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Byline: Sarwet Rasul and Samina Tabassum


Gender as a construct not only plays an important role in our lives but also in (reporting oJ) our deaths. Thus the presentation of male and female deaths in obituaries also exhibits gender stereo-typecality. In the traditional patriarchal context of Pakistan obituaries that are published in newspapers present men and women differently. The current research aims at exploring how gender is presented in family written obituaries that are published in Pakistani newspapers. For the current study the data is collected from four Pakistani newspapers which include two Pakistani English newspapers name(y The Dawn' and The News' and two Pakistani Urdu newspapers namely The Nawa-e-Waqat' and The Jang'.

The data is taken from the newspapers for a duration of four months that is February to May 2009; and the collected data is analyzed to examine how gender identities are constructed. In order to facilitate the process of data analysis data is categorized under various sections: i) Genderedness of the deceased; ii) Personal and Professional identity of the deceased; iii) Identity of relatives and! or survivors. It is expected that the study will provide insights into how gender identities are constructed and projected in obituaries and how these obituaries reflect certain socio-cultural perspectives on gender.

Keywords: gender construction obituaries Pakistani newspapers

1. Introduction and Background of the Research

Obituaries are death announcements for public that traditionally appear in newspapers since newspapers are considered to be an important part of media and a powerful source of disseminating information to public. Obituaries account for the significance of the life of a deceased biographical sketch family relations as well as short prayers for the deceased. Obituaries help in knowing the family background status and important contributions of the deceased besides the information related to death.

While the newspapers provide us with timely information about funeral and related services the media portrayal and presentation of the deceased has a great social and cultural significance. This portrayal serves various social purposes. Obituaries are a source to pay respect to the departed and to offer condolence to the survivors/ family members.

These constitute an influential way in which people in different societies construct and show their personal relations and concerns for one another. These also provide insights into dominant vs. dominated power relations in a society. Thus the study of projection of gender in these obituaries gathers significance in terms of presentation of identity from personal professional and social standpoints. In this backdrop the current research deals with the presentation of gender identity construction in obituaries through a content analysis of data collected from Pakistani English and Urdu newspapers.

2. Pakistani Context

Society as an institution determines roles responsibilities rules and norms for its individuals. As far as Pakistani society is concerned it is patriarchal in nature. It has traditionally allotted women the responsibilities of domestic affairs while men being earning members of the society hold positions and ranks in public and professional life and enjoy authority. This difference and discrimination is not only in roles and positions they acquire and hold but also the presentation of their individual identities in media. Irshad and Rasul (2004: p.13) discuss that the naming strategies adopted in the newspapers serve to highlight the subordinate role of women in society and further suggest that women are more frequently labeled in their private roles as wives brides and widows while men are depicted in their professional roles.

In this context media has a very important position. In Pakistani society where media serves the purpose of providing information it also reflects society's norms attitudes beliefs and perceptions of the society. Since men have higher positions in the public domain news related to them and their achievements get greater coverage. Women on the other hand not only get less opportunities of participation in public life but also get less coverage for their issues as well as achievements.

3. Aim and Significance of the Research

The research focuses on the analysis of how males and females are presented in obituaries and how their gender identities are constructed. The study also examines how identity sex designation and social status contribute in constructing gender inequality in these obituaries.

Although some researchers have carried out research on obituaries in other cultures the current research is an initiative in the Pakistani context. So whereas it extends gender debate in a new area in our context it is also hoped that it will provide scope for further research in the related areas such as death memorials death of martyrdom etc.

4. Review of the Related Literature

4.1 Gender and Sex

In everyday life sometimes the terms are used interchangeably. However sex is a biological term hence a natural construct and a fixed phenomenon. It is the biological differentiation of individuals categorizing them as males and females. This difference of the individuals is same in all the cultures and societies and is even present in animal kingdom. On the other hand gender is a sociological term and thus a social construct. It is the phenomenon by which the role of individuals is determined within a society. Taylor et al (2005:301) differentiate between the two by stating `Sex refers to biological identity male or female and gender refers to the socially learned expectations and behaviors associated with members of each sex.' Unlike the term sex gender is not a fixed experience; it varies from culture to culture and time to time.

4.2 Gender and Social Inequality

The term gender discrimination refers to the prejudiced belief of the superiority of one gender over the other. The stereotypical allocation of social and economic responsibilities generates the phenomenon of gender injustice. Keeping females away from education and restricting their participation in economic sphere is a main example from most of the patriarchal social setups. They are assigned with traditional roles of rearing children performing household tasks and taking care of domestic matters. In this regard Romaine asserts:

Women have long been denied equality with men as far as educational and employment opportunities are concerned these are not reliable indicators of a woman's status or the status she aspires to. Although the market place establishes the value of men in economic term the only kind of capital a woman can accumulate is symbolic. She can be a "good" housewife a "good" mother a "good" wife and so on with respect to the community's norms and stereotypes for appropriate female behavior. (2003: p.104)

In this social background woman only occupy a limited and restricted place for themselves. They are discouraged in all social spheres. If they are professionally qualified they are not granted permission to exercise their professional expertise. Thus women are deprived of opportunities they deserve and qualify for; whereas men as the dominant members of family remain more popular and more active in public and economic spheres of life.

