‘ The Online Series on FM Mulla’s & Taliban Insurgency – Part One ‘

Illegal FM radio stations, illiteracy, religion and the governance system introduced in 2001 have aided the growth of Islamic militancy in the Swat Valley, according to the 2010 research report “A Survey of Perceptions about the Drivers of Conflict in Swat” by a Peshawar based Regional Institute of Policy Research and Training (RIPORT).

Khalid Aziz, heads the institute that is looking into certain grave areas of concern that arose after a decades old privatization of media and the “communication boom.” Suddenly number of new media outlets started to grow on a rapid scale across the country, in particular I will talk today about the FM radio stations that have been a strong tool used by the Taliban and militant groups in their anti State agendas. Please see this graph 1.

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Television and Radio Popularity in Pakistan

Over all, radio is the most popular medium in both urban and rural based Pakistan, since its birth in 1947 with state-run Radio Pakistan announcement of the independence of Pakistan on Aug 13, 1947 at 11:59 pm in Urdu, followed by a similar announcement in English. It is considered a running school for media and journalism industry and the love of radio listenership continues till date.

Other crucial reasons include:

  1. Millions of illiterate Pakistanis in rural, impoverished or hard-to-access areas – continue to have very limited news media options therefore radio is a huge source for information dissemination and keeping village based people updated with the current happenings.
  2. Pakistan suffers from acute shortage of power, with 10 – 12 hours power shut down, therefore despite its economic progress, television and print media are still not doable options due to their dependency on electric power. Also in many areas, there are no or very few television cable operators.
  3. The north-west regions and its tribal agencies continue to stay under military conflict, including proxy warfare under Pakistan-US-Afghanistan NATO led agreements, with the TTP, LeT etc groups.
  4. Severe damage of infrastructure, displacement and instability in daily lives have created vulnerable, isolated and challenging odds for populations.
  5. There aren’t many sources of entertainment and information in this region. FM radio is an easy and in some cases the only – option people have.

This is where the Taliban stepped in, to cater this niche of population with their creative imagination bordering on the evil. In Taliban and other militant groups strong presence regions, its is easy to cater to the information starved people by putting a mic in the hands of a radical mullah broadcasting the message of hate and Taliban’s version of entertainment. See graph II for the locations deemed to have been under/ continued strong presence of the Taliban groups.

Taliban Strong Hold Areas in North West Pakistan, source BBC

A poor person just needs a small radio set to reduce his boredom by listening on.

The research report’s in-depth analysis of the Swat Valley’s case with its FM radio stations run by TTP groups, were a timely warning to the government to improve security and provide reforms to deal with the situation in Swat but due to lack of political will, external interference and pro-Taliban sentiment the cycle of death and destruction continues till date.

Taliban Run Radio Stations Propaganda’s

Things continued to go downhill in Swat Valley and soon this menace of illegal radio stations spread across other tribal location including Buner, Waziristan, Charsaddah, Mingora, and so on.

The militants use air waves to broadcast propaganda against their opponents and Western governments. These clerics popularly known as “FM mullahs” condemn everyone and everything that goes against their interpretation of religion.

Illiterate women and men sitting inside their homes in far-flung villages listen on a daily level to conservative sermons on women-related issues and other day-to-day affairs on air. The sermons also promote that discussing women issues like rape and domestic violence etc are not to be discussed because it goes against their imaginations of cultural and Islamic values. Other shows advise men on following a strict code of conduct with their women and to prohibit women from stepping outside homes. These suppressing of women messages are well received by patriarchal and male oriented Pushtun men hailing from village backgrounds.

Another damaging effect of these transmissions is the indoctrination against the anti-polio campaign that led to the failure of national polio campaign. Taliban’s offensive against the polio immunization program highlights the success of TTP and other sectarian militant groups against the involved health workers and security personnel working on giving health care to children. The Taliban run radio stations have time and again issued fatwa against female health workers in Swat and Malakand.

I will highlight two fatwas in particular: 1…. One called the presence of women in public spaces a form of indecency, and instructed that it “was a Muslim man’s duty to kidnap the woman’s health workers when they paid home visits, to marry them forcibly even if they were already married women, or to use them as sexual slaves.” Another similar Taliban decree declared that it was morally illegal for Muslim women to work for wages.

Pakistan Electronic Media and Regulatory Authority

It is not possible that illegal stations can continue to run unchecked without any governing bodies. Established in 2002, Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority is independent federal institution responsible for regulating and issuing channel licenses for establishment of the mass-media culture, print and electronic media.

PEMRA’s monitoring reports on illegal radio stations have shed light on extremely grave concerns for human rights issues within the country. Its says that further growing trend of extremism in parts of the NWFP is negating the government’s efforts to portray a soft image of Pakistan abroad. The governing body noted that some 62 illegal FM stations in settled areas while 49 others are being operated from the Federally- Administered Tribal Areas and Provincially-Administered Tribal Areas (Fata and Pata). Almost all are under the control of radical clergymen from Madressahs and mosques.

