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A Dark Christmas on EastEnders: An Episode That Will Shock the Life Out of You!

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The BBC has premiered an 'explosive' EastEnders Christmas trailer online which promises fire, explosions and fights between life and death for Albert Square residents. Nina Wadia, who plays Zainab, has said that the Christmas script "shocked the life out of her".

Over the last year one of the most effective and touching storylines has shown Zainab coming to terms with her past and significantly changing her present through divorce and getting re-married to Yusef, who attempted to kill her years ago in Pakistan as punishment for her affair with Masood.

Yusef, who is dominating and abusive, finally becomes uncontrollable in the Christmas episode. As he carefully plans his revenge, he becomes increasingly violent - physically, verbally and psychologically. Zainab realises the mistake she has made by falling into his trap, divorcing Masood and agreeing to return to Pakistan.

She is abused, beaten and cannot tell anyone, but writes a note to Masood asking for help. Whether Masood will be able to rescue her or not will be revealed as the Christmas plot unfolds.

As Zainab battles to escape the clutches of Yusef, the EastEnders plot explores the idea of a woman being perceived as the object of the husband who owns her and who is responsible for her desire and chastity.

It is no coincidence that EastEnders has picked up on the issue of 'honour' based violence. Recent news reports about women being tortured, abused or killed in the name of 'honour' have brought the problem to media attention.

Earlier this month, a report revealed that UK police recorded at least 2,823 so-called honour attacks last year.

Diana Nammi, from the Iranian and Kurdish Women's Rights Organisation which obtained the figures, said she suspects the real picture is "far darker". She rightly pointed out that victims of these violent acts are not only from Muslim communities - even though the media always seems to think they are.

In a BBC news interview she says that "a violent act is a violent act. A crime is a crime. We need to act equally".

The point that Nammi makes here is an important one because religion or tradition should not be thought of as justification for practices including honour-based violence. Instead, institutional practices must be targeted to think about the reasons behind violent practices.

EastEnders is not afraid to display violent acts on the small screen. The BBC fulfils its public service remit by acting as a support mechanism with the message "If you are affected by Zainab's story on today's episode call BBC Action Line" at the end of each episode.

This idea of television depicting issues of violence against women and providing its audience with support is not unique to the UK. But the way that television functions in different countries is interesting.

In May 2005 Isik Birgul appeared on the television show Woman's Voice in Istanbul after fleeing her abusive husband.

During the live show she talked about her forced marriage and how she was abused by her husband for over 20 years. The station demanded protection for Birgul in her hometown. However, on her return, she was shot dead by her 14-year-old son.

According to press reports, she had previously sought help from police, who directed her to the TV channel. She was the first woman to be killed for appearing on television to voice her concerns.

Sadly it is hard to argue that Turkish TV stations provide women - as audiences and citizens - with a knowledge of help mechanisms such as basic laws and information about the way political systems function.

These programs hardly ever see women's issues as social problems. Instead these problems are individualised and do not go beyond sharing sensational experiences on the small screen.
With its dark Christmas episode and Zainab's moving story I hope that EastEnders will make a difference in the fight against unjustifiable violent acts against women.

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