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Qandeel Baloch: an outspoken feminist in a man’s world

“As a woman we must stand up for ourselves.. As a woman we must stand up for each other… As a women we must stand…“

— Qandeel Baloch

feminism cross-stitch

The tragic murder of the social media celebrity, Qandeel Baloch, is an eye-opener to societal attitudes towards women in Pakistan. This is a case which has divided the nation and exposed the contradictory and hypocritical attitudes towards women.

It is Baloch’s social media profile which divides people and emboldens the haters. While some commenters go far as saying her murder was justified, others act as nothing less than apologists. Many argue that “Oh yes, she should not have been murdered, of course…”, but then go on to shame her by commenting on her lifestyle and public profile.

There is no but. Qandeel Baloch was brutally murdered and yet still, all the focus is on what the victim did. The focus should be on the patriarchal structure of Pakistan’s society, where women are seen as the property of fathers, brothers and husbands.

The truth is, Qandeel Baloch wasn’t murdered for being provocative. She was murdered because she challenged Pakistan’s religious establishment, making a mockery of the mullahs and exposing their double standards.

Sections of the media have called Baloch “Pakistan’s Kim Kardashian” but she was so much more than that. It is disingenuous to compare her to Kardashian, who grew up in relatively affluent circumstances. Unlike social media celebrities in the West, Fouzia Azeem was born into poverty with few options in life.

“I want to give those girls a positive message who have been forcefully married, who continue to sacrifice.”

Raised in one of the poorest areas of Pakistan, she was forced to marry a much older man, who then beat her. It’s the same old story across Pakistan where girls are forced into marriage and then expected to live a life of hell where they are abused daily.

But Qandeel Baloch chose to take a stand and escaped. With little education and no support from her family, she took matters into her own hands and took to social media to make a name for herself. Her father called her “my son” because she alone supported the family.

In short, she learnt that in life, you have to depend on yourself.

“No matter how many times I will be pushed down under but I am a fighter I will bounce back. Qandeel Baloch is ‘One Women Army’.”

The videos are grainy and she wears the same outfits over and over again. There’s no sign of the privilege given to wealthy middle-class women like Kardashian. To compare her to similar social media darlings in the West totally ignores her back story and trivialises Baloch’s personal circumstances. It is not difficult to see why she went down the path she did.

People are free to ignore the content if they are offended. But both men and women comment on social media, calling Baloch a shameless slut, immoral, cheap, while at the same time, watching her videos and checking out her pictures for titillation.

You could question how a girl like Baloch could make a name for herself in an Islamic country. Pakistan calls itself an Islamic country, but I for one sometimes find it difficult to see Islam in Pakistan. This is a country where a qawwali singer is brutally murdered for simply singing about his passion for family of the Holy Prophet (PBUH). A country where minorities are slaughtered on a daily basis. A country where one of the world’s greatest humanitarians, Abdul Sattar Edhi, is condemned as an infidel by Pakistan’s mullahs. Where Malala is dismissed as a Western stooge, and where a Nobel prize winner cannot even rest in peace long after his death.

“At least international media can see how I am trying to change the typical orthodox mindset of people who don’t want to come out of their shells of false beliefs and old practices.”

But people tolerated Qandeel Baloch up to the point when all she did was post racy pictures of herself. It was when she started to speak out about women’s rights in Pakistan and when she sought to expose the double standards of Pakistan’s religious clergy that society decided enough was enough.

Qandeel Baloch’s murder is more than a so-called honour killing by an enraged brother. It is a direct reflection of Pakistani society, where women are still expected to silently submit. Qandeel Baloch, fearless, outspoken and brave, took life into her own hands and challenged the patriarchy. For that, she paid the ultimate price.

Image credit: Cross-stitch ninja via Flickr
Disclaimer: the opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the website.

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by Nazia


Encountered while walking along Saint Denis and alleys

Encountered while walking along Saint Denis and alleys

Last week* I felt like my back had broken. Every night I slept in pain. Feeling stiff, disjointed, sore and disillusioned I would awaken. I tried not to be a recluse and hibernate my way through this agony and began surfing social media because its entertainment as well as educational, right?

I love the power of information spreading easily, fast, aimlessly and possibly mostly with a real purpose in mind. The internet is a bubble that sucks me in with its wonderful libraries, cinemas and shopping malls but I am weary now and this makes me actually sad.

I know to expect nastiness from trolls, buffoons and criminals to exploit the perception of anonymity of the internet but something akin to a movement of hate is not only reflected but propagated, celebrated online. I have come to wonder that an orchestrated movement is attempting to sow seeds of hate through the medium of the internet. It is not a unique attempt, many individuals, groups engage in nefarious behaviour but this particular movement has left me extremely shaken and concerned for the efforts of those of us who wish for cooperation, restraint, peace.

