Members of Women Democratic Front and Civil Society Organization protest against violence after Noor Mukkadam's murder.

The beheading of a diplomat's daughter shows how badly Pakistan is failing its women

Updated 4:23 AM ET, Mon August 9, 2021

Islamabad, Pakistan (CNN)Few cases of femicide make headlines in Pakistan, but the beheading of an ambassador's daughter promises to test a legal system activists say has repeatedly failed victims of violence and needs urgent reform.

According to a police report seen by CNN, Noor Mukadam, 27, died on July 20 after being allegedly tortured and killed by an acquaintance -- Zahir Jaffer, the 30-year-old son of an influential family and a dual Pakistan-US national.
Mukadam's death may have been lost in Pakistan's crime statistics, if not for her status and Jaffer's family connections, as well as the affluent location of the killing in block F7, one of Islamabad's most exclusive neighborhoods.
In the days after her death, Pakistanis demanded #JusticeforNoor on Twitter, and a GoFundMe page to raise money for her family's legal fees hit almost $50,000 before her family requested it be closed, according to a message on the site.
The message suggested the family faces a long legal battle, despite claims of "strong circumstantial and forensic evidence" of Jaffer's guilt by their chief legal counsel, Shah Khawar.
Jaffer was arrested at the scene of the alleged attack and later charged with premeditated murder. His lawyer, Ansar Nawaz Mirza, said he hadn't spoken to Jaffer since the alleged attack but said his client "deserves a fair trial."
Noor Mukadam died on June 20 at the home of a wealthy family in Islamabad.
Activists are using this case to renew calls for the country's Parliament to pass a law criminalizing domestic violence. Although the law -- if passed -- would only apply to the Islamabad Capital Territory, activists believe it would encourage other provinces to pass similar legislation as the capital is controlled by the country's ruling party.
After being held up in the Senate, the upper house of Parliament, the bill was sent for review to the all-male member Council of Islamic Ideology (CII), the constitutional body that advises the legislature on whether or not a certain law is repugnant to Islam.
The council has a poor record on domestic violence -- in 2016, it proposed its own bill to allow men to "lightly beat" their wives.
Women's rights activists fear the conservative council will use its influence on the legislation to kill the bill, sending a message that violence against women in their own homes is allowed, or even condoned.

Mukadam didn't answer her phone

Pictures of Mukadam shared by her friends and family with CNN show a tall, vivacious young woman, posing in the glow of fairy lights and shimmying for gifs. Another photograph shows her with strings of jasmine in her hair, clutching a tiny dog to her chest, her long wavy hair askew.
Her friend and feminist activist Zahra Haider told CNN that Mukadam "was the kind of girl who went the extra mile for her loved ones" who liked going for drives to pick up fast food and "dancing on the roof in the rain."
She was born in Jordan, said her father, Shaukhat Mukadam, a distinguished Pakistani diplomat and former envoy to South Korea and Ireland. He told CNN his daughter was an artistic, soft-hearted girl who "loved animals and making her family laugh."
Noor Mukadam was described by her sister as a "beautiful person" who wanted to change the world.
According to the police report he filed on the night of her death, Shaukhat Mukadam said he and his wife were in different parts of the city on July 19, shopping and running errands ahead of the Eid holiday. They returned to the family home, where their daughter lived, around sunset, to find she had not returned to the house.
They tried to phone her, but her mobile phone was switched off, so they began searching for her with the assistance of her friends, according to the report. That night, Noor Mukadam called her parents saying that she would be traveling with friends to Lahore, Pakistan's second largest city, and they shouldn't worry. They didn't hear from her again, according to the police report.
The next afternoon, on July 20, the Mukadams received an unexpected phone call from Zahir Jaffer stating that Noor was not with him. Hours later, police phoned her father to tell him Noor Mukadam had been killed, and he should report to the police station. He was then taken to the Jaffer family residence to identify his daughter's body.
Police have not speculated on a motive for the alleged murder. Jaffer and Mukadam, and their families, were known to each other, according to the police report. Police are not commenting publicly beyond the police report.
Jaffer's parents, Asmat Adamjee Jaffer and Zakir Jaffer, the director of Ahmed Jaffer & Company (Pvt) Ltd, one of the oldest family-run trading and project management companies in the country, were also arrested on charges of concealing evidence and abetment, according to the police report. Both had their bail pleas rejected Thursday as information provided to the judge suggested both made the "utmost efforts" to remove evidence of the alleged murder, according to a court judgment seen by CNN. In a statement to CNN, Rizwan Abbasi, the lawyer for both parents, said his clients had publicly condemned the murder. "We stand with the affected party (and) we don't stand with our son," the statement said.
A statement on the company's website condemned the incident, and said "what cannot be disassociated is our family link to the tragedy, which is undeniable but we request you not judge us all by the horrific actions of one."

Pakistan's proposed new domestic violence law

Mukadam's death has drawn attention to the plight of women and girls in Pakistan, where violence against them is considered a "serious problem," according to a 2020 country report from Human Rights Watch.
Around 28% of women between the ages of 15 and 49 have experienced physical violence since the age of 15, Pakistan's Ministry of Human Rights said, citing the country's Demographic and Health Survey from 2017-2018.
Often, violence occurs within marriage and goes unreported, because it is considered a cultural norm in Pakistan's patriarchal society, according to a World Health Organization review of literature on domestic violence in Pakistan from 2008 to 2018.
Women light candles at a vigil for Noor Mukadam in Islamabad.
Campaigners say it's not just societal norms that stop women from reporting abuse -- the legal system is stacked against them.