The arrest of two men in rural Sindh for the torture and murder of 24-year-old Waziran, married off according to the bridal exchange (watta satta) tradition, shows that sections of societal thinking regarding women has not evolved beyond using them as a commodity. Bridal exchange—often criticised as a double-edged sword—dealt a fatal blow to Waziran, after her husband’s family refused to fulfil their part of the promise.

Many rationalise bridal exchange by saying that parents become willing to restrain their son from abusing the wife because of retaliation in kind to his sister by her husband. But this argument holds no water. In so many cases brothers do not hold their female siblings in high regard or one of the two families simply does not keep its end.

The practice is so prevalent in the rural parts of the country that, according to one study by the World Bank (WB), one-third of marriages in rural areas were through bridal exchange. Although a decade has passed since this research was carried out, the lack of government initiatives against such outdated traditions implies that not much would have changed. In most cases, women become potential objects of revenge. Waziran’s murder, married off according to the this custom, clearly tears apart the false sense of security associated with bridal exchange.

The government needs to create a system in which women do not get the short end of the stick. This is not the first such incident; human rights workers have often highlighted that the treatment meted out to Pakistan’s women in certain areas is left wanting. We have seen many a time that exchange marriages often lead to complex scenarios. Women get abused, both physically as well as psychologically, by their husbands and in-laws. It is high time to call bridal exchange out for what it is: an unjust practice where women have no agency.