Despite all the barriers and discrimination, women of Pakistan took to the streets and protested to put an end to all forms of discrimination against women, especially sexual violence.
By Barya Shah
Although there isn’t any active process on the part of the government to address the issue, the prevalence of sexual harassment and rape in Pakistan is a known phenomenon. Scores of women and children have been subjected to sexual violence on daily basis at the hands of both known and unknown predators. But the most agonizing part is that perpetrators roam freely without the fear of any kind of punishment or retribution. There are several reasons for the impunity of the perpetrator that is entrenched in both our collective social attitude and the legal system.
The first and foremost reason is the social stigma attached to being raped due to the concept of honor in our society that places women at the center of all the patriarchal notions. That is why the victim in most cases doesn’t speak up. And even if she does either she is not believed or labeled as a shameless woman for talking about rape so openly. Subsequently, people start looking for reasons to put on the victim rather than directly condemning rape and the rapist. The practice of blaming the victim is partly based on the assumption that men don’t have control over themselves and it’s the responsibility of women to stay clear of any situation that puts her in a “vulnerable position”. And partly based on the fact that women have been objectified as sexual beings, which is not specific to Pakistani society.
The recent incident that took place on the Lahore motorway is a stark example of everything stated above and a reminder that women have a long way to go before they get justice at a collective level. The remarks of the people, from law enforcement agencies to the ministers, who are supposed to protect us only added insult to injury. They were constantly blaming the victim for being on the motorway at late hours. This is a highly insensitive reaction on the part of anyone, let alone government representatives. The government response was sternly criticized by feminists and women’s rights activists.
While the motorway incident caused unprecedented outrage among the general masses, two entirely different demands were made by the public. The first demand calls for the public hanging of the rapist, whereas the second one wants structural change that addresses the underlying issues that lead to rape and sexual violence and the fact that why only a gruesome incident such as this awakes our conscience.
However, as they say, there is always light at the end of the tunnel. Despite all the barriers and discrimination, women of Pakistan took to the streets and protested to put an end to all forms of discrimination against women, especially sexual violence. It is important to note here that the people who organized these protests across the country are the same who organized Aurat Marches in different cities. These marches were widely opposed by religious groups and the one in Islamabad was attacked by the members of a religious party. Afterward, the organized faced severe backlash but they are undeterred. This is testimony to the fact that women of Pakistan are fully aware of their rights and prepared to stand up for themselves, rather than asking someone else for help.
Women of Pakistan, at the protest, demanded resignation from the CCPO Lahore and an apology from all those who tried to blame the victim. They called for ensured punishment rather than a brutal public punishment, keeping in view the fact that most of the cases go unreported and a very small number of those reported, are actually punished. Moreover, they demanded freedom from oppressive social norms and discriminative laws. Women of this country demanded that the government address the underlying reason and the mindset through changing their approach towards women’s issues and reforming the criminal justice system. In the process of organizing these protests and marches, women are empowering themselves and giving hope to each other for a better future.
Women of this country have risen; they have spoken up, never to be silenced again!