Panel to discuss the media’s coverage of “honour” violence against women


Staff Reporter

Media coverage of honour violence against women tends to be overshadowed by discussion of the victim’s culture and ethnicity, rather than gender-based issues, says Andrea Gunraj of the Metropolitan Action Committee on Violence Against Women and Children (METRAC).

Use of the term “honour” killing by the news media has sparked debate in cases such as the 2007 killing of Aqsa Parvez in Mississauga and the 2009 Shafia family murders. Parvez, 16, was found strangled in her bedroom – her father Muhammad and brother Waqas both pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and were later sentenced to life in prison. In the Shafia case, Montreal residents Mohammad Shafia, his second wife, Tooba, and their son, Hamed, were convicted of killing the couple’s three daughters as well as Mohammad’s first wife, and sentenced to 25 years in prison each.

The coverage of both cases was widely criticized for focusing on the notion of honour in Islam, implying that the issues behind the killings are inherent in the religion and leaving out important details.

“The issue is sometimes clouded by how people talk about it, which is to say that there’s not enough attention on what it’s rooted in. The problem with the term (honour killing) is that it obscures the fact that this happens everywhere,” said Gunraj, who will moderate a Nov. 18 METRAC panel discussion entitled, “Is There ‘Honour’ in Violence? An exploration of the media coverage.”

METRAC is an Ontario-based organization dedicated to ending violence against women and youth by working with individuals, communities and institutions, as well as providing educational programs and prevention services.

The panel discussion is open to both students, the public and working journalists, and is a collaboration between METRAC, members of the Media Education Knowledge Exchange Group, the Ryerson School of Journalism and the Ryerson Journalism Research Centre.

“We will explore how the media covers the issue of honour violence – what they do well, what they don’t and what’s missing from their coverage. It will also question the use of the word ‘honour,’ and challenge the idea that women should be put in their place because of their gender identity,” Gunraj said in an interview.

The panel will feature Amina Jamal, an associate professor at Ryerson’s department of sociology; Farrah Khan, a counsellor from the Barbra Schlifer Commemorative Clinic, which provides free legal and counselling services for female survivors of violence; and representatives from the Izzat Project, a collaborative arts project geared towards South Asian women.

According to a 2014 study by the Canadian Women’s Foundation, one in four Canadians have attempted to help a friend leave an abusive partner. The study also concluded that 13 per cent of abuse victims feel that their friends and family would not believe their experiences.

“Violence against women happens in all communities. A one-size fits all perspective just doesn’t work because it plays out differently depending on the community, circumstance and context. After the panel, students should be able to make answers of their own,” said Gunraj.

WHAT: “Is There ‘Honour’ in Violence? An exploration of the media coverage,” a panel discussion addressing issues of honour violence

WHEN: 12:30 p.m., Nov. 18, 2014

WHERE: Sears Atrium, 2nd Floor, 245 Church Street, Toronto

Click here for the event poster.