The Unending Violence Against Women In Pakistan: When Will There Be Justice?
Trigger warning: this article contains disturbing details of sexual and other violent crimes
There is no denying the fact that Pakistan is becoming an increasingly unsafe place for women, regardless of their class or other social statuses. The news of the motorway incident of last week is heart-wrenching to say the least, and yet it has not been the only one of its kind in far too many years now. The remarks by Lahore CCPO did nothing to help. Echoing the almost typical male mentality in Pakistan, he opined that the victim should not have traveled at such late hours, and that if it was really that important for her, she should have gone out in the company of a male. Thankfully, a huge segment of the population called the CCPO out over his victim-blaming and refused to buy his explanation of the horrible incident.
Almost eighteen years ago, in 2002, the case of Mukhtaran Mai – a gang-rape survivor from Muzaffargarh – came to light and sent shockwaves around the world. She courageously spoke about the incident and demanded justice. Her call for justice was not just for herself, but for every woman who has ever had to suffer such a terrible fate at the hands of an egregious man or men. Yet, even out of the fourteen men who were accused in the case, only a few were convicted. Justice proved to be elusive for her, but she kept up her fight. Her courage and relentless efforts were noted internationally and in 2015 she was named “woman of the year” by a famous international magazine.
A similar case involved a thirteen-year-old schoolgirl who was kidnapped and gang-raped for four days in 2007. When she spoke up about the incident and demanded justice, the village elders accused her of bringing “dishonour” to her family. As she resolutely refused to be silenced and continued to demand justice with the help of her family, she even had to suffer the murder of her brother and the divorce of her sister. Still, the girl fought on, maintaining that powerful men from influential families in her village could get away with raping any woman. Even after thirteen years of enduring more than any human being should be made to suffer, the girl is still determined to obtain justice.
Between the years 2014 and 2019, at least five gang rape cases were reported in Layyah district alone. In the first case, in 2014, a twenty-year-old girl was kidnapped, gang-raped by three men and later found hanging from a tree in Nawan Kot. In another incident in 2019, an intermediate female student was gang-raped by her van driver and his friend. