The women of the Sisters’ Jirga, a women’s council in Pakistan’s Swat district, were horrified when 20-year-old Nasib Jan and her mother arrived at their center on July 27.
Jan had been beaten and stabbed by her in-laws, she said. She complained of months of abuse by members of her husband's family, including being repeatedly raped by her father-in-law while her husband was working as a laborer in Saudi Arabia. Her mother said she had gone to the police, but they had refused to investigate, and had called it a “small injury” that should be dealt with by the family. She said after continued pleading the police finally agreed to take Jan out of the home and bring her to the Sisters’ Jirga, but only in exchange for money, which Jan’s mother paid.
The Sisters’ Jirga gave her shelter, but they are not equipped to provide medical attention or legal and social counseling for domestic violence victims. They needed more resources to help the young woman; needed to get the word out in order to put pressure on police to investigate the allegations. So they called Radio Mashaal, RFE/RL’s service to Pakistan.
Mashaal correspondent Niaz Ahmad Khan came to the center and made a video report in which he interviewed Jan and her mother describing the abuse and their frustration when they were ignored by authorities.
“Within hours of publishing the video it went viral with thousands of views,” said Radio Mashaal Service Director Amin Mudaqiq. “The calls started pouring in to our radio broadcasters. People were demanding that the police take action.”
Mudaqiq explains that though there is no excuse for the police’s inaction, because there are so many militants in this very conservative area, police fear the consequences of intervening in allegations of domestic abuse, as in Pashto culture it is often considered a “family problem” that outsiders shouldn’t involve themselves in.
The next day, an NGO called Awakening which provides free legal counseling and advocates for domestic violence victims contacted Mashaal asking to be put in touch with the young woman to offer their support. The NGO workers got the local government involved and the police soon arrested all of the family members accused of abuse.
“There will be a trial now, and we will follow it, but it will take a long time,” said Mudaqiq. “Unfortunately this young woman’s story is far too common in Pakistan. The people of this region are so poor that young men are forced to go abroad to seek work. Women cannot live independently in these areas and it is typical in Pashto culture for them to live with their in-laws if their husbands are away. If the family is abusive, the women don’t know where to turn.”
Mudaqiq is glad the Sister’s Jirga reached out to Mashaal about Jan, and credits the station’s dedication to women’s issues, including its two weekly radio programs devoted to the topic, and a policy of prioritizing women’s stories in their daily reporting.
"That’s why the NGO and civil society community trusts us and is on our side,” he said. “And we are grateful for this relationship because it allows us to use our platform to help people and let our audience know what is happening in their community.”