortunately, such injustices appear to be part and parcel of being a woman in this country. According to Human Rights Watch, around 1,000 women are killed on the pretext of ‘honour’ every year in Pakistan. Despite the passage of a landmark law to punish the perpetrators and curb the crime, this number has not decreased. Such crimes and cases remain pervasive because, even though it has criminalised ‘honour killings’, the state has failed to detach the label of ‘honour’ from a woman’s right to make her own choices. Indeed, using the term ‘honour killing’ itself to describe such murders, as pointed out by Justice Qazi Faez Isa, inadvertently justifies this appalling mindset. Till no remedial action is taken to correct such misconceptions, the practice will continue to take women’s lives.

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