By Malik Siraj Akbar
QUETTA: Aurat Foundation, a non-governmental organisation working for women’s rights, has said violence against women in Balochistan intensified in 2008, but Baloch society still adopts a defensive attitude and justifies the killing of women in the name of honour and tradition.
In a dialogue with media representatives on ‘Problems in accessibility of information about violence against women’ on Monday, the organisation said Baloch women were victims of violence due to widespread illiteracy, entrenched tribal traditions, distorted interpretation of Islam and economic dependence of women on men.
Cases: The organisation said around 600 cases of violence against women were reported in 2008, which included the murder of 89 women in the first nine months of the year. At least 115 women were murdered in cases of honour killing. The reported cases included 255 incidents of women being subjected to domestic violence. People are unwilling to discuss the violence as a majority of Balochistan people justify such acts in the name of tradition, it said. In some other cases, violence against women in rural areas remains unreported in media because of inaccessibility of the area as well as the dominance of men in society, who believe the publication of reports of violence against women amounts to the disrepute of their respective tribes.
The year’s most disturbing news concerning the plight of women came from Naseerabad district in Balochistan, where five women were allegedly buried alive by tribal elders in the name of honour. Federal Minister Mir Israrullah Zehri and Senate Deputy Speaker Jan Muhammad Jamli defended the incident on the Senate floor and called it “a part of Baloch traditions” and the government failed to expose the culprits and the motives behind the killings. The Naseerabad killings still remain a mystery. “Violence against women is a global phenomenon. It takes place in different parts of the world under varying pretexts,” Aurat Foundation Balochistan Co-ordinator Saima Javaid said. She said, “Our biggest concern is that such violence is unabated, rampant and unnoticed.” Dostain Khan Jamaldini, a researcher, said various hurdles hindered objective reporting of women’s issues in the province. He said violence against women is not taken seriously or addressed at the community level.
Confront: Nationalist as well as communal sentiments and a colonial mindset confront those protesting violence against women. Political leaders remain defensive on the issue, and describe media and NGO reporting as an intrusion in internal matters and traditions. Similarly, communal segments of society dismiss such reports as Western propaganda against Islam. “We need to set our house in order before becoming defensive. The poor state of women’s rights is a bitter reality in our society and we cannot ignore this serious matter for long under different subterfuges,” Jamaldini said. The participants of the day-long dialogue agreed that print and electronic media could best highlight violence against women by describing it as a practice being promoted in the name of Islam and tribal traditions. Journalists and scholars should not use unqualified religious leaders as their primary source in write-ups and reports. Those who contend that Islam is responsible for the suppression of women and violence against women are oblivious to the true teachings of the religion. Islam gives equal status to women in the social, educational and economic spheres, according to one of the speakers.
Illahuddin Khilji, another Aurat Foundation representative, said gender discrimination towards women by male lawmakers, journalists and religious scholars contributed to ‘biased reporting’ of events, while their female counterparts often exaggerated the issues in their reports.