Pakistan’s prime minister is to host a special screening of an Oscar-nominated film that has highlighted the scourge of so-called honour killings of women - in his country and in many others.
Nawaz Sharif will show Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy’s A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness at his office on Monday, after meeting with the Pakistani filmmaker and promising his support.
The film, which focusses on the attempted murder of a young woman from Pakistan’s Punjab who is shot in the face and thrown in a river by her father and uncle for marrying the man she wanted to, has garnered praise in Pakistan and internationally. Yet it has also led to criticism of Ms Obaid-Chinoy by some, who claim she is portraying a negative image of her country.
At a showing of the film in the New York last week, Ms Obaid-Chinoy said that honour killings were a menace not just in Pakistan, but in countries such as India, Bangladesh, and nations in the Middle East.
She said the practice was less connected to religion, ethnicity or nationality, than it was about communities where women were victims of patriarchy. Honour killings also took place in some immigrant communities in the West, she said. She is planning screenings of the film in the UK.
“Change does not come overnight. I think it is important to keep pushing the envelope,” said Ms Obaid-Chinoy, who said she chose to live and work in Karachi, despite having joint Canadian citizenship. “I want to leave a better country for my kids.”
Ms Obaid-Chinoy, who previously won an Oscar for her film Saving Face, focusses her lens on an eighteen-year-old girl, who is a rare survivor of an honour killing attempt. Initially she and her husband – supported by a lawyer and a police investigator – planned to prosecute the young woman’s father and uncle.
But the film reveals how, under pressure from members of the local community, she and her in-laws were forced to accept a “compromise”, where she was obliged to tell a judge she had forgiven her relatives and they were set free. The film finishes with the young woman, Saba Qaiser, telling the filmmaker that she did not forgive the men “in my heart”.
Human rights experts in Pakistan believe anywhere up to 1,000 women are lose their lives in honour killings every year, most of them killed by family members. The film underscores the difficulty of prosecuting such cases.
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Ms Obaid-Chinoy said it was essential police and prosecutors pressed ahead with such cases, despite the difficulties. She said if people were jailed for the killings, it may help create a deterrent, rather than the current climate of impunity.
“There are people in Pakistan who say my work shames Pakistan,” she said. “My response to them is ‘why shoot the messenger?’.”
Mr Sharif agreed to host the screening after meeting with the filmmaker and vowing to address the issue. A spokesman for Pakistan’s foreign ministry confirmed it would be shown at Mr Sharif’s office in Islamabad.
“Customs and practices such as honour killings have nothing to do with the divine principles and theories of Islam,” said Mr Sharif, according to a report in The News.
“Women are the most essential part of our society and I believe in their empowerment, protection and emancipation of achieving the shared goal of a prosperous and vibrant Pakistan.”
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