5. Role of Media in Social Change

Media plays an important role in continuous functioning of social systems. The importance of media in today's world is evident from the fact that it has the power to influence the lives of people in many ways.

It gives real understanding and exposure about right and wrong to public. As Bonvilian claims:

The importance of media in contemporary society is undeniable. Print and electronic sources provide us with nearly continual news information and enter-tainment. Their ubiquity and our reliance on them help produce and disseminate particular construction of reality. Because the mass media often promulgate views consistent with prevailing beliefs they participate in the maintenance of social system. (2000: p.1383)

Media determines how people perceive social norms values and morals. It has a tremendous power to shape the opinions and the perceptions of people worldwide because of its quick access to masses. Its ability to influence society and functioning of life is far reaching. Friedlander et al illustrate the importance of media as follows:

Media not only report the news to the community and interpret the meaning of the news but they also transmit information about the society itself-its history social unit its mistakes and success its norms and values. By providing cultural guidelines media can help teach the citizens of a society how to live how to act and what is expected by them. (1994: p.59)

6. Gender Representation in Media and Stereotypes

Media plays an important role both in shaping and reflecting gender roles and stereotypes. Media portrayal of men and women can have a tremendous impact on culture and gender ideals in a society. Carolyn et al (2006) have identified that the way women are represented in news media send important messages to viewing listening and reading publics about women's place roles and their lives. Presentations of women across all media tend to highlight them as physically beautiful and emotional. Their roles and news are presented through family relationships. Media portrays them within narrow conventions opposed to intellect and freedom. Women are often represented as being part of a context like family and working or thinking as part of a team etc. They get their traditional roles as a part of identification first and their professional careers later.

McKay (1997) asserts that Media presents women in peripheral roles; it trivializes their accomplishment and presents them as sex objects. They are integral part of advertisements such as commercials of tea soap washing powder cooking oil beauty creams etc. Whereas men appear in advertisements related to sports banking business etc. which promotes the stereotype that men are more capable of holding the positions of power.

7. Obituaries and Death Notices in Newspapers

When it comes to newspapers "they are an extensive and a cheap resource of spreading messages and interlinking the sender(s) and the receiver(s) of a message" (Rasul 2012: p.27). Death announcements are a part of every culture; and death messages in newspapers are part of death rituals. As Hebenstein and Lamers (1963) sited by Eid (2002) state:

Obituaries are part of death ceremonies. They not only announce the event but also serve to publicize it through the wide circulation offered by newspapers. The religious aspects of ceremonies are believed in most cultures to help the departed on his or her journey through various rituals which often require the participation of family and friends. (c.75 76)

Newspaper obituaries provide the service of death announcements and make possible the participation of family and friends in the funeral ceremony which is considered as a religious obligation especially in Muslim culture. These are a reflection of our attitude towards death and the deceased ones and also a means of strengthening social relationships.

8. Gender Representation and Identity Issues in Obituaries in Newspapers

The type of information death messages include is shared in all cultures.

However there is a variation in the way a deceased and his/her family are represented and identified in a culture. The space that deceased men and women occupy in newspapers varies. Generally female death messages get less importance and access to newspapers. `Women have been denied equal access to this public domain' says Eid (2002 p.15).

If men and women face inequalities and injustices in their life the process does not end with life as they also face inequalities in their death presentations. Eid states `women in the obituary world are constructed in ways similar to those in the world outside. Women are less visible than men in both worlds' (2002 p.258).

More women are presented through relational identity of males. The messages appear with a lot of information about other things but not about HER. They are rarely identified with names titles and occupations. Women are presented without their names whereas male members are mentioned not only with their names but also with their occupations and achievements. Men not only occupy enough space and proud presentation in their death messages but they also receive a reasonable space and importance in death messages of their women.

As Eid (2002) argues the achievements of male members of her family are celebrated with pride in her notice of death. The reasons for this presentation include her weak position lack of education less participation in public and earning circle in society etc. Secondary roles less space and dependence in living world gives women little space and inequality in the journey towards the other world as they die.

9. Sample of the Research

Death announcements published in newspapers are of two types: Staff Written death notices and family written obituaries. Staff written death notices are published by newspapers free of charge just as a courtesy of the newspaper giving the name of the deceased person date of death and brief information about where the services will be held. Thus staff written death notices have brief subject matter. In comparison to these death notices one also finds in the newspapers obituaries that are death announcements made by the survivors of the deceased; and that are more detailed in terms of the provision of biographical information.

