Few weeks ago, there was a horrific barbaric attack on a woman in Pakistan. The woman was driving from the city of Lahore to Gujranwala with her children when the incident took place. Her car ran out of fuel on a deserted highway and she called for help. While she was waiting, two men allegedly broke the windows as the doors were locked and raped the woman in front of her terrified children. They also stole cash and jewelry from the woman before fleeing the scene. A week later police said they had arrested the two men.
In the immediate aftermath of this horrific incident, Lahore police chief Umar Shaikh said the woman should not have been travelling alone at that time. This remark raised a huge uproar in civil society and many women’s groups came out on the streets demanding safety and justice for women. Shaan Taseer, an advocate for minority and women’s rights living in Toronto says “The police officer’s statement shocked everyone not just because he held the victim responsible but also because he demonstrated no awareness of any responsibility on part of the police to protect the public. This is an abrogation of the state’s social contract”.
According to Madadgaar National Helpline Pakistan is among those countries where 70% women and girls experience physical or sexual violence in their lifetime by their intimate partners and 93% women experience some form of sexual violence in public places in their lifetime.
Although gang rape is rare in Pakistan, sexual harassment and violence against women is frequently reported. Nearly 1,000 women are killed in Pakistan each year in so-called “honor killings” for allegedly violating conservative norms on love and marriage.
Other crimes against women are on the rise. Among them is Human trafficking. In 2018 Trafficking in Persons Report, Pakistan was upgraded in Tier 2 by the U.S. Department of State. This means that the government of Pakistan does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking, but is still making significant efforts to do so.
Not long ago, Pakistani authorities arrested 12 suspects — eight Chinese nationals and four Pakistanis — in a case involving the sex trafficking of young Pakistani women to China. Many had been sent as so-called “brides.” Most of them, some as young as 13, belong to Pakistan’s Christian minority.
Women from minority communities are constantly targeted for forced conversions and underage marriage. Of the 159 cases reported between 2013 and 2019, some 16 girls and young women have gone before the Sindh High Court asking for support against their forced marriages. The most recent case is that of Huma, a 14-year-old Christian girl from Zia Colony in Karachi, Pakistan. Whilst her parents were out, she was abducted from her home and forced to convert and marry a Muslim man.
Adding insult to injury, the abductor has threatened both the parents and their lawyer that he will accuse them with blasphemy if they pursue the case. Huma’s case has been dragging through the courts for months with no solution in sight.
Prime Minister Imran Khan was quoted as saying in an AP report as saying, “such brutality and bestiality cannot be allowed in a civilised society.” He also said that the protection of women is the first priority and responsibility of the government.
The question that arises is how much of the problem can be resolved by the government in a society where men have been brought up with no respect for women?
Violence against women in any form is a kind of ‘extremism’ and the minds of young men have been ‘radicalized’ to think of women as sub-humans. Until that attitude changes, there will be no progress. Sure, the perpetrators are eventually caught and punished but their mindset remains the same – violent misogynist to the core.
This problem is not limited to Pakistan. Violence against women takes place in many parts of South Asia and the Middle East where the laws are weak and where patriarchy and misogyny are instilled into male minds from a young age. In the aftermath of the brutal gang rape of Jyoti Singh, an Indian medical student in Delhi in 2012 (who later died), the rapists were arrested and given a death sentence. One of the convicted rapists, Mukesh Singh, was interviewed for the documentary India’s Daughter. He said in the interview “When being raped, she shouldn’t fight back. She should just be silent and allow the rape.” He later added, “A girl is far more responsible for rape than a boy … A decent girl won’t roam around at nine o’clock at night … Housework and housekeeping is for girls, not roaming in discos and bars at night doing indecent things, wearing indecent clothes.”
The Preventing Violent Extremism (PVE) program was created by Clarion to help reach young men before they are radicalized. There need to be similar educational programs in countries where honor-based violence and rape is common, to educate boys at a young age about how to respect and treat women.
Until this happens, the pattern will repeat itself time and again.