Women in Pakistani entertainment are often depicted as one-dimensional, helpless victims with no arc of self-discovery or character development. This is worsened by the fact that images of women being beaten and abused (typically by close family members) are rife in Pakistani entertainment and not for social causes, but rather, to sell views.

Stories hold the power to influence the evolution of society and public perception. Unlike previous generations, people’s values, morals and norms are heavily derived from entertainment and media. The entertainment industry can therefore be used as a tool for social good and now more than ever it is important that we be particularly cognisant of the type of content we display on our screens. This is where the issue of Pakistani dramas comes in; stories ridden with defenceless females with no outstanding qualities, oftentimes not doing anything productive or insightful. More disturbing, however, is the routine abuse these female characters are made to face in these dramas.

Domestic violence is an incredibly sensitive topic and should be handled in a meaningful way on screen. Pakistani dramas, however, have no sense of subtly when it comes to this and depict harrowing images of women being brutally abused. The irony is that typically in these shows, while the female is destitute and mistreated, the male characters are ambitious, motivated and successful. Perhaps this is because the vast majority of these shows are directed by men. Nonetheless, in a country where patriarchy and misogyny already make so many of our women bleed, it is imperative that we be cautious of the manner in which we depict these images.

This problem here is that for Pakistani audiences, there aren’t many mainstream mediums where we can find stories of families that are relatable. The Western entertainment industry dominates the world and although some greater themes of internal or external struggles may relate to us, most of the familial dynamics that exist in Hollywood and even Bollywood aren’t in line with our incredibly specific, conservative, Pakistani culture. When watching Pakistani dramas, you immediately feel a sense of familiarity with the family setting in terms of titles used to refer to elders, the type of language used and the type of clothing and ambience that is being displayed. This makes these images of domestic violence all the more horrifying because it allows the audience to normalise instances of abuse within their families and become desensitised to the idea of a woman being abused.

This is not to mention the moral debate that can be had regarding the over exposure of domestic violence in an attempt to garner more views. Depiction of reality is one thing, but the level at which these shows display these horrifying images is unprecedented when compared to other national dramas. Special care is taken to make sure that these sensitive visuals are an important part of the advertisement for these dramas as well. For an audience already overexposed to violence at an individual and national level, this hyperbolic display of domestic violence further perpetuates ideas of patriarchy and misogyny in our society. This in turn adds fire to the already burning issue of female suppression in Pakistan.

In a country where domestic violence is rampant among families from all socio-economic backgrounds, it is pertinent that we use our entertainment mediums to raise awareness in an effective and sensitive way so that we may hope to see a reduction in this crime. Today, we are living in an era of a new wave of social movement with feminism and women empowerment at the forefront of social issues. Pakistan should be proud to boast females such as Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy and Malala Yousafzai and it’s time we shift the narrative and start telling stories like theirs.


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