An under staffed Pemra, has been taking actions against illegal FM operators with the help of the provincial governments. But there are many challenges.. It is impossible to close down illegal FM radio stations because local technicians re-manufacture the equipment for only Rs10,000 or Rs15,000. ($150 – $200)

Last year, the regulatory body’s counter measures include : stopping the illegal up-linking by three channels. PEMRA raided more than 21,000 cable TV operators and 2,803 systems were seized. It also issued penalties worth millions were imposed on TV, radio and cable operators. Nearly 10 illegal FM radio stations preaching hate and extremism were shut down.

To know about the nefarious personalities behind these illegal radio stations and the content analysis of their Broadcasting Content, please keep a lookout for The Human Lens’s part II of the series “Taliban Insurgency|Fiascoes of the FM Mullahs.”

South East Asia News:

Disclaimer: This article is not written by ACE NEWS GROUP. The original source of this article can be found here:

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Gender Disparity: ‘ South Asian Women Fight On ‘

In recent years, the South Asia region has made some progress towards gender equality. The ratio of female-to-male life expectancy in South Asia, while behind East Asia, is now ahead of sub-Saharan Africa.

Indian Women Paving Paths

There is still a long way to go in about bringing the much-needed positive change towards the existing patterns of patriarchy that afford men privileges over women’s minds, souls and bodies. It wouldn’t be wrong to say that millions are still stuck in the dinosaur age, suffering acute Neanderthal syndromes.

A development organization, IFAD through its Gender and Development Division has decades spanning contribution in making head-ways to counter patriarchy and gender gaps.

Through their work, IFAD reports following noteworthy progresses and areas of concern: 

1.South Asia has also seen women’s increased political involvement, with their parliamentary participation rates higher than those in East Asia.

2.The 2012 Social Institutions and Gender Index (SIGI) shows that South Asia raised its position from the lowest ranked region in 2009 to the fourth ranked region in 2012 in overall discrimination against women.

3. However, the report also notes that the changes in ranking between 2009 and 2012 should be interpreted with caution and that better quality data − rather than an improvement in discriminatory social institutions − could also contribute to an improved score.

4. This culturally diverse region has typically lagged behind on gender equality issues. Boys still outnumber girls in primary school enrollment in Afghanistan, India, Nepal and Pakistan. Furthermore, across the region, girls are more likely than boys to drop out of school and almost half of all adult women are illiterate. In 2005, 48 per cent of young women were married before the age of 18.

5. Out of the nine countries in South Asia, only Bangladesh, India, Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka have laws that prohibit domestic violence.

Pakistan's Benazir Bhutto record on women rights, debatable

6. The region is confronted by skewed gender ratios owing to the continued preference for boys in society, at least in part because of the dowry system. In Afghanistan and Pakistan, patriarchal norms isolate women in their homes by placing restrictions on their mobility and prohibiting contact with the opposite sex, especially in rural areas. This has significant implications for their employment, voice and representation in public life.

Despite challenging circumstances, IFAD and its many partners working in South Asia have made significant strides in improving the lives of women and girls in the region, as shown in the stories that follow.

Economic empowerment: South Asia has one of the lowest rates in the world of women’s participation in the labour force. Women earn less than men and have limited economic opportunities, often toiling as self-employed labourers across all sectors.

 Voice and participation: Inequities cannot be addressed until there are more women in decision-making roles in the public and private domains. It is true that some countries such as Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka have had women heads of government. Others have used affirmative action, such as quotas, to boost women’s participation in decision-making bodies and change the focus of development agendas. However, there is often a large gap between representation and voice.

In Pakistan, for example, women are virtually absent from water user associations even though they own some agricultural land. And if they do attend meetings, they have little influence over decisions.

Women’s decision-making power in the household is also low compared with other Asian regions, but it does increase with wealth and economic empowerment.

Workloads and benefits: In South Asia, the widespread disparities can be observed from the most insignificant to most significant important issues, women work longer hours on domestic chores in comparison to men. Their work overall is benefited by men, most agricultural laborers and workers are women but they earn less and have no decision-making power over their limited incomes and its uses.

Srilankan women in workforce

South Asian patriarchy continues to feed into the cycle of keeping women poor and in vulnerable conditions, so that they can be controlled within the heinous societal roles set out for them.

IFAD’s on-ground work has also resulted into many outcomes that can help to continue addressing women’s inclusion and empowerment within the region.

