Rape in Pakistan, let’s talk about

Zainab Ansari’s death sparked
fury across the Punjab region after she was raped, strangled and dumped on a
trash heap in Kasur, Pakistan earlier this month. Hundreds of people took to
the streets to demand justice and triggered an overwhelming outrage across the
globe. However, Zainab’s case is not unique. According to Sahil Child
protection group, more than 1,750 cases of similar child abuse were reported
across Pakistan in the first half of 2017, 65% of which took place in Punjab

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Honour, male entitlement, and victim blaming

There is a huge social stigma attached to rape due to the
linkage of women’s chastity with the family’s honour. Myth says if you are an
honourable, chaste woman, you won’t get raped. This linkage plays a significant
role in promoting silence from the victim and their family because they have
brought ‘dishonour’ to the family, and encourages rapists since it removes any
retribution. This deeply flawed concept also accounts for the high number of
honour killings in Pakistan. Amnesty International reports deaths of 512
women and girls, and 156 men and boys in 2016 by relatives on so-called
‘honour’ grounds. Such crimes against women and children in our society are
strongly rooted in patriarchy. We need to break out of this mindset by breaking
the long-established myths.

This linkage of ‘honour’ does  more than promoting silence and encouraging
rapists; it encourages victim-blaming. Upon hearing of a rape case, society
often starts to shift the blame to the victim or her family by questioning her
actions. It should come to no surprise then, that many people on social media
began blaming Zainab’s parents for leaving her alone at home to perform Umrah.

As if rape only takes place when a woman or child is home alone. This
victim-blaming attitude needs to stop because this does nothing more than
justify violence against women and this line of thinking needs to change.

Rape is also a twisted way of pompous
masculinity, a perverted and illegal expression of patriarchy. Our culture
essentially indicates to rapists that they are entitled to be believed and
respected; whereas their victims are not. Mukhtar Mai’s gang-rape case 2002 is
a notable example. Her rape was ordered by the local tribal council to set the
score equal between two families. She took her case to court, however, the
accused men were ultimately acquitted due to ‘insufficient evidence’. Her case
has now become this figure where women have been lying about such crimes which was seen in the Lahore High Court and
Supreme court because the accused were released.


Law enforcement and education

Most of the violent crimes
committed against women and children are strictly prohibited by laws that are
not implemented properly, as well as lack of awareness on addressing the
complaints through a proper channel. The police are generally the gatekeepers
to the criminal justice system and the criminal code of procedure holds that getting
a report or registering a complaint is the fundamental right of a citizen of
Pakistan, following which the police can launch an inquiry into the matter. But
what happens when a victim is turned away because the policeman views a woman admitting
to having been raped shameless? Numerous rape cases are not registered, and if
they are, they are not being investigated accordingly. Freedom can be bought
with money, if the offender holds an important social position in society, they
can easily buy their way out.

More importantly, local informal
councils often take legal matters into their own hands in underprivileged rural
areas. An example of this is the revenge-rape case of July 2017 where a ‘Jirga’
in Multan, considered their representative legal body ordered Mohammad Ashfaq
to rape a 16-year-old to ‘avenge’ the honour of his 12-year-old sister who was
raped by his fellow villager. There are many more similar cases which have not
caught the attention of mainstream media but they exemplify a lack of effective
legal and policing system in the country. Highlighting the plight of Pakistani
women particularly those residing in the rural areas who are trapped between a
‘masculine honour’; entrenched in conservative cultural norms and an ineffective
legal system which fails to protect them.

Rape is a vile assault on a
person, but it is also an extreme example of rape culture. It begins with the
assumption that some one’s body can be touched without consent, and it starts
with subtle sexual harassment which is a gateway for perpetrators. Parents are
reluctant to have conversations about such serious issues with their children,
and so these children grow up in an environment shrouded in silence, shame and
incoherence. Concerned parents need to encourage their children’s schools to
teach students about stereotypes, sex education and to challenge gender roles
that perpetuate male entitlement. Education plays an important in raising
awareness and must go beyond hashtags and Facebook reposts which are not enough
alone to bring justice to victims of rape crimes. Sex education at school has
always been the center of strong criticism by the conservative society and has
been declared contradictory to our cultural and religious values. If
conversations on this topic do not happen, how will our children differentiate
between what is appropriate and inappropriate? A national curriculum must be
devised which educated children about what is an appropriate touch, and what is
not. If they ever face sexual abuse, they should know what to do or who to go
to. It is about time conversations on sexual abuse and harassment take place.


To their credit, the Pakistani
film industry has recently not been shy of breaking many taboos and addressing
difficult social issues. Evidently seen in award-winning drama serials such as
Hum TV’s Udaari which was critically acclaimed for its insensitive handling of
a disturbing subject like child rape, and ARY’s Roag which managed to give the
full impact of this heinous of crimes without lurid details. Yet, the release
of Verna was originally denied by the Central Board of Film censors over
content that was allegedly unsuitable. A film depicts a woman who is raped by a
powerful man and seeks revenge instead of suffering in silence. The ban was sharply
criticized until it was later overturned.

Still considered a shameful
topic, the conservative country regards speaking openly about sexual abuse, as
a taboo, a chapter not to be opened. If we seriously want to prevent predatory sexualized
violence, then we must spend our time finding ways to achieve profound changes.

It is the weak law enforcement, lack of education, and overall social and
cultural barriers such as the deep-rooted patriarchal norms which stop women
and children to report violence perpetrated against them, it fails to protect
them whilst encouraging rapists. If we truly want to tackle rape culture in
Pakistan and other misogynistic practice, the solution lies in a collaborative
effort of improving the judicial system, gender identities that are socially
constructed, changing our mindsets and educating the public.


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