If Ghazala Javed had been battered within the privacy of her home, chances are that no one would have known about it. But when the celebrated Pushto singer was shot dead in Peshawer and her ex-husband arrested for allegedly committing her murder, she became another statistic in the ‘violence against women’ category of crime.
Although the figures register a steady increase over the years, in a conservative society like Pakistan, it is believed that violence against women remains vastly under-reported with only some cases making it into the media. According to Ismail Khan, resident editor of Dawn in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, “People only go to the police in the case of cognisable offences, such as acid attacks. Otherwise these cases are settled within the family or through jirgas. Even the few women journalists in Peshawar, who, in theory, have more access to victims, can’t do in-depth reporting because cultural constraints make it almost impossible for them to interact with the police and government departments”.
In 2011, the total number of cases of violence against women compiled from media reports by Aurat Foundation came to 8,539, a 6.74 per cent increase over the previous year. Figures for the first six months of 2012 indicate a similarly upward trajectory.
Observers explain this trend in terms of comparatively increased reporting as well as higher incidence of such cases. “Women are always the first target in an atmosphere of religious extremism,” says Mahnaz Rahman, resident director of Aurat Foundation. “Violence against women became state-sanctioned with the regressive laws brought in by General Zia. That in turn has reinforced a situation where men believe they have the right to enforce their will on women in their family.”
Rahman believes that increased awareness of the issue in the media has also led to more cases being reported. She particularly credits the Sindhi media for sustained coverage of honour killings.
Nisar Khokar, special correspondent for KTN, says there is an overall change in the environment of Sindhi media. “People at the news desk pressure reporters to pursue such cases.” At the same time, he contends that the numbers signify more than just improved reportage. “Society is going through a transitional stage. Our ethics and social mores are in a state of flux and that gives rise to conflict and violence.”