TW: Rape, violence, domestic abuse
News of the Motorway rape case in Pakistan has travelled far since it occurred on September 7th, but in case you don’t know, let me summarise it for you.
A woman travelling with her children had to call for help after her car ran out of fuel on the Lahore-Sialkot Motorway. The police stated this area was out of their jurisdiction so she waited for a relative to arrive to help. In this time, two men dragged her and her children out of the car, gang-raped and robbed her. News of this incident became even worse when Lahore Police Chief, Umar Sheikh spoke about the incident a couple of days later, questioning the mother of three’s choice of route.
He stated ‘If nothing else, she should’ve checked her fuel…’. This type of victim blaming is not uncommon in Pakistan, but for the CCPO to be upholding such a view when he leads the same force that is meant to defend these women is deeply concerning. This sparked protests in Karachi, women of all ages gathered with banners and loudspeakers to express their outrage.
They chanted ‘Azaadi!’ or ‘freedom’. “Mera jism, meri marzi. Meray kapray, meri marzi. (My body, my choice. My clothes, my choice)”. They called for the Chief of Police to be fired.
There’s no denying that Pakistan is unsafe, not only for women but for children, the LGBTQ+ community, Shia and other religious minorities. The 2019 Women, Peace and Security Index ranks Pakistan 164th out of 166 when it comes to women’s safety and protection. There is a huge issue in that many cases against abusers aren’t even registered in Pakistan, due to the very same victim-blaming beliefs held by Umar Sheikh.
The culture of shaming and silencing survivors runs so deep that these issues are barely talked about, let alone taken seriously. A Human Rights Watch study found that there is a rape once every two hours and a gang-rape every hour in Pakistan, but where is the outrage? When the very same people who are meant to be protecting these women have numerous rape allegations against them, who are these women meant to turn to?
It’s not that there’s an issue in legislation, rape is punishable by either the death penalty or imprisonment of 10-25 years, gang-rape holds a harsher sentence but the issue lies in implementation. At a baseline level, women are shamed when it comes to reporting. Family members worrying about their reputations. Communities running myths that ‘chaste’ women don’t get raped.
Like a lot of SA cases, the character of the woman is brought into question and the finger is quickly pointed at her. If after this the woman decides to take the case further she’s met with dismissal by the authorities, who, in many cases call the assault ‘domestic’ and with this, choose to not get involved. Not to mention the corruption within these forces, ones that threaten the victims, leaving them with little to trust and not much more they can do.
Is it any surprise that Pakistan is in the state it’s in?
Pakistan values its women far less than its men. It’s a country in which people still mourn the birth of a girl over a boy. A country which hosts one fifth’s of the worlds yearly honour killings. One in which women’s education is undervalued, where millions of girls still don’t have access to menstrual products, where domestic violence and abuse is dusted under the rug.
Pakistan needs feminism, it needs re-education. Men need to be held accountable and consent needs to be taught. Laws need to change to criminalise cases of SA that don’t just involve ‘penetration’, these laws and many more need to be implemented properly. Education needs to start early, sex needs to dismissed as a taboo subject, consent needs to be taught, male privilege needs to be acknowledged and eliminated.
There is so much work to do yet. Protests are a great start for raising awareness, but women ultimately need more people in power on their side. So far, it doesn’t seem like Pakistan has made much movement forward since the Motorway incident, the Chief of Police has barely even apologised.
But change takes time and I live in hope that the generations to come will be vocal about the right thing. For now, however, this is only hope.