When the Norwegian patriarchy hit me in the face

Faiza Ashraf called the police and told who kidnapped her. The media didn't believe her.

Norway is the best country to live in. No two opinions on that. And yes i know, we are world-class in gender equality.

People keep telling us that right? And we are brainwashed to not question the notion.

Ignorance is bliss.

The murder of Faiza Ashraf in 2010. This beautiful 26-year-old, brutally murdered last year. She was of Pakistani origin. The community was shell-shocked.

Sadly her murder was due to the patriarchal thought gone too far. A stalker had been harassing her for several years. She hated him, and didn’t want anything to with him. He asked drug addicts on the streets of downtown Oslo to throw acid on her face. (Throwing acid is what some men in Pakistan do, if they are turned down. No woman says no to a man ofcourse, so if she does, she has to be mutilated for life). No one agreed to this horrendous request.

The man, a Pakistani norwegian himself, finally did the unthinkable: he hired a norwegian bodybuilder/small-time criminal to kidnap her. He did, and he murdered her. She was not found for three weeks. But Faiza was a woman of substance.

Faizas will to live, to survive the unthinkable… When she was thrown in the trunk of the car, was courageous. She got herself loose from the handcuffs and managed to call the police from her cellphone. She was on the phone with the police for 45 minutes. She told who she believed was behind the kidnapping, described the Norwegian man who kidnapped her.

She practically solved her own murder. The police hesitated in believing her. Nothing of this sort had ever happened in Norway. It took quite some time before the surveillance of her cellphone was put in place.

Faiza is gone, but what happened to her, and how the media treated her is etched in my memory. I have analyzed the media coverage of her murder, and I am heartbroken. At one in time, while she still was not found, just a couple of days after her cry for help from the trunk of her murderers car, VG wrote a story which was close to character assassination.

Essentially they blamed Faiza. She faked the call. She staged her disappearance. She was actually keen to runaway from her family. She had a secret boyfriend. She was fed up with her controlling parents trying to force her into a marriage. A “close” friend of hers told the police. VG got hold of the police transcripts. The story was front-page news. It was picked up by NTB (the original story was right there, in the Retriever archives, but cant seem to find it anymore. BUT the NTB copyright protected story was published all over. Like this link from Aftenposten), the main news agency in Norway and was plastered all over Norwegian media.

The underlying thought was: a young woman can not have made that call from the trunk. Was she really that sharp and courageous? Her stalker was called “hopelessly in love” with her. Freeing him from all guilt. The poor fellow couldn’t help it. So if Faiza Ashraf was kidnapped/killed/stalked by him, she was to blame herself. Why didn’t she put an end to it earlier? There is a way in which women should behave, so if she is murdered, then she must have done something. So, the media should shred her private life into pieces. She has to fight for her innocence, post-mortem. Unethical and in bad taste.

The underlying patriarchal thought, the blaming of the female victim… it is not something that only happens in the extremely patriarchal society of Pakistan. It happens here to. In the best country to live in. The world champions in gender equality.

My illusion is shattered. It scares me. How the media treats victims who are unable to defend themselves. That fine line between the need to publish, and the duty to be considerate to the victims and her loved ones. It is a two-edged sword. The consequences can be devastating for the victim. The patriarchal discourse in Norwegian media is a disgrace, but it reflects the society. Every 4th woman has been subject to domestic violence in Norway.

Yes, so before we pop the champagne, just take into account, in Norway a woman killed is at risk of being blamed for her murder. Ever so subtly, but there, between the lines…. in a news story in the leading tabloid of the country.


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Elin Ørjasæter
    Jun 03, 2011 @ 06:42:04

    Yes, I remember this days with Faiza Ashraf all over the news every day. I agree with your analysis, there was in the first days and underlying suspicion that she made it all up herself. Even worse was the way her familiy was treated by the press. Her brother, who is a journalist, wrote a very interesting article on this.
    This was a not only about patriarchy but also on how we (etnic norwegians) think differently when some norwegian-pakistani girl disappears, than we would think if it was a ethnic norwegian. This heartbreaking and very sad story has also been a wake-up-call regarding how the press, and we all, do our prejudices. Thank you Shazia.


  2. shazia
    Jun 03, 2011 @ 15:48:45

    Thanks a lof for your comment Elin. I am very disappointed in my journalist twitter-friends who are not able to digest some self-analysis. I believe, as a journalist, it is our duty to analyze and review our work practice and work ethics. Our holier then thou attitude is contra-productive. Media should be accountable. In this case no one has pointed a finger at VG on this specific story. Why do we accept such practices? And why do journalists jump the gun when they themselves are under the microscope?


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