There Is No Honor In Honor Killings

An EcoChi Vital Abstract

This talk was presented at an official TED Conference by speaker Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy in April 2019, and was featured by TED editors on the home page.

I'm a storyteller but I'm also a troublemaker. And I have a habit of asking difficult questions. At 17, I was an undercover investigative journalist.  I've always wanted my stories to jolt people, to shake them into having difficult conversations. And I felt that I would be more effective if I did something visual. Pakistan is home to 200 million people and with its low levels of literacy, film can change the way people perceive issues. In my country, film had the potential to go beyond cinema. It could change lives. My barometer of anger led me, in 2014, to honor killings. Honor killings take place in many parts of the world, where men punish women who transgress rules made by them: women who choose to marry on their own free will; or women who are looking for a divorce; or women who are suspected of having illicit relationships. In the rest of the world, honor killings would be known as murder. I always wanted to tell that story, but women do not live to tell their tale and instead end up in unmarked graves. So, one morning when I read in the newspaper that a young woman had miraculously survived after being shot in the face by her father and her uncle because she chose to marry a man out of her free will. We began to think about using our film to change the way people perceived honor killings. Our film was nominated for an Academy Award, and honor killings became headline news. The prime minister offered to host the first screening of the film at his office. And at the screening, which was televised he said, "There is no honor in honor killings." At the Academy Awards, my name was announced. I accepted the statue, telling a billion people watching, that the prime minister of Pakistan had pledged to change the law. In October 2016, the loophole was indeed closed. And now men who kill women in the name of honor receive life imprisonment. Yet, the very next day, a woman was killed in the name of honor, and then another and another. We needed to take the film and its message to the heartland. Cinema can play a very positive role in changing and molding society in a positive direction. In small towns and villages across Pakistan, men are changing the way they interact with women, children are changing the way they see the world, one village at a time, through cinema.

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