Debunking the ‘Safest Country’ Myth - by Rafiq Azad Mangi

Prime Minister Imran Khan is, yet again, in spotlights owing to his stance on raging sexual violence in Pakistan.


In a recent interview with an American TV, when asked about his previous stance on rampant sexual violence in Pakistan, which was largely perceived in the context of victim-blaming by many activists, he said that his comments were ‘deliberately’ taken out of context and that he’ll never stoop so low to hold the victim responsible for the heinous act of rape she was subjected to. He then went on to say that whatever outfit women wear, it is the rapist who is to be blamed. However, while these words clear the ambiguity surrounding his approach towards raging sexual violence in the country, what he said next, is again unreasonable.


He, in the next sigh, claimed that women in Pakistan are respected more than in any part of the world, notwithstanding unrestrained femicide in the country he leads, the rhetoric he and his ministers keeps reiterating in pressers and TV talk shows. However, statistics suggest otherwise.


In just a few weeks, there have been dozens of incidents where women have either been murdered, raped, killed, assaulted, abused, or humiliated. In a recent session of the Senate standing committee on Human Rights, Chairman Senator Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar shared that between 2011 and 2017, a total of 51,000 incidents of violence against women took place in Pakistan. Ostensibly, these figures speak volumes about the vulnerable condition of women in Pakistan but, what is more to it is that these are just a number of cases that are reported, extensive cases of violence against women don’t enjoy the luxury of being reported owing to cultural stigma attached to them, for merely speaking out against violence might bring disrepute to some families. In some cases, as a result of a dispute and subsequent reconciliation and compromise, it is a woman that receives the burnt of it as she’s forcibly engaged or handed over to the other disgruntled party to put an end to the dispute and to compensate for the mistake she did not commit.


Moreover, Global Gender Index does not lay any substance to the claims to what the Prime Minister said either. In the Global Gender Gap Index Report - 2021 published by the World Economic Forum, Pakistan has managed to find its place in the lowest quartile; 152th out of 156 countries in economic participation and opportunity, 144th in health and survival, and 98 in political empowerment.


The report has contended that the progress has been stagnant in these domains - now for years, and estimated that it’ll take a period of 136.5 years to close this yawning gap. Many other economic, social, political, humanitarian, religious, and gender-based international measuring indicators can be cited that underpin the worsening treatment of women in the deeply patriarchal and misogynistic society of Pakistan but, as usual, it will be in vain as they only fall on deaf ears.


The fact of the matter is that our rulers have never reckoned violence against women as a real predicament and social evil despite the inhumane treatment meted out to them. Instead, they’ve always resorted to the so-called ‘cultural and religious respect and dignity that women enjoy here which too, is nothing but a sodding excuse to justify depriving women of freedoms and rights, their treatment as a property rather than human, and confinement inside the premises of homes. These crass restrictions and abuses of individual rights have been so normalized in our society that they are no longer felt as such. But for how long will we keep justifying the barbarity suffered by the women in our country?


Women in Pakistan deserve far better than what they are provided. We have beaming and flamboyant instances of what women can single-handedly surmount, if given opportunity, in the shape of Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto who stood undeterred in her fight against dictatorship, the youngest Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai who remained unshakeable for girls’ education in the darkest reign under the obscurantist Taliban, Asma Jahangir who defended the principles of democracy and women rights vociferously amidst heavily male-dominated domain of the judiciary, and the list goes on and on.


What we need to do is to accept the sour reality that we have failed our women as a society, which might not come easy as the custodians of patriarchy loom in every nook and cranny, but we can at least start with speedy trials of rape cases and prosecution of perpetrators to restore hope among victims.

Although Prime Minister Imran Khan has rightly acknowledged that sexual violence is, indeed, increasing in Pakistan, mere acknowledgement does not stop a perpetrator from preying on their next target. Even while writing this, a woman somewhere is getting raped, assaulted, or humiliated while those at the helm are celebrating electoral victories. Perhaps, when the government is done trumpeting their electoral triumph over opponents, only then will they be able to hear the cries of molested women, waiting to be heard.


Cover credits: Modern Diplomacy


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