Wednesday September 22, 2021

Countering GBV

August 04, 2021

In the midst of recent events of gender-based violence where rape raises eyebrows only momentarily and life goes on as usual in the land of the pure, something seems to be going terribly wrong.

From the pre-Islamic era where daughters were buried alive at birth to 19th century Britain where Jack the Ripper wreaked havoc, women have continued to face some of the worst humanity has to offer. In Pakistan, fair treatment and discrimination seem to be the least of our worries now as physical and emotional torture, rapes, murders, and even beheadings have made public and private spaces unsafe for women.

Women belonging to every segment of society fear for their safety, dignity and even life. Patriarchy has destroyed the very moral fabric of society as rape apologists are encouraged and revered, and the filth and venom spewed is not even condemned, let alone resisted.

The lack of condemnation of rape apologists has led to a new breed of misogynists who shamelessly indulge in victim blaming. A society that, instead of protecting the victim who is more often than not deceased, starts questioning her choices and decisions, needs an overhaul from its very foundations.

For instance, the motorway rape case saw questions being raised as to why the victim was traveling late at night; where she was going; why she was going and what she was wearing, etc. A gang rape victim is being blamed as if she deliberately planned her rape. These absurd and ridiculous questions by the government officials reflect the state of moral decay we suffer from. The questions that should have been asked were: why was there no enforcement of motorway police or ring road police or highway patrol on the patch where this horrific incident took place?

When the eastern bypass was inaugurated on the 9th of February 2020, was it not incumbent upon the government to assign the responsibility of the enforcement on this road to one of the wings of the police department? Who was supposed to move the proposal in this regard? Was a proposal moved and, if so, why was there a delay of seven months (as the incident took place in September 2020)? How many officials were suspended or dismissed for this criminal negligence?

These questions were not asked but rather contrarily, the victim’s choices were questioned and the moral brigade got into victim-blaming. In an ideal society, a woman standing by the roadside with her children after running out of fuel would have had scores of people going out of their way to provide assistance. We, however, come up with how ‘she would not have been raped had she not left her house.’

After such horrific incidents, a pattern has emerged: no deterrence is put in place and the hype created after every such incident grips the whole nation for a few weeks after which the issue dies down and life goes on as usual. If in the aftermath of any such reprehensible incident, we declare an emergency and bring all stakeholders together and work collectively towards a solution, reforms can take place.

The Noor Muqaddam case has, once again, shaken our very society to the core and we are once again at the same juncture where there is a big question mark on the safety and security of women. A young girl was brutally beheaded in the capital and there are people who have the audacity to question her choices.

Try to process it if you can. A woman was beheaded. And yet people on social media are questioning why she was there, what she was doing there or what her relationship with Zahir Jaffar was. It’s a shame that instead of taking to the streets to demand that the perpetrator be brought to justice we are busy questioning the victim. All I can say is: I’m sorry Noor, we could not save you when you were alive and we have let you down in death too.

Similarly, the Usman Mirza case – again from the capital – sent shivers down our spines and we took to social media to condemn it strongly. Videos went viral in which Usman Mirza is seen physically harassing a young couple. The girl who is hysterically sobbing can be seen petrified and clearly fearing for her life.

Rape apologists did not let even this opportunity go and jumped to defend the culprit, not keeping in mind the horrific incident or its consequences. Again, the victim was linked to the culprit, and it was said that she must have done something wrong to which Usman Mirza reacted. This trend of defending the culprits and justifying their horrendous acts needs to be checkmated.

The irony is that the prime minister of the country makes public statements blaming women for incidents of rape and harassment, saying that it’s the way women dress that leads to gender-based violence and that men are not robots – and then his political party shamefully defends him. Islamic teachings instruct men to lower their gaze and the concept of purdah for women has nothing to do with the obligation of men to lower their gaze.

It is a separate duty which men are expected to carry out. No society, irrespective of race or religion, has room for such ridiculous and biased comments.

A state of emergency needs to be declared to take effective measures to avoid such incidents in the future and counter the mindset behind such incidents. Members of parliament from across the political divide need to unite to enact legislation that contains means of enforcement so that implementation is undertaken as a means of deterrence.

A thorough review of existing laws needs to be carried out to see which have weak mechanisms of enforcement as well as loopholes that exist need to be plugged. In the past, the PML-N government had introduced the Women Protection Act and established Violence against Women Centers (VAWC). It took many other steps after consultations with key stakeholders to counter gender-based violence.

Now more than ever before, an overhaul of the entire system is direly needed. Society as a whole needs to put its head together, a task that cannot be accomplished without the support of media, intelligentsia, religious scholars and the civil society. An awareness campaign is needed to spread this message far and wide that gender-based violence is a reality that we ignore at our own peril.

Legislation along with an effective awareness campaign and other means of educating the mass including shedding light on rights of women in Islam through sermons of religious scholars and seminars by the civil society can work wonders. The Parliament will have to take the lead and bring people from different segments of society together on one platform to address this issue through a cohesive and solution-oriented campaign.

For starters, a clear, comprehensive roadmap with parliamentary oversight needs to be articulated to set the ball rolling. There is a legal maxim, “let justice be done though the heavens fall”, underlining the importance of justice being delivered no matter what. It is about time we embarked on this long overdue journey.

The writer, a lawyer by education, is deputy secretary general of the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz).