Rape is a state of mind, not a women-driven activity

PM says in an unequivocal term that a woman invites rape when she wears immodest clothes


Durdana Najam June 24, 2021
The writer is a public policy analyst based in Lahore. She tweets @durdananajam

Three equally important events happened in the last week. All the events demanded the condemnation of equal proportion considering the sanctity they violated of the places of occurrence and individuals. However, that was not how the reaction was received. The first event, chronologically speaking, of sexual abuse of a madrassa student by his teacher, the video of which went viral on social media, drew severe criticism from the liberals. Though the conservatives issued a number of stern statements, it did not match the concern shown in the liberal camp. For the conservatives, it was the second event — a dozen bottles of alcohol recovered on the gates of Punjab University from someone trying to carry it into the campus — that took them aback. Especially for the Jamaat-e-Islami, it was doomsday.

With its tentacles of morality entrenched in the university, it is usually the Jamaat’s call to decide what can and what cannot enter the campus of Pakistan’s oldest university. If it suits the party, even a volley of weapons recovered from the boy’s hostels receives little or no whimper. The Jamaat boys have been reported for maltreating teachers. The university has been deserted of an inclusive and democratic culture long after Ziaul Haq introduced moral policing to garner the religious parties’ support to last his dictatorial rule that spanned more than a decade.

At the time when the nation was consumed with the nauseating incident of forced sodomy in a madrassa on which the Punjab police was initially indecisive as to go ahead with the arrest of the so-called mufti or to let the amber die naturally in the woes of cries as time lapses, Prime Minister Imran Khan opened another festering wound. On the question of rising incidents of rape in Pakistan, in his interview with an international media outlet, the PM replied in an unequivocal term that a woman invites rape when she wears immodest clothes. He exonerated men for wearing their sexual instinct on their sleeves with a simple remark that man finds difficult to resist a woman not dressed fully. This is not the first time Imran Khan, as the prime minister, has blamed women for enticing men with improper dressing leading to rape.

One wonders how the PM justifies the act of acid throwing on girls who suffer the attack either because they reject the acid thrower as potential husbands or mere friends.

How does he justify the rape of a two-month-old child? Most of the rape cases reported in Pakistan are of young girls. Even women as old as 80 years were sexually harassed and raped.

How does the premier justify the sexual harassment of women at the workplace? There are unending stories, some reported, while thousands lying buried in the hearts of women who could not speak up, either for fear of losing jobs because they have a family to feed or a child to bring up, or because they dreaded a truncated career when they had barely started the journey.

Is the prime minister saying that a woman is harassed at the workplace because she is immodestly dressed? Or is he saying that men are allowed to become beasts on seeing an unclad woman? Alternatively, worse, is him saying that since women do not behave themselves at the workplace, therefore we have a rising number of cases of sexual harassment in organisations. One wonders if, in the future, we might expect an amendment to the law to introduce a clause instructing women to dress up in a particular way to avoid bringing out the beast in a man hungry for rape.

Similarly, how does Imran Khan justify online harassment? Women are bullied and stalked online, not to mention the torture they bear from abuses hurled at them on social media for no reason than for just being a woman. It has been noticed that a man is less prone to attack than a woman on a statement of similar nature.

The prime minister’s remark, as the third event, was received with joy in the conservative camp, as it established the wisdom of purdah (veiling) in Islam. To the liberals, it was a bomb equal to the intensity of the one the conservatives felt fall on them on the confiscation of liquor in PU.

So, let us give perspective to this debate.

Women are asked to wear a loose outfit like an abaya or chador not to protect them from any potential rapist but to shield them from the mischievous behaviour of uncouth and uncivilised men who have the habit of teasing women/men out of habit or due to ideological differences with them. If this attire was meant to dampen a man’s sexual instinct, as the premier believes it to be, women would not have been asked to talk with men in a stern voice even from behind a partition. Going further, another ruling forbids women from wearing ornaments that makes noise lest they stand out and become victims of indecent proposals from rogue men. Similarly, both men and women have been asked to lower their gaze as they interact with one another. If a burka, or for that matter, if the beard was enough, why would there be additional commands for behavioural control.

The question is: where does the trigger lie?

According to John Pryor, the Illinois researcher, it is the combination of power and the right to have sex mentality that triggers in men the desire to sexually harass women. “They are two sides of the same coin and so strongly fused that it is impossible to cleave them apart,” Pryor says. “If these men have power over someone, they find it difficult not to have those sexual ideas come to mind. And the more they think about it, the more that association is reinforced.”

Therefore, rape is a state of mind and not a women-driven activity.

Published in The Express Tribune, June 24th, 2021.

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