It’s an unlikely story: two women from opposing political parties in Pakistan’s mostly male Parliament working together to convince their colleagues to change the country’s “honor killing” law.
Conservative lawmaker Naeema Kishwar and liberal Harvard grad Sughra Imam are the stars of that story, told by the Associated Press in a behind-the-scenes look at how Imam and Kishwar shepherded a new anti-honor killing bill through the country’s legislative process this year.
In the past, individuals who were convicted of honor killings — the practice of killing a woman whose actions were deemed “shameful” in order to restore honor to her family — could avoid prison by receiving the forgiveness of the woman’s family. The law essentially had a “forgiveness loophole.”
But earlier this year, following an Academy Award-winning documentary by filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, who is a CHIME FOR CHANGE Advisory Board Member, about honor killings in Pakistan, “A Girl in the River,” public opinion about honor killings began to change.
Then in July, a famous social media star in Pakistan, Qandeel Baloch, was killed by her brother in an alleged honor killing. The murder made news around the world, and lawmakers in Pakistan vowed they would finally close the forgiveness loophole. Pressure grew on leaders to #LeveltheLaw, the name of a Global Citizen and CHIME FOR CHANGE, with Equality Now's campaign to change laws that are discriminatory to women around the world.
Read More: This is how you #LevelTheLaw
According to the AP, the forgiveness clause was still being defended by hard-line Islamic groups who said it was built on the Islamic belief in forgiveness. But Imam, who was a senator in Pakistan, wanted to close that loophole and ensure justice for women who were murdered for any reason. She argued that the Islamic tenet of forgiveness shouldn’t apply to premeditated murder, the AP explained.
“It was not meant to be able to kill with impunity," she said. "The law has been perverted."
Imam’s proposed changes to the country’s honor killing law couldn’t pass the conservative National Assembly without the support of religious hard-liners. That’s where Kishwar came in.
Kishwar used her position as a committee member tasked with shaping the bill to change the minds of religious leaders. Waving a Quran to her fellow lawmakers and reading passages from it ahead of the assembly’s vote, Kishwar used her own religious credentials to help convince her fellow conservatives to vote for the bill.
"I have been raising my voice in the Parliament for the rights of women, and I will keep doing it," Kishwar said.
During that vote in October, the Parliament passed a law that Imam and Kishwar helped create that mandated a 25-year prison sentence for convicted killers, but left in place a forgiveness clause for those sentenced to the death penalty.
"Laws are a guiding hand for how a society evolves," Imam told the AP. "People will generally move in that direction. We can become more just over the years."
Read the full story of how Imam and Kishwar shaped the law and convinced the country to vote for it at the Associated Press.