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  • Writer's pictureThe Gender Security Project

Here Is How We Can Keep Women Safe From Sexual Violence

This post first appeared on IPS News.

By Quratulain Fatima

Source: UN Women

The past weeks have been quite traumatic for the women of Pakistan. Recently, a young woman named Noor Mukadam was murdered and beheaded by her alleged partner in Islamabad, Pakistan’s capital city. A few weeks ago, the prime minister’s statement on rape erroneously construed the crime as being the fault of the victim.

The domestic violence bill aimed at protecting women was sent to an all-male religious council for review. Additionally, a horrific video surfaced on social media where a group of so-called moral policing men harassing and assaulting a young woman.

These alarming incidents contribute to why Pakistan stands 153 out of 156 countries in the 2021 Global Gender Gap Report. Pakistan is among those countries where 70% of women and girls experience physical or sexual violence in their lifetime by their intimate partners and 93% of women experience some form of sexual violence in public places in their lifetime.

Every other woman in Pakistan experience sexual violence at least once in her lifetime. Some like Noor Mukadam have lost their lives in the process.

Sexual harassment and sexual assaults are one of the biggest issues in Pakistan. This epidemic is spread from the streets and markets, all the way to the workplace — and in some cases even the home. Pakistan’s government had in 2020 passed a praiseworthy anti-rape legislation that mandates legal proceedings in such cases to be completed within 04 months. However, without implementation, it will serve no purpose.

Sadly, Pakistan’s culture often makes a woman’s chastity a matter of the whole society’s honour. As a direct consequence of this warped worldview, most Pakistani women are still reluctant to report domestic violence, sexual assault or harassment cases.

A cultural shift is slow and at times it seems to be reversing in with the rise of extremist and ultra-religious thought strains in the society. Pakistan’s official statistics show that at least 11 cases of rape are reported in country every day. However, conviction rate for rape remains at markedly low 0.3%.

All too often in our country, moral policing societies link sexual assault with clothing or a woman’s behavior. We must stop blaming women for sexual violence and start reforming the men who commit such violence.

I know firsthand how nonsensical it is to blame women’s clothes for men’s behavior. Once a man groped me in public while I was waiting for my parent’s arrival from the Hajj pilgrim at the airport. I was wearing head covering over a fully covered dress and I felt traumatized and humiliated by his actions.

So, when I hear the premium of Pakistan — or for that matter any men around me — speaking on rape and sexual assault as being somehow linked to wearing inappropriate clothing, I know from my core that this is wrong. It doesn’t matter what we wear, it still occurs.

Victim blaming is not new, of course. People often blame sexual assaults on women’s clothing or behavior and even their education, irrespective of cultures, countries or places. Since the beginning of time, women have been portrayed as the temptress, the ones who lured man out of the comforts of heaven.

Many people claim that sexual assault happens to women who make bad choices, who step out in the dangerous world without precautions. But this is a myth which has been debunked many times through various evidence based studies. Yet time and again, we hear statements blaming women’s dresses for the violence they suffer.

The real problem which apparently was missed by such views is the widespread culture of impunity, low conviction rates for sexual crimes, women’s fear of reporting the crime and obscuration of social attitudes. Across the world, sexual violence is very difficult for women to address.

Victims are often blamed for “provoking” the sexual abuse with their behavior or dress. Reporting sexual harassment and assault can mean that the victim is labelled as a person of “loose morals” or as “a liar”.

When these myths are endorsed from a position of power, like in the case of Pakistan’s premier, it kicks you in the gut unlike other victim blaming one might hear. A leader sets the tone for the country and him perpetuating victim-blaming myths is extremely harmful.

Most government and non-government campaigns for the safety of women revolve around how women should protect themselves. There is a fundamental flaw in this approach. We need to rethink and re assess it and focus on how to stop the harassing behavior irrespective of how women dress or act.

Rather than women, it is men who need to be educated to be non-violent. Good men need to not let criminal men hide behind their silence. Educational campaigns and societal views need a profound shift. At schools and at homes, young boys and men need to be educated to know the importance of consent, non-violence and of treating women as equal human beings.

There should also be a sex offender registry for countries like Pakistan and efforts to shame and name the perpetrators and not the victims. States need to take clear stance against rape and sexual harassment rather than having vague notions of honor we need solid policies and implementation to stop the violence. Only then women can be protected and feel safe as equal citizens.

Quratulain Fatima is Cofounder Women4PeaceTech and a policy practitioner working extensively in rural and conflict-ridden areas of Pakistan with a focus on gender inclusive development and conflict prevention. She is a 2018 Aspen New Voices Fellow.

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