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March 9, 2016

Call for removing terms ‘izzat’ and ‘asmat’ from rape cases


March 9, 2016


When the words “pride” and “honour” are linked to the crime of rape in local terminology i.e. “izzat lut jana” and “ismat dari”, there are clearly flaws in the existing system that not only encourage the perpetrators of sexual harassment but also create impediments for the survivors,” human rights activist Tahira Abdullah said on Tuesday.

“Sadly, even judges in courts use these terms. If TV or microphone can remain the same in Urdu, so can rape,” she added.

Abdullah was speaking at a session titled “Sexual Violence and Rape” at the “Hum Aurtain - No More Violence” conference organised by the Tehreek-e-Niswan at the Arts Council.

She reminded the audience that the statistics of sexual violence revealed by different bodies were not exaggerated and in fact, they were a stark reality based on reported incidents.

She further said police authorities as well as the protectors of law should focus on helping the survivors instead of belittling them by asking unnecessary questions.

Activist Sarah Zaman steered the discussion to sexual violence against children as well as young men who, like women, were assaulted at the hands of other men but societal stigmatisation compelled them to keep mum.

She said it was alarming as to how the ages of the survivors was decreasing, highlighting that younger ones were more prone to harassment.

“In the majority of the cases, family members are involved in the act of violence and because our children are taught to say yes, they obey and are assaulted,” she pointed out.

She stressed the need for abolishing the Council of Islamic Ideology, noting that the body was working against women.

A charter of demands was presented to Justice Ali Nawaz Chawhan, the chairman of the National Commission on Human Rights, calling for the commission to ensure gender justice — euphemism for equality.

It also demanded criminalisation of ‘honour’ killings, curbing domestic violence and allowing women to participate in the policymaking process at the provincial and national levels.

Following the presentation of the charter, rape survivors Mukhtaran Mai and Kainat Soomro were invited to speak about their struggle for justice.

Gang-raped in 2007 by four men when she was 13 years old, Soomro has been in pursuit of justice ever since.

“While watching the play [staged earlier at the conference], I re-imagined the entire episode and was praying that this doesn’t happen to any girl,” she said.

“Violence against women isn’t something unheard of and even today women suffer at the hands of men but we are not backing down and are steadfast in our struggle for our rights.”

She said another case had been registered against her family in Larkana but she would remain undeterred.

“Why do clerics respond so negatively whenever women’s issues are brought up? Why do they ignore the fact that they too were given birth by women?”

 Soomro said with the help of different organisations, she and other survivors of sexual violence would continue fighting and bring the perpetrators to justice.

Mukhtaran Mai, who hails from Punjab, was gang-raped in 2002 on the orders of a panchayat.

“I remember that in 2007, I was in Karachi along with Kainat and we held a march and lit candles to show our resilience but as she has mentioned about the play being a reminder, I would say we’d feel the need to remember it if we had forgotten it in the first place,” she said.

“Only the survivor knows the agony, but it is regrettable that many judge the survivor as somebody looking to cash in on her ordeal. I have proven that it can be otherwise as I chose to stay in my village and refused to move even to Islamabad.”

Mai requested the media to expose rapists and their supporters who conveniently became part of assemblies.

“In the same village, same tehsil, another panchayat sat last month because the participants of that panchayat [in her case] were released. Making laws won’t change anything, implementing it will,” she added.  

It came as a surprise to many when they were told that Mai’s school in Muzzafargarh had also enrolled the children of the men who had raped her.

Artiste Sheema Kirmani reminded the audience about how former president Gen (retd) Pervez Musharraf had ridiculed Mai and put her name on the exit control list so she would not be able to fly to the US.

“General Musharraf had said that ‘women in Pakistan are so desperate that they are willing to get raped to get a US visa’ and to lodge our protest against his words, we had staged a street theatre because women and art are the two elements which can revolutionise a society,” she added.

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