As far as the sample for the current research is concerned only the obituaries published by the survivors of the deceased are taken as a sample; thus staff written notices are not included. In total thirty seven obituaries are selected for analysis. These obituaries include death messages and condolence notices by the survivors/ family members.

The data has been collected from four Pakistani newspapers which include two Pakistani English newspapers namely `The Dawn' and `The News' and two Pakistani Urdu newspapers namely `The Nawa-e-Waqat' and `The fang'. The data is taken from the newspapers of four months that is February to May 2009.

10. Categorization of Data

In order to facilitate the process of data analysis data is categorized under the following three sections:

1. Genderedness of the deceased

2. Personal and Professional identity of the deceased (Name Title Profession Identification through relatives or kinship terms)

3. Identity of relatives and! or survivors (Name Title Profession Relation of the survivor)

11. Presentation and Analysis of Data

Data is presented and analyzed section- wise.

11.1 Genderedness of Obituaries

The main purpose of this section is quantification of the data in terms of gender identity. It is explored what are the differences in number of male and female obituaries as they appear in the selected newspapers. In the data total thirty seven obituaries are reported in both the English and the Urdu newspapers during a period of four months that is February to May 2009. Among these twenty eight are of males and nine are of females. Within these obituaries a further classification can be observed in terms of death notices and condolence messages by the survivors! relatives. When it comes to quantification only a smaller number of females get place for the announcement of their final event in these newspapers. See the following table for a detailed tabulation of data from these perspectives:

Table:1 Quantification of Genderedness in Obituaries Appeared in the English and the Urdu Newspapers

Gender###Type of###English Newspapers###Urdu newspapers###Total

###Obituary###The###The###The Jang The Nawa-e-






Total###15###7###4###2###(Total) 28





Total###2###5###2###-###(Total) 9

As the table shows this quantification can be further examined by comparing the data of the Urdu and the English death and condolence messages in Urdu and English newspapers respectively. Very few death notices appeared in Urdu newspapers as compared to English newspapers.

11.2 Personal and Professional Identity of the Deceased

This section deals with the data of the deceased with reference to personal and professional identity of the deceased such as name title profession and identification of the deceased through relatives or kinship terms. There are significant differences in the presentation of personal and professional identities of males and females. For instance see how male gendered identity is constructed through references to the profession of the deceased as a part of the name such as:

- Col. Retd. S. Maqbul Ilahi (Dervesh) (The News Feb. 4 2009.p.4)'

- Maj. (Retd.) M. Yahya Hamid Khan (6 Punjab Regmt.) Administrator Progressive Public School (The Dawn Feb. 20 2009.p. 5)


It can be noticed that the professional identity of the deceased male is such an integral part of the personal identity that if there are two professional identities both are mentioned as a part of the name! introduction to the deceased male. Same kind of gender presentation of males has been observed in Pakistani Urdu newspapers when it comes to obituaries. For example:

Whereas it is found in the data of the current research that obituaries of all males introduce them with the basic identity of their names in contrast it is noticed that this basic identity is not maintained in the cases of females. Especially in Urdu newspaper obituaries females are represented with a dependent identity of their male relatives which mirrors the patriarchal cultural context where introducing females with their names is not considered appropriate. This loss of identity keeps females invisible even in their death presentations. There are frequent examples in the data where a female is presented with reference to the personal and professional identity of some male member of her family mostly the husband.

See for instance:

- Begum Qamar Matin Siddiqui W/o Late Surjeon Dr. M.A. Matin Siddiqui (The News March 5 2009.p.3)

- Mrs. Mubashar Mahboob widow of (late) Khwaja Hasan Professor (retired) of English Lahore College for Women (iZ N zei May 12 2009. P.5)

- Mrs. Sabiha Ahsan Rauf widow of Major Ahsan Rauf Sheikh(The Feb. 16 2009.p.4)

- Yasmeen Shariff Wife of Brig. (Retd.) Iqbal ur Rehman Shariff former MD Nespak (The News May 11 2009. P.3)

Here the choice of `widow' in the first and second examples is interesting as in each case the male whose personal and professional identity is used to create the identity of the deceased female has already deceased.

As far as titles and professions are concerned they indicate the qualities and achievements of individuals. Choice of titles to present an individual in an obituary reflects upon gender perspectives in a society. Death messages of very few working female deceased are found in the data of newspaper which also indicates the weak position of in the Pakistani society and their less participation in the public and social circle. As Eid (2002) refers to the same factor `women are invisible in both the worlds'. For males a lot of choices and variations in titles are noticed.

