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Under-reported Pakistan — Women, working conditions & climate change

Identifying the missing stories in Pakistani media

Under-reported Pakistan — Women, working conditions & climate change
Graphic by Naseem ur Rehman

Women — Permitting violence

In Pakistan, violence against women, especially that inside the home is believed to be a private matter. Irrespective of the degree of brutality, it is considered within the parent’s right to ‘discipline’, and the husband’s right to ensure ‘obedience’.

Wrapped in a vocabulary that takes away the personhood of the victim, all means to tame her are considered permissible.

Spousal physical abuse continues in all classes of the society. Even today, Pakistani women struggle to prove that there is such a thing as marital rape. Such issues have not found their way in mainstream debates on media despite the media being dubbed as free and vibrant.

Women are still believed to be the caretakers of the shame of the family. While men are expected to bring honour to the family, women can only bring shame. This makes it necessary to mark rigid boundaries that chain women’s movements and appoint supervisors to make sure that all acts of nonconformity are dealt with.

These monitors are at most times women themselves that help perpetuate the language of violence and teach their daughters ways to endure and demonstrate an unmatched level of patience. Society and culture gradually silences women and teaches them how to work under men, and not with them.

Unless violence itself is enacted as a matter of public show, it rarely is reported. For example, reports include instances of honour killing, acid attacks and physical abuse in the form of murder or even attempted murder — all forms of violence extreme and brutal.

Women rarely step out of their homes to point fingers at their own families. The guilt that women are socialised to associate with being an ‘inferior gender’ legitimises violence that most victims of abuse are then subjected to. When it comes to reporting abuse, sometimes suicide is resorted to as the best alternative to speaking out.

Violence against women is a societal problem and a public health issue. Under-reporting is a result of lack of mechanisms in place to help protect and assist victims to become independent. Women that do take their cases to the court are mostly abandoned by their families. In such cases, they have little to no funds to support themselves, and also fight in court to get justice. Moreover, there are a limited number of shelter homes for survivors of abuse. The fear of not being able to find a safe shelter is one of the main reasons why women often choose to suffer silently.

— Enum Naseer

Working conditions — Safety first

A businessman works with the goal to make maximum profits. However, at a time when the cost of doing business has increased due to increase in input costs, businessmen ensure profitability by cutting wages.

There are issues like low wages, insecurity of job, long working hours, etc, that catch media attention. But one thing that is often overlooked is the unsafe working environment for workers in our country.

One may disagree, saying the news of victims of accidents at workplace get enough coverage in the media. But the problem is that very little media coverage is given to the circumstances that lead to such tragedies.

Shortage of labour inspectors and poor labour inspection mechanisms, are rarely discussed by the media. In case there are labour inspections, these are just formalities and the influential employers are spared.

Mass media has rarely covered the bad working conditions, including exposure to smoke, gases, toxic substances, unbearable noise, factory fires, extreme temperatures, radiations, poisonous fumes, toxic metals, chemicals or suggested precautionary measures to stop disasters from happening. Only extreme cases where human lives are lost are reported in the media and there is no mention of diseases and disabilities caused by hazardous work.

Stories of building collapse and fire at factories are reported but non-provision of safety exits and violation of building by-laws are not reported routinely. In short, events are covered but the causes leading to them are ignored.

Trade unionists who have struggled hard during their active days blame the workers of today for failing to form liaison with the media and highlight health and safety at workplace as important issues. They say that trade unionists want increase in wages, overtime, bonuses, etc, but don’t negotiate on safety issues.


— Shahzada Irfan Ahmed

Climate change — Disasters in store 

Home to some of the world’s largest glaciers, Pakistan is facing a growing threat of global warming that causes flooding and drought.

What do melting glaciers mean? What does excessive cutting of trees in the name of development mean for hapless people? What kind of disasters do we have in store? Why do we always wait for the United Nations and foreign studies to warn us about the threats we face. Both the media and government are paying little attention to this subject — due to ignorance or incompetence or both.

Pakistan recently signed the Paris Agreement on climate change that commits nearly every country to lowering the planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions. Interior Minister, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, inked the agreement. The climate change Minister, Zahid Hamid was conspicuous by his absence?

Pakistan is categorised as one of the countries that are most vulnerable to the impact of climate change, including droughts, desertification, sea level rise, and glacial melt. Pakistan is among the top 10 countries on the German Watch climate risk index — its 5000 glaciers are retreating faster than those in any other part of the world.

Already a water-stressed country, climate change is likely to further exacerbate the challenge with increasing frequency of large floods causing huge losses to lives and livelihoods of poor people.

In November 30, 2015, the signatory states were asked in Paris to submit their respective voluntary Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) documents that explained their plans on how to cut carbon emissions at home. Amazingly, the INDCs document submitted by Pakistan was a 350-word one-pager that hardly talks about any concrete plans to fight climate change and lacks baseline data and targets.

Perhaps the government, and the media as well, has no idea what kind of disaster it is dealing with.

— Mazhar Khan Jadoon

TNS Editor

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