I grow tired of the need to shield my senses from the hate.

Just like many I have pondered the question of censorship and I am aware acutely of the raging debates surrounding freedom of speech. I fall into the camp of turning the other cheek. This is incredibly important even more now as the ‘movement’ of hate and provocation is becoming ever shameless and bold in its attempts to cause offense. The hate machine is churning out words, images, ideas, insidious, destructive and callous in their intent. Freedom of speech is sacred but I can’t help but feel a bunch of immature, bruised, cynical opportunist lunatics (of many shades of creed) have hijacked the original lofty, decent freedom for an evil enterprise. The creation of division, fear and hatred between neighbours, friends, family in the real physical world.

I must pause. I take a moment to settle the mist of gloom that is rising within me overbearing and cold. 

In all honesty I feel embarrassed that I have reacted this way to the hate campaign online against an entire community of people of the world. This community shares the values of justice, rule of law, fairness, the sanctity of life and liberty. That is the community that I belong to.

Those who prefer hate come from all corners of our planet but I believe those who wish for harmony outnumber these individuals. Perhaps our voices are drowned out by the greater noise of the hate machine. Perhaps wanting peace is not the cool option anymore and maybe as a species on this planet we are becoming broken and afraid of the ‘unknown known’?

The unknown known fear mongering.

I have seen many awful things online but a blog post broke my heart and caused me to realize I had read something incredibly dangerous. I could share the details of the blogger and readers may make their own minds up but I abstain from the sharing of evil. Suffice it to say I was shocked and in awe of the beauty of the prose. The well thought out depiction of Arab/Muslim men as the sexual menace from an alien backward religion who race to reach our European lands as invaders…….and on it goes. A female ‘activist’ shared this blog piece on twitter claiming it to be the truth and illuminating about the nature of the men seeking to make new homes in Europe. I can only sigh at such thoughtless acceptance of stereotyping, hate, and judgement of random individuals. This attitude is in itself anti- European and undermines the aspirations of those who lived and fought for a fairer, kinder, civilized Europe.

I say again I have stumbled across such cold nastiness before but this piece was too much. The talented writer had chosen to use his skill to pen words of calculated demonization. I could not stop the feeling of utter despair.

The pen is mightier than the sword. But where will such words lead? What impact in the world of action? On our streets? In school playgrounds? In hospitals, cinemas, restaurants? On public transport? Will we live in fear of one another? Am I alone in asking such questions?

I will not succumb to hate. Alluring as it is after having watched children broken and dying with adults screaming horrific farewell epithets such as “Die you son of a whore” – yes, hate can become alluring. But thank goodness I have lived, I have understood. I know from the deepest realm of my soul that hate is unacceptable. It will destroy the individual as well as society as a whole. With that strength of conviction and fortitude I can breathe and say that I will remain true to my belief in the power of reconciliation over retribution. I stand with all the individuals outraged at the violence and the glorification of division in Israel and Palestine and of course, beyond.

And it’s not just the holy land in trouble is it? Our minds are on the line. The inhabitants of Planet earth are at stake, how healthy will our world be with the legacy of bombs, bullets and mines? And hate talk?

The spectators must judge with fairness and compassion, resisting the urge to take sides in an unholy war. I see patterns of connection between social media output (even from parts of the online scrapbook ‘Pinterest’), the wider hate movement and increased divisions between various peoples.

I realize I must walk away when such places online which connect deeply with the mind begin to send messages that seek to make a person weep in despair. I will not let the combined barrage of ugly words from the likes of charlatans with the gravitas of a mob following break my resolve to live among my neighbours with love and respect.

I stop

I disengage from these thoughts and notice my elderly neighbour navigating the path to her door. I know she is blissfully oblivious to the noise of the battle for hearts and minds between humans who stake claims on glory be it through God, pens or guns.

I watch the children, parents, commuters pass by my home and I think of the good luck we share in our peaceful neighbourhood. I recall the celebrations we enjoy each returning year. Like clockwork we decorate our homes and greet each other with peace in our hearts for one another. We are blessed to be free to engage in an array of festivals – Halloween, Eid, Christmas, Hanukkah, Guru Nanak’s birthday and most recently I added Diwali to the great list of opportunities to be joyful. Being British, being European has given us the right to make choices about how we live our lives.

*This post was originally written before the horrendous Paris Attacks on the 13th of January 2015, and the subsequent increase in anti-Muslim hate crime.

Nazia is  a mother of three children. She has a degree in History (focus on modern Europe, Russia, Ottoman Empire, Origins of Islam, Mughal Empire, Middle East) from School of Oriental and African Studies London.

Image courtesy of Andre Vandal; ‘Stop the Hate’ posted on Flickr

Disclaimer: the opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the website.