Trigger Warning: This article discusses matter of rape and sexual assault. If you are sensitive to these topics, please exercise caution while reading.
“What is the concept of purdah? It is to stop temptation. Not every man has willpower. If you keep on increasing vulgarity, it will have consequences.”
These words, publicly proclaimed by Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, sparked outrage throughout the South Asian nation earlier this month. By citing purdah, or the practice of veiling and secluding women in various Muslim and Hindu societies, Prime Minister Khan joined the sadly large number of people worldwide who place the blame on rape victims and their choice of clothing instead of addressing the true cause of rape: rapists.
The remarks were made in response to inquiries regarding Pakistan’s rising number of sexual assault cases. The country has been ranked sixth most dangerous for women, with 70% to 90% of women experiencing domestic violence. In addition, between 2014 and 2020, only 0.3% of the nation’s 22,000 reported rape cases were convicted. Similar statistics can be seen in Pakistan to this day, despite the fact that the death penalty has been a long-time possible punishment for the act.
In response to the Prime Minister’s ignorant remarks, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan has claimed that his words “betray a baffling ignorance of where, why, and how rape occurs” and a statement circulated and signed by hundreds online declared that “Fault rests solely with the rapist and the system that enables the rapist, including a culture fostered by statements such as those made by (Khan).” Khan’s wife up until 2004, Jemima Goldsmith, has also added that “The problem is not how women dress!”
Following the uproar, the Prime Minister’s office has released a statement that claims that “part of [Khan’s] comment, consciously or unconsciously, has been distorted to mean something that he never intended.” Although the Prime Minister’s statement seemed clear as day, the possibility of his words being distorted has been refuted using earlier accounts of his misogynistic tendencies, including his failure to challenge Pakistani cleric Maulana Tariq Jameel’s 2020 claim that the worldwide coronavirus pandemic was a result of the “wrongdoing of women.”
Journalist Zahid Hussein related the Prime Minister’s recent comments to an earlier incident in his statement that “Imran Khan's views on rape are not very different from the callous comments made by a former Lahore police chief about the Motorway gang rape last year. He blamed the victim for driving late at night. His comments reflected the thinking of a large segment of society that prefers to blame the victim.” In the cited event, which later sparked widespread protests, a French-Pakistan woman had been robbed and raped by two men in front of her children after their car had run out of fuel on the motorway.
Omer Aftab, who serves as the CEO of White Ribbon Pakistan, an organization dedicated to ending discrimination and violence against women, cites lack of education, sexual frustration, and poor implementation of the law as the three reasons for rape in Pakistan. Nowhere on the list is the manner in which a woman dresses. Insisting that it is a victim’s own fault they were raped only fuels the flames of rape culture, in which society normalizes, excuses, and dismisses the act that often leaves its victims with severe lifelong psychological impacts. The shock of hearing such sentiments from someone so educated and influential reminds us of the severity of the issue that continues to plague millions of women all over the world.
Looking forward, we can only hope that the uproar caused by Prime Minister Imran Khan’s words both proved to the world that victim-blaming will no longer be tolerated by society and showed victims who remain silent to this day that there are many people who will fight for their right to be treated as human beings, not as objects that exist merely to satisfy the desires of others.