Pakistani social media star and poster child for female empowerment, Qandeel Baloch, paid the ultimate price for being a modern woman.
Baloch who is sometimes compared to Kim Kardashian was murdered Friday by her brother in an honour killing.
The 26-year-old, whose real name was Fauzia Azeem, was a controversial figure in conservative Pakistan, due to the fact she lived life as she chose and documented it online. She unashamedly flirted with cricket players and politicians and constantly stirred controversy in the Muslim nation with her steamy YouTube videos.
Baloch rose to fame as a viral YouTube star after she first appeared in a terrible, but hilarious audition for Pakistan Idol. She then went on to start a YouTube channel, in which she published videos that would not be out of place in most of the western world. At the time of her death she had 1 million followers on Facebook.
Making jokes, pouting and talking suggestively to the screen are not seen as acceptable behaviour for women by many in Pakistan, though. Her rise to fame was marred with controversy and caused a great divide between her young supporters and conservative religious leaders in the country.
In Pakistan, women are often treated as second-class citizens with forced marriages, routine violence against women and a legal system that allows women to be charged with adultery after they have been raped. It is also common for the murderers of women in honour killings where a woman is killed for bringing shame to her family to not be charged due to a legal loophole. A killer can be pardoned if their family forgives them.
The more famous Baloch became, the more political her message became.
The more famous Baloch became, the more political her message became. She made waves in Pakistan due to her disregard for critics and she became a formidable symbol of female empowerment in the deeply conservative country. She often courted controversy and used her sexuality to increase her social media reach, with various incidents transforming into front-page news in the country.
Butting heads with a cleric
The most recent media fallout occurred when Baloch posted selfies with cleric Mufti Abdul Qavi, a revered Muslim leader who has been outspoken about limiting women’s powers and roles. Two weeks before her death, Baloch posted numerous videos and selfies of herself with Qavi in a hotel room, in which she posed with Qavi, wore his hat and shared Iftar the meal eaten at sunset that breaks the fast for Ramadan.
The particular social media moment caused a huge scandal in the Muslim country due to the bizarre nature of two people who stand for very different things meeting during Ramadan. Baloch was a woman pushing the boundaries of what is considered acceptable in Pakistan, whereas Qavi has strict Islamic beliefs.
The social media documentation of the meeting caused a huge amount of outrage and Qavi was ultimately suspended by his political party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, which was founded by former Pakistan cricket captain Imran Khan.
How the meeting came about is a topic of great contention. Qavi claimed Baloch had staged the entire thing for publicity on the basis of false promises about wanting to learn more about her religion, according to Daily Pakistan. “She took advantage of the situation to become famous and promote herself,” Qavi said.
While Baloch half-jokingly claimed it was a romantic liaison, which included a marriage proposal. “Mufti sahb is still young. Like any ‘young boy,’ he can also like a young and glamorous girl like me,” she said.
Qavi is known for courting controversy with the influential women of Pakistan. In 2011, he got in an on-air fight with actress and reality TV star Veena Malik.
Making reference to her appearance on Bigg Boss India the equivalent of Big Brother Qavi slammed Malik on national TV after her return home from India, accusing her of behaviour that embarrassed her entire family and all of Pakistan. It is horrendous viewing for anyone who is not used to seeing such attacks.
This video gives you an idea of the type of reaction women in Pakistan, who are vocal about politics and women’s issues, can expect if they challenge the status quo. Baloch was a top target because she constantly flaunted her opposition to the social and religious norms in the country.
Before her death, Baloch published a number of defiant social media posts critiquing those who tried to bring her down. Little did she know, she would be killed by a member of her own family just days later.
Muhammad Waseem, one of her 11 siblings, admitted to drugging Baloch and strangling her because he believed she had brought shame to the family. “Girls are born only to stay at home and to bring honour to the family by following family traditions, but Qandeel had never done that,” Waseem said.
I am a drug addict, but I was in my senses when I murdered her and I accept it with pride.”
I am a drug addict, but I was in my senses when I murdered her and I accept it with pride. Now everybody will remember me with honour that I have provided relief to my parents and brothers who were suffering for the last two decades because of her … I have no regrets.”
On Monday, the Pakistan government barred Baloch’s family from pardoning her brother. An online petition has also called for the government to ensure Waseem faced a trial over the murder. At writing it has roughly 3,200 signatures.
Twerking in a music video
Baloch’s murder followed the release of a music video titled BAN on YouTube on July 7. Baloch can be seen twerking, dancing seductively and making a political statement about the treatment of women in Pakistan. It looks similar to any American pop star’s music video.
After her controversial videos or posts went live, it was common place for the Pakistani tabloid media to mention how “jaw-dropping” the content was or to label her a “sex siren.” This all came to a head when Baloch said she would do a strip tease for the Pakistan cricketer Shahid Afridi if his team beat India in the T20 cricket in March.
The team was defeated and Baloch used the moment to send a dramatised message to the team, saying: “You guys have destroyed us! You have humiliated us in front of India again.”
Baloch used her self-declared obsessions with powerful men such as Afridi and Khan, who she proposed to numerous times, to bolster her social media presence. But beneath her jokes and flirtations lurked a very serious reality.
In social media posts published in the days before her death, she hints at the pressure she was facing after the release of her music video. She said she would continue to fight and that her journey had not been easy, but there was nothing that could stop her.
I will fight for it. I will not give up. I will reach my goal. & absolutely nothing will stop me…. https://t.co/fjDhN6Aa1B
Qandeel Baloch (@QandeelQuebee) July 14, 2016
Qandeel Baloch (@QandeelQuebee) July 14, 2016
Her life ended just days later. She was a victim of a world that shamed a woman for being bold and being herself.
Have something to add to this story? Share it in the comments.