LESSONS LEARNED AND GOOD PRACTICES

IFAD’s Asia and Pacific Division has implemented projects that address gender equality and women’s empowerment in different ways. Some of the lessons learned and good practices implemented in South Asia include:

  • Self-help groups. Self-help groups are an effective way to strengthen the decision-making and economic power of women in South Asia’s patriarchal societies.
  • Women-specific value chains. Supporting women-specific value chains by providing micro-credit coupled with technical and social training has improved household-level gender relations. It has helped increase women’s mobility and their participation in family decision-making, and brought them greater control over their profits.

-National gender coordinators. Country-level gender coordinators, such as in India, have improved gender outcomes by providing direct support to project design and supervision.

The region is known world-wide for its non-friendly attitudes and traditions that continue to threaten women’s lives. At the center of the rotting core — South Asian women themselves and  have taken it to task to work on improving their lives and continue to display their positive interest and enthusiasm  progressing towards their rightful places in the societies. 

Posted in Gender and Women Issues

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UK’s Forced Marriages, will Legislation help?

“Forced marriage is abhorrent and little more than slavery. To force anyone into marriage against their will is simply wrong and that is why we have taken decisive action to make it illegal,” said David Cameron, UK’s premier.

Adhering to the gravity of the situation, UK government is adamant to criminalize the controversial practice. Under the proposed legislation, expected to be put before Parliament after 2013, forced marriage will become a criminal offence and parents who coerce their children into marrying would be facing the prospect of a prison sentence.

UK is home to a large migrant community hailing from South-Asian including Bangladesh, Pakistan and India. This problem is brought  by them into the UK through the existing culture of these countries, where parents by and large control the decision of marriage and spouses. But local research shows that “forced marriages” also happens in the Irish traveling community, Chinese, North African and Somali communities.

UK believes that proper legislation might be the right cure. But campaigners like Sameen Ali and others are already raising the red flag about possible adverse effects of the government plans to criminalize forced marriage in England and Wales.

Opinion: Sameen Ali is a forced marriage victim and campaigner of Pakistani descent. She was forced to marry in Pakistan at the age of 13 to a man she did not know, and gave birth to a boy aged just 14. Her ordeal of humiliation and abuse continued even after her return to the UK. She shares her story in her memoir “Belonging”, which has become an inspiration for many victims. Her courage and determination to fight for her rights is helping others in constructive ways.

She raises plausible concerns related to the up-coming legislation. She says that “Criminalizing the practice would only drive this practice underground, in more secretive manner. The numbers may go down because the victims will probably not come forward any more, because no young person really wants to say ‘arrest mummy and daddy’ because it is mummy and daddy who force the young person into marriage in the first place.”

She also argues that the new law will also create confusion in the minds of young people and cause rifts not only within families but within the different communities living in the UK.  The proposed law is already causing stirrings into the migrant community hailing from S.Asia and others, probably because it’s perceived to have offended their culture. Soon the practising communities might take dire steps leading towards more negative repercussions  for women, at large.

Sameen has a point when she says young people need to be educated about the good and bad elements of their culture. They do not need to be told that their culture is all bad, so therefore they should disrespect it and be given a mechanism such as this law.

She is struggling to advocate that forced marriages may be part of culture, but have more to do with patriarchal control over children.

Her own life serves as a role model for people because she upped and left that marriage with her young child. After her escape, it took years of struggle to put her life together. She states that a victim’s life does not end at a forced marriage; it’s about finding a method of how to get out of the abuse and try to start over. She agrees that it’s not as easy as it sounds, but that’s where institutional and government’s support comes in.

It’s important to provide opportunities to the victims to get out of the abuse and resume their lives again. For instance; resuming the education and vocational training can be practical in helping abused girls to stabilize socio-economically.

The government is resolute at trying to solve the problem through drawing a strict legislation without acknowledging these cultural diversities.

A most ridiculous aspect of this law is that first victims will be forced into marriage they did not want, and then they will be forced to come into court and give evidence against their parents. Are they on auto-pilot? Not one inch of consideration about the trauma that the victim would already be coping with.

For all her critique, Sameen has raised valid points and also suggested ways for tackling the problem. She says that the power for negotiation lies within young people who need to be equipped how to be a catalyst in all this.

The power lies within the young people. And they need to be empowered to stand up against this abuse and educate their parents about forced marriage. 

The practice of forced marriage is deeply rooted and change has to come from within. Awareness needs to come at the root of this cause and young people can create that change, and they can educate their parents against the pitfalls of such marriages.

It is not about criminalizing their parents. And it is not about scoring points either.

Ironically, the rising numbers is an indication that countless youngsters are starting to feel safe and confident, and are speaking out against this abuse. These numbers also provide significant evidence that the young generations are integrating better as compared to the earlier immigrants.

This journey from isolation and parallel reality towards a healthier assimilation requires continued institutional-back-up so young generations can take forward the process in a constructive manner. The forced marriage issue will not vanish over-night from the UK or elsewhere.

But UK government should try intelligent lobbying with community leaders before introducing a law that might not really work.

Posted in Gender and Women Issues

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