Eradicate Gender, Sexual And Class Inequalities To End Rapes
The dual ways in which women’s bodies are culturally treated include, fetishizing or commodifying; which turns women into objects to be covered and coveted and; sexualising, which limits women’s roles to servicing male entitlement.
Both approaches devalue women’s gendered identities and demote the option where women may seek pleasure in/for their own bodies or celebrate their physical or sporting prowess. Male bodies are valued as powerful and female ones, a source of constant policing, shaming and (perversely), fear.
The two old debates that resurfaced with the motorway rape case and predictably, dominated social media, were victim-blaming and the death penalty. A week later, all sides have exhausted themselves hoarse on these subjects but there is no new consensus or progress by way of solutions.
The common defense for the paradoxically weak-but-violent-rapist is that he was easily provoked by the victim’s dress, conduct, or just for her being on a bus, car, or public space at any given time, or for giving ‘mixed signals’ (yet somehow, they always chose the ‘yes’ rather than the ‘no’ option of the mix).
In some cases, the victim is even blamed for the level of brutality. One of the colluders in the 2012 Delhi bus rape case offered this advice to rape victims: “When being raped, she shouldn’t fight back. She should just be silent and allow rape. Then they’d have dropped her off after ‘doing her’, and only hit the boy.”
Any officer of the state who contributes to muddying the few achievements that Pakistan has made on recognising rape as an unequivocal crime is a direct obstacle to progress. CCPO Umar Sheikh must be suspended because he is an impediment to the state’s progress and a living contradiction of its statutory spirit.
On the death penalty argument, many commentators have pointed out the lack of any evidence that the death penalty is a deterrent for any crime and the total futility of its efficacy when the indictment rate for sex crimes is as low as 2-4%. This means the outrage will be quenched but 98% of rapists will continue to enjoy impunity.
But there is another argument to consider too, as the Delhi rapist confessed: “The death penalty will make things even more dangerous for girls. Now when they rape, they won’t leave the girl like we did. They will kill her. Before, they would rape and say, ‘Leave her, she won’t tell anyone.’ Now when they rape, especially the criminal types, they will just kill the girl. Death.”
Psychological evaluations have to be conducted of rapists in Pakistan, including those of child rapists, since it is possible that as women’s autonomies and awareness grows, children are becoming weaker and easier prey.
Sex or power?
Even though most feminists reject biological explanations for rape, the fact is, there is no isolated or conclusive cause determined for what drives a rape crime. The only constant is that rape is not about sex but power, which means:
- Rape is driven by power, entitlement and impunity and not the need for sexual gratification or some pathological tendencies in select criminal men. The majority of rapists are not mental health patients – they are the average man next door. Sexual fulfillment is possible by many other means, including transactionary paid sexual services, but these options too, exist on the power spectrum and are male entitlements that pivot around the concept of sexual conquest over women’s bodies. In other words, sexual dominance and gratification is a male prerogative.
- Conversely, rape is enabled by the denial of women’s sexual independence and broader freedoms. This inequality is clear in how sex is a form of barter – in marriage, sex is widely considered to be a Muslim husband’s irrevocable right and revenge rapes or marriage to one’s rapist, as an amenable way to settle scores. Even under normative conditions, marriage is often determined by private property barter arrangements.
When law enforcement, the judiciary, and public outrage discriminate against women who are sexually active, or have been raped within illicit sexual relations, the circle of male collusive impunity is sealed.
Historically, Pakistani feminists have always been against further brutalisation of society and the death penalty or harsh punitive measures but they also demand zero tolerance for legal and judicial bias against women, their class, sexual histories, or conduct. However, the chemical option needs more careful debate. Rape may not be about sexual gratification but that doesn’t mean the male body is not weaponised. So, just as there are debates on the connection between guns and violence, the idea of chemical emasculation needs further debate because at least, it will allow for exploring the concept of masculinity as a driver of rape culture.
Any art, scholarship or TV script that blames the victim, devalues women’s worth, or reinforces gender norms by reifying pious, meek, tolerant women and which glorifies abusive men, must be critiqued but these cannot be banned. This kills debate and critical thinking. Instead, the way to challenge sexism is through competitive discourse and more debate, not cancelling or raging online.
Recommendations for preventing violence against women for the government, law enforcement, funders and community activists are bursting out of scoping studies and multifarious reports. But there has to be a national consensus on how the Pakistani state perceives the offense before it decides to tackle it. Civil society has not studied sexualities nor have feminists debated pornography or how sexual freedoms should be negotiated in an Islamic Republic. These can no longer be evaded.
The PTI leadership is gender-blind or disinterested in feminism as a western liberal preoccupation. This is antithetical to any gender-based progress — not because of the worry of violating international treaties but because gender-inequality and particularly, sexual inequality is the baseline – these are the tumours which metastasise into rape, trafficking, child marriage, forced conversions, female foeticide, ‘honour’ killings. If you want to prevent full-blown cancer, the basic cells have to be treated.
If girls and women are not equal to men in every unexceptional way and, if the privileged classes capture all the wealth in a neoliberal, accumulative and consumptive world, then it stands to reason that many will think they can treat women as violently and disposably as they wish and that they are either entitled to or can buy immunity. There is no way to end rape without eradicating gender, sexual and class inequalities.
Afiya Shehrbano Zia is a feminist scholar based in Karachi and author of Faith and Feminism in Pakistan: Religious Agency or Secular Autonomy? (SAP, 2018). She has written for various news outlets in Pakistan and abroad. Afiya Shehrbano Zia can be reached at [email protected]