People protesting in Karachi against a gang rape that occurred along a highway to condemn violence against women and girls on September 12, 2020. PHOTO: REUTERS

No country for women

Women’s safety is not the priority in this country and that is the bitter truth we are forced to accept.

Purniya Awan February 07, 2023

As if the country’s current economic status wasn’t enough to shake up everyone’s reality, not to mention the recent set of security threats and bomb blasts across different parts of Pakistan, the increasing incidents and cases of violence against women in the past few days has yet again made stepping out of the house, for women, a life-threatening task – whether that’s for leisure or for work purposes.

As the news of the two horrid rape cases which happened on the same day has been spreading like wildfire on social media, a strong sense of insecurity and fear has settled amongst the women of this country, yet again. We have not yet gotten over what happened to our sisters, Zainab, Noor, Khadija, and countless others whose names we don’t know. Yet, we are again reminded of the dreadful things we can become victims of at any given moment, simply as a result of our existence in this country as women.

Islamabad, which is portrayed as one of the safest cities of this country has proved again just how false that portrayal is. How can we forget what happened to Noor Mukadam?

On February 5th, a woman at F-9 Park in Islamabad was gang-raped while being held on gunpoint. The perpetrators physically assaulted the girl and her friend, threatened them with weapons and caught them while they tried to run away. Before leaving and after they had done the awful deed, these monsters gave the girl Rs1000 (to get home with and keep mum about the incident), “suggested” that women should not leave the house after sunset, and raised a series of questions regarding her relationship with her male friend.

A day before, on February 4th, another heinous rape crime was committed by a bus guard who raped an 18-year-old bus hostess at gunpoint in a moving bus which was travelling from Mailsi to Vehari with no passengers in the vehicle. The victim was then taken to a hospital in critical condition.

This reminds us of the gruesome Nirbhaya bus gang rape case in Dehli in 2012, which caused serious uproar globally, including in Pakistan. It led to dedicated protests all over the world, and ultimately pressurised the Delhi police to solve the case and arrest the culprits within days (though their justice system is just as weak as ours), but we seldom see that reaction now when it comes to rape cases. At best, there is a slight uproar on social media until the buzz dies down and the next news item is trending. It seems, perhaps, that we have, to some extent, become immune to such cases. Is it because they happen so frequently that we have, at some level, accepted them as part of society’s flaws while we move on with our lives?

Both these cases make it crystal clear that there is no place for women in this country. It doesn’t matter, whatsoever, what a woman does – whether she is at work or whether she is out to enjoy a few moments with her friends; it doesn’t matter whether she is out during the day or after sunset. Women are not safe outside their homes; neither are they safe inside their homes. What is it about women choosing to do what they want with their lives that is so threatening to men? What is it about their existence in general that makes men think they can do with them as they please?

At the end of the day, regardless of the situation may be, when it comes to harassment, there is always a blatant blame that is thrown onto the woman, it is HER shame, respect, and reputation that is always questioned, and never of the man or men who are the real monsters, degenerates and shameful beings. It is exhausting to constantly have to preserve one's “honour” even though we know we are doing nothing wrong. It’s been proven time and time again that nothing a woman does or wears is ever the cause of the violence she faces, it’s always about patriarchy’s notion of masculine control that drives this thought process and which, in fact, allows this kind of behaviour. In Pakistan, where a man always takes precedence over a woman, this is hardly anything new, but that certainly does not mean that it is okay.

I’ve noticed how when news is posted about these incidents, women share it around questioning the bleak state of affairs, primarily because they’re afraid they may be met with the same fate. Men, on the other hand, aren’t as disgusted, furious or scared because practically speaking they will never be able to relate to the anxiety and terror felt by women when they read such news. On the contrary, they will carry on with their daily tasks as if nothing has happened; they’ll go about their day walking on the streets, harassing or cat-calling women, taking up public spaces, taking over the domestic sphere as the sole decision-makers over issues pertaining to literally everything. Their lives are seldom affected and their actions seldom require a second thought because they know they will be let off the hook, almost always.

There is not much to be expected of our judicial system because the very foundation of it, from top to bottom, is supported by men and in return it continues to support men. There is no hope, no matter how many women are raped, no matter how times we stand up to protest and cry, or how loudly we scream, things don't seem to be getting better. There will never be enough security in this country to protect its women from monstrous men, and no new anti-rape bills and legislation will ever be enough to bring the perpetrators to justice. Women’s safety is not the priority in this country and that is the bitter truth we must accept.

What is deserving of utmost respect and applause is the courage shown by the victim of the F-9 Park incident. Despite her ghastly experience, she has shown strength and bravery in reporting the case to the police and relevant authorities. Evidently, staying silent is not an option anymore.

Apparently, an investigation has been initiated but I don’t have high hopes this time either as we have all been witness to the incompetence of the state regarding what happened in the previously reported rape cases. To add fuel to the fire and prove its incompetence, the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) has issued a notice to television channels to not cover this story because they think the identity of the victim is being compromised in this way. However, a better way to deal with this, instead of brushing their uselessness under the rug, would have been to ask the TV channels simply not to disclose the name of the victim.

I say this now, like I have said multiple times before, unless perpetrators are not dealt with swiftly, arrested, punished publicly and held accountable, there is no way an example can be set for these deranged people. There seems to be a resurgence of all sorts of crimes and it only makes things worse, as always, for people belonging to minority groups, regardless of what kind of intersectional identities they possess. As a Sunni Muslim woman, I cannot even begin to imagine the threat women belonging to different faiths and sects face on a regular basis, and that is truly terrifying. It’s time to accept that whereas everyone is vulnerable right now, for women it’s always worse.

Purniya Awan

The writer is a Gender, Sexuality and Women's Studies graduate from York University. She has been nominated as a Global Shaper of the World Economic Forum, is a Founding Member of a Pakistani legal blog, Courting The Law, and is also the Co-Founder of The Gender Stories (TGS). She identifies as a feminist, and is currently working in Pakistan as the Head of Communications at MINT PR. She tweets @purniyaA.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.


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