(Please note, this article contains reference to sensitive topics)
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 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 alone. Khadeeja Iqbal addresses this growing trend and explains why conversations surrounding rape in Pakistan must happen.
There is a huge social stigma attached to rape due to the linkage of women’s chastity with the family’s honour. Myth states that 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 shifts 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.’
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. A notable example can be seen throguh Mukhtar Mai’s gang-rape case 2002. 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 an example of one where accused men are released because it is believed the women making the claims are lying about such crimes, thus demonstrating how women continue to suffer through the legal systems in Pakistan.
But what happens when a victim is turned away because the policeman views a woman admitting to having been raped shameless?
Most of the violent crimes committed against women and children are strictly prohibited by laws that are not implemented properly, as well as a lack of awareness on addressing the complaints through proper channels. The police are generally the gatekeepers to the criminal justice system and the criminal code of procedure states that filing 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. Many similar cases have not caught the attention of mainstream media but they exemplify a lack of effective legal and policing system in the country and highlight the plight of Pakistani women – particularly those residing in rural areas who are trapped between a ‘masculine honour’; entrenched in conservative cultural norms and an ineffective legal system which fails to protect them.
‘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.’
Rape is a vile assault on a person, but it is also an extreme example of rape culture. It begins with the assumption that someone’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 they 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.
‘Facebook shares alone are not enough to bring justice to victims of rape crimes.’
Education plays an important role in raising awareness and must go beyond hashtags and Facebook shares alone are not enough to bring justice to victims of rape crimes. Sex education at school has always been the centre 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.
The Pakistani film industry has played a significant role in unapologetially 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 provided a powerful yet sensitive insight into the impact of this heinous of crimes without lurid details.
‘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.’
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.
Khadeeja is a BA Economic and Politics student and a Director at The Pakistani Foundation. Her interests lie in Human Rights Law and the socio-political issues surrounding the South Asian region. She aims to complete her GDL next year.