Dear prime minister

April 11, 2021

Rape is a violent crime driven not by an uncontrollable urge or desire based in passion or lust but motivated by power, revenge and anger

For a man so well-exposed and educated, our Premier has a rather strange understanding of sexual violence. While acknowledging that there are likely a far larger number of rape cases then reported, he goes on to talk about the reasons for rape in an archaic manner. He blames fahaashi and goes on to link this fahaashi with temptation and the lack of will power, and concludes with a very simplistic answer to solving the problem of rape and sexual abuse – the necessity of purdah.

According to the PM, the most marginalised and disadvantaged segment of the society has the ‘ability’ to end sexual violence against it, by simply observing purdah. By his logic apparently, the powerless hold the reins because the powerful are rather “weak” and “driven by uncontrollable temptation”. Laws, law enforcement and the general apparatus of the State, have but a small role to play towards eliminating the evil.

Unfortunately, this is not new content from this PM. Among other important topics, such as corruption and reviving the economy, the PM has personally driven the campaign towards the Turkish drama, Ertugrul, based on the 13th Century fictional story of the Ottoman Empire; blamed Bollywood and broken families for our problems; accused “Western feminism” of corrupting the minds of Pakistani women and summed up the whole debate on women’s empowerment by focusing on maternal mortality rates alone. Even the concern for stunted children does not link women’s economic and social deprivation to health problems in children.

If he weren’t the PM of this country, we would put his views down to a total misunderstanding of rape culture where the victim and external influences are blamed and dismiss them as merely ignorant. But he is the head of government and comments of this nature are not just worrying, they are downright dangerous. According to the PM, the victim and everything and everyone else is responsible for rape except the dynamics of power; toxic masculinity; how we raise our sons; and the complete institutional and societal impunity with which men get away with violent sexual crimes. With the PM’s latest comments, dangerous sexual predators now find their violent urges validated by the head of government. It is clear that rape is not just sex as our PM would like us to believe. It is a violent crime driven not by an uncontrollable urge or desire that is based in passion or lust but motivated by power, revenge and anger. It is for this reason that rape has historically been used as a weapon in wars. It reenforces punishment, terror and control over the other. This recognition is widespread and for this reason the UN declares conflict-related rape as a “war crime” and a “crime against humanity”. For a more accurate understanding, if the rape is looked at from the lens of controlling the victim, creating fear and violently asserting oneself over another in an attempt to dominate and maintain power, the argument that temptation drives rape will become futile Only recently have court cases begin to reflect this – the latest being the thorough and much needed Supreme Court judgement by Justice Mansoor Ali Shah on a rape case.

Do Pakistani men not find it insulting that their PM has said men do not have control over their thoughts or actions, presenting them to be intellectually incapable, driven not by a mental faculty that comprehends reason or rationality?

Feminist theory and analytical research have shattered the myth that our PM seems to confidently air every chance he gets. Using different words and narratives each time, he has made clear that a women’s modesty will control men’s temptation. He has alienated and disregarded women and others who know that sexual violence is never about temptation or desire but always about control and power. The demand for an apology from the PM should not just be coming from women or groups of rights’ defenders, but specifically from Pakistani men. Do Pakistani men not find it insulting that their PM has said that men do not have control over their thoughts or actions, presenting them as intellectually incapable, driven by a mental faculty incapable of reason or rationality? The PM has portrayed Pakistani men as untrustworthy and uncontrollably dangerous.

Placing both the blame and burden squarely on the victim takes away from the State’s primary responsibility towards citizens to make efforts towards accountability, justice and tackle a culture of rape that breeds both rapists and impunity. Increasingly, we see international forums consistently advocating for States to take responsibility for violence against women by creating laws that penalise sexual violence; hold perpetrators accountable; provide a robust criminal justice system; and eliminate the barriers that hinder women accessing the justice system. The PM’s callous statement takes away from all this by saying we cannot fight this because obscenity and a lack of purdah have caused an uncontrollable temptation in men. As if women did not have enough on their plate already, now they are also responsible for the violent, criminal behaviour of men because men themselves apparently have no control.

Luckily, however, the PM’s statement is not based on any actual facts or evidence – it is based on the belief that reiterating such views will appease lobbies that want to maintain the status quo of male entitlement at the expense of the subjugation of women. There is enough evidence to refute what the PM believes. Violence against women is far more prevalent in societies that have a greater gender gap: the greater the systemic and structural discrimination against women and girls, the lack of opportunities and resources and the greater the economic deprivation the more vulnerable, marginalised, and hence, more prone to violence women and girls become. So, if ever a government wants to genuinely address sexual violence, it must go to the heart of the problem – gender inequality. Linking sexual violence to purdah, temptation and vulgarity, shows clearly that this government is not ready for such a debate as it lacks comprehension and inclination. The PM’s misguided views confirm this and revert Pakistan from the slight progress made since the strengthening sexual violence laws in the penal code by previous governments.

Women’s rights movements in Pakistan have time and again advocated for a rights-based approach to ensure that all citizens live without fear. This requires the State take responsibility for sexual violence and not wither from this by shifting blame. The State’s responsibility aligns with constitutional guarantees and international commitments professing equality, dignity and justice; and the well-established principle that sexual violence is never the victim’s fault. This is not a radical call – it is only a humane, just and necessary one. The least the PM can do is reeducate himself. And, keep up.

The writer is a   barrister, working in Islamabad, whose work focuses on women and minority rights

Dear prime minister