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Women’s Protection: Call for declaring Sexual Terrorism Emergency

Women’s Protection: Call for declaring Sexual Terrorism Emergency

It is to be kept in mind that sexual violence is an under-reported crime given the social stigma and fear of backlash associated with it in Pakistan and elsewhere.

By Nazeer Ahmed Arijo

The Minar-e-Pakistan incident on the Independence Day has not only brought national embarrassment but also reaffirmed the reality that society is full of sexual predators and their supporters. Man has crossed all limits when it comes to unleashing sexual atrocities, while the state watches on. This 400-1 have questioned the credibility of our collective morality, training, cultural attitudes, social and democratic norms, constitutional commitments, religious beliefs and education etc. The psychological, social and practical baggage emanating from sexual assault is immense. But the victim of the Minar-e-Pakistan assault is just the latest to be left helpless.

Recently, in Thatta, a dead body of a 14-year old girl was dug up, taken to bushes and raped. After committing shameful act with the lifeless body, it was thrown into a filed. In Ahmedpur Khairpur Mir’s district of Sindh, a fourteen year old girl was kidnapped and allegedly raped by an influential money-lender following former’s father’s failure to pay the circular interest on borrowed money. Again this August, a 14 -year girl was raped at gun point in Khazan on the outskirts of Peshawar. In June, an elderly woman was held hostage at gun point and subjected to torture and sexual assault by influential people in Muzaffargarh to avenge her son’s love marriage. The fifty year-old lady‘s clothes reportedly were torn down, and she was dragged and her half-naked body burned with cigarette butts by the perpetrators. Instances such as over four hundred harassers holding a TikTok star hostage for hours in the heart of Lahore; and predators raping women and children at a gun point are nothing but a case of sexual terrorism.

On the heels of a TikToker tragedy, some women celebrities have initiated a hashtag “Yes, all men after a woman”. When four hundred are complicit in a crime committed against helpless girl; whether one likes it or not, those women are justified to paint all with the same brush. After all, the system has failed tp protect women and children. For this reason, they both are bearing the brunt of domestic violence, sexual harassment, and of growing culture of rape in this country.

According to Women’s Studies Professor Shahla Haeri, rape in Pakistan is “often institutionalized and had the tacit and at times the explicit approval of the state.”

An important question that arises is: Where were the law and law-enforcement agencies when hell had broken in a park -that too on Independence Day when LEAs are supposed to be Ultra alert? Where were the Park employees? Had they called police? Or they had merged into a mob. Once the Greater Iqbal Park groping video went viral, in a face saving move, Punjab Police swiftly registered FIR against 400 men. Given both ineffective investigation and poor prosecution thanks to corrupt practices, it is premature to conclude whether or not the heads will roll .The victim has meaningfully conveyed her concern that enough is enough. Let others not be allowed to be subjected to such a horrendous happening.

It has to be acknowledged that recurring cases of both sexual harassment and rape in the country bring in its wake widespread public anger. However, such public reaction has failed to put decisive pressure on the state to put brakes on sexual crimes committed against women. Because, we have adopted a reactive strategy hence the demand of public hanging or full-fry of perpetrators of crime is in question. This angst actually fades faster than imagined. After some time, we forget the issue; media switches over to other issues of the day; the writers do the same. Thus, our collective failure to follow cases of crime in question until they reach the logical end, gives space to the criminals to get away with crimes done- not to mention with the help of legal loopholes and institutional incompetence.

Under such circumstances, we have reached a stage whereupon all are convinced that women are not safe.

It is to be kept in mind that sexual violence is an under-reported crime given the social stigma and fear of backlash associated with it in Pakistan and elsewhere. According to the data made available by the Aurat Foundation, 2,297 cases of violence against women were reported in the four provinces of Pakistan, as well as Gilgit Balistan, last year. These include murder, kidnapping, rape, gang rape, honor killing, and domestic abuse. Fifty seven percent of the cases were reported from Punjab.

There are at least 10 rape cases reported in Pakistan every day with over 22,000 rape cases reported to police across the country in the last six years out of which 85% reported in Punjab, according to statistics made available by Wikipedia. Thus it has emerged that Punjab is the epicenter of sexual crimes. Reportedly, “Upto 72 of women in custody in Pakistan are physically or sexually abused”. It is to be noted that sexual activity with the captives and their physical abuse is tantamount to war crimes.

In 2016, the National Assembly after having passed a legislation i.e. punitive measures, made it mandatory that rapists must be imprisoned for 25 years and those who commit honor killings of women, as an attempt to fix a loophole that allowed many of the culprits go scot-free. Despite this constitutional commitment, the crimes of sexual harassment and rape have seen surge in recent months. And cases of honor killings continue to be in the domain of feudal lords presiding over violent verdicts – settled through extra judicial forum called ’jirga’. The sexual harassment of Aisha Ikram by hundreds of men in Minar-e -Pakistan that caused national embarrassment is neither the first one, nor would it be the last due to a network of disadvantages at play undermining much needed resolution to weed out sexual violence- an acknowledged societal tool to persecute those overstepping the confines prioritized by patriarchy. We need to look beyond just legislation to fix the problem being discussed. The society and those at the helm of country’s affairs need to look at narrow-minded cultural and social norms that have fueled sexual violence. Mob molestation of a girl at Minar-e- Pakistan has shocked even as the loud misogynist like the playwright Khalilur Rehman Qamar, who now concedes that feminists were ‘right’ and women in Pakistan are indeed mistreated in public spaces. Whereas PTI senator Nauman Wazir Khattak, in a recent television talk show said” We cannot go against the rules of modesty mentioned in the Sharia. I don’t know how this girl was dressed when this incident took place…” He seems to have taken a page from the PTI chief Imran Khan’s book of rape apologia, having said that fabrics worn by females have a direct impact on sexual violence. And, there is no denying the fact that such mindset is not only in plenty but also finding its fuel in our society. For these under-developed minds, the words of Justice Mansoor Ali Shah should be an eye-opener, “A woman, whatever her sexual character or reputation may be, is entitled to equal protection of law. No one has the license to invade her person or violate her privacy on the ground of her alleged immoral character.”

However, one is dismayed that global political spectrum and national institutions have done little to address the issue of sexual violence. Consequently, domestic violence, workplace sexual harassment and rape are reported from the world over. According to the British survey, published in a report by the-all party parliamentary group (APPG) for UN Women, 71 percent of women of any age said they had experienced sexual harassment in public spaces.

South Africa has highest rape cases. And the United States of America, lecturing the world on democracy, democratic principles, human rights and equality, is a country in which 97 percent rapists go unpunished.

United Nations statistical report gathered from government sources showed that more than 250,000 cases of rape or attempted rape were reported by police annually. The gathered data covered 65 countries only. Rationalizing of rape with a woman’s dress, blaming the victims, and negative notions nurtured against women, in the minds of men, had resulted in sexual terrorism.

Women’s struggle against sexual crimes will not end until the mindset that sees a woman’s body as a public property in public spaces and its subsequent societal support is changed in Pakistan. While establishing true gender equality would require time, right now it is pertinent that the state declares a sexual terrorism emergency to protect its women.

[author title=”Nazeer Ahmed Arijo” image=”https://sindhcourier.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/08/Nazeer-Ahmed-Arijo-Sindh-Courier.jpg”]Nazeer Ahmed Arijo is an educationist and a freelance contributor. He can be reached at email: nazeerarijo@gmail.com[/author]