Prime minister Imran Khan drew flak after he once again blamed a rise in the cases of sexual violence on how women dress in the country.
“If a woman is wearing very few clothes, it will have an impact on the men, unless they are robots. It’s just common sense,” Imran Khan said in an interview with ‘Axios on HBO’. “This is cultural imperialism. Whatever is acceptable in our culture, must be accepted everywhere else. It’s not,” he added.
Imran Khan had previously resisted public pressure to sack CCPO Lahore Umar Sheikh. Sheikh gained public and media attention in September 2020 for his handling of the Sialkot-Lahore Motorway gang-rape case when he criticised the survivor for her choice of traveling route and time. He was defended for his comments by Asad Umar, Federal Minister for Planning, Development and Special Initiatives.
Reema Omer, a legal advisor with the International Commission of Jurists, expressed disappointment after Khan reiterated his stance in victim-blaming in cases of sexual violence.
“Disappointing and frankly sickening to see PM Imran Khan repeat his victim blaming regarding reasons for sexual violence in Pakistan Men are not “robots”, he says. If they see women in skimpy clothes, they will get “tempted” and some will resort to rape,” Omer said.
Actor and entertainer Osama Khalid Butt quoted the PM’s remarks, saying that it only went to show the guilt and indictment of the Pakistani society and not of the women and the victims.
Journalist Benazir Shah added her voice to the sea of condemnations against the PM’s comments, saying that the PTI has focused on fostering tourism in the country but, “wonder how many women will feel comfortable travelling to a country where men are easily “tempted” and are unable to control themselves”.
Activist and academic Ammar Ali Jan harshly criticised the prime minister calling him a “rape apologist” in his tweet.
This is not the first time Imran Khan has blamed women for the rampant sexual violence in the country.
Earlier in April, during a question-and-answer session on live television, the prime minister issued controversial remarks in response to a caller’s question.
When asked if the government is taking steps to address the rise of incidents of sexual violence in the country, Imran Khan condemned crimes against women and children. He followed this, however, by saying such acts are the result of growing fahashi [vulgarity] and indecency due to negative influences from Bollywood, Hollywood, and the west.
He added that such acts can be prevented through purdah [covering up], the Islamically ordained concept of modesty.
The prime minister’s comments soon became the subject of condemnation by humans rights bodies and regular citizens, who were appalled that the premier linked criminal acts like rape and paedophilia to immodest clothing and media. Many pointed out that Imran Khan’s comments were irresponsible and shifted blame from the perpetrators to the victims of such violence.
The prime minister’s former wife, Jemima Goldsmith, reacted to the news in April.
“I’m hoping this is a misquote/mistranslation,” she wrote on Twitter. “The Imran I knew used to say, ‘Put a veil on the man’s eyes, not on the woman.’”
Government’s sexual violence policy
Earlier in December 2020, president Dr Arif Alvi approved the government’s “stringent” and “holistic” Anti-Rape (Investigation and Trial) Ordinance, 2020 on Tuesday, to help expedite cases of sexual abuse against women and children, local media reported.
Moreover, the ordinance maintains that PM is to look over the establishment of anti-rape crisis cells, authorised to conduct medico-legal examinations within six hours of the incident.
The ordinance also includes setting up a sex offenders’ registry at the national level with the help of the National Database & Registration Authority (NADRA). It also prohibits the identification of rape victims and makes it a punishable offence.
Police and government officials who show negligence in investigating the cases would be jailed for three years along with the imposition of fines. Additionally, police and government officials who provide false information would also be punished. Repeat offenders would be chemically castrated under the guidance of a notified board.
Earlier, on November 7, 2020, the Cabinet Committee for Disposal of Legislative Cases approved two ordinances to introduce harsher punishments for sex offenders including chemical castration and setting up special courts for rape cases.
According to a statement issued by the law ministry, the Anti-Rape (Investigation and Trial) Ordinance, 2020 and the Criminal Law (Amendment) Ordinance, 2020 introduced the concept of chemical castration mainly as a “form of rehabilitation”.
However, the law has faced criticism from women’s right activists and gender-related activists.
Other criminal systems of the world have moved away from this exercise and towards a governmentality based model, where the state does not simply punish crimes and expects citizens to be scared enough not to commit the crime, but eliminate the conditions that create criminals. Sarah Belal, who heads the Justice Project Pakistan (JPP), an advocacy group against capital punishment and for prisoner rights commented on the issue saying, “But we like extreme punishments. A spectacle. A lesson for others. An end in itself.” She explained that harsher punishment is a dead-end. What is needed is a better judicial system and access to state protection such as FIRs and women-friendly police.
There are at least 11 rape cases reported in Pakistan every day, according to official statistics. Over 22,000 rape cases were reported to police across the country in the past six years, however, only 77 accused have been convicted, which is 0.3% of the total figure.