They are introduced with professional and social titles frequently. Like Major Doctor Justice etc. Sometimes titles denoting caste such as Raja Chaudhary etc. are also used which show that the caste system is still very valid and is considered as a mark of identity and pride. For example social title Chaudhary appears as a part of identification. Being part of the identification such titles are also an indication of the status of the deceased. On the contrary females have got only social title in relation to their husbands such as Begum Mrs. Widow etc. as a part of their identification.

Choice of all these identification markers reflects the gender perspectives of the society. Undercurrents of the issues of power and powerlessness independence and dependence superiority and inferiority dominance and submission can be visibly noticed as they are being addressed through the projection of personal and professional identity of males and females. However it would not be out of interest to mention here that sometimes in the projection of personal and professional identities of deceased references to another person from the same gender are made which show social! political! cultural power setups. For instance in the following example personal and professional identity of another male is used to create the identity of a deceased male:

- Ex-MNA Pakistan Peoples Party Managing Director Pakistan Bait-ul-Mal Zamurad Khan's brother in Law Chaudhry Iftikhar Ahmad (The News March 21 2009.pA.)

In the same way the same news appeared in a Pakistani Urdu newspaper as:

When it comes to gender two interesting exceptions have been found in the data. In one instance a female's death was announced but no reference to a relation has used:

- Begum Hameeda Akhtar Husain Raipuri (The Dawn April 21 2009 p.5)

The other obituary announced the death of:

- Sultan Zaman Khan son of Attaullah and Zainab Khan and husband of Pan Begum (The Dawn April 4 2009. p.l8)

In this instance one can notice that while announcing the death of a male to establish his identity not only the reference to a male family member is made but also references to two females are used as identity markers. The use of female references (the mother and the wife of the deceased) as identity markers is not a common practice in the patriarchal socio-cultural context of Pakistan.

11.3 Relatives' or Survivors' Presentation

This section deals with the projection of identity of the relatives and! or survivors of the deceased in the obituaries. In the Pakistani context references to the identities of relatives are not only made to introduce the deceased in the obituary (as already analyzed in section 2) but also in the obituary a number of relatives! survivors are mentioned who take the opportunity to express their grief on the demise of the deceased or offer condolences. As per practice a space in the obituaries is allotted to the relatives! survivors in the same way as they have a shared place in the life with their expired member. In this section it is explored how the names titles professions and relations of the survivors are used to exhibit power dimensions in the social setup; and what implications these choices have in terms of gender.

One hundred and twenty nine male survivors have been mentioned as compared to seventy eight females in the data of the current research. Again while the survivors and! or relatives are mentioned as mourners their social status and professional ranks are mentioned for identification. Among these all male relatives have appeared with their names while sixty five females out of seventy eight have their names mentioned. Titles and professions are frequently used for male relatives while very few females are introduced with titles and professions. It is interesting that in the obituaries found in the English newspapers female survivors or family members are frequently mentioned as the grieved along with men. On the other hand in the Urdu newspapers there is only one news in which a female is mentioned as a grieved family member and even her name is not used as her personal identity rather the name of her husband has been used for her by adding the mode of address `begum' to it.

12. Conclusion

Quantification of the findings of the research suggests that overall frequency of publication of the obituaries in the Pakistani English newspapers is greater than the Pakistani Urdu newspapers. The bituaries are not only announcements of death and a source to offer condolence but these are a source of promoting identity and getting publicity for reasons of achievement status authority and social recognition etc.

In general English in Pakistan is the language of the upper class. The readership of English newspapers also belongs to the upper class. It is the upper class that feels the need to make death announcements more so they choose the English newspapers for this purpose finding them more relevant to the target readership. On the other hand Urdu newspapers are commonly representatives of middle class resultantly the number of obituaries found is lesser. Since family written obituaries are paid only those families acquire place for their deceased in these newspapers that are financially affluent. Findings of the research also indicate that obituaries for females are lesser in number as compared to the obituaries for males in English as well as Urdu newspapers.

This reflects upon the social setup of Pakistan where promoting identity with reference to achievement status authority and social recognition etc. is less relevant for females. Consequently most of the times need is not felt to announce the death of female for a larger public while males with rank and position bear recognition in a broad social circle so their death incident achieves greater consideration.

To conclude it can be said that the findings of the current research provide insights into multi-dimensional aspects of gender stereotyping in Pakistani newspapers. The analysis and discussion of the selected data throws light on different aspects of the obituaries representing these as transmitters of social values and norms particularly with reference to gender representation. They mirror and reflect a social reality through the presentation of the deceased and their relatives and simultaneously play a role in creating and determining the culture by influencing people.


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Publication:Kashmir Journal of Language Research
Article Type:Obituary
Geographic Code:9PAKI
Date:Dec 31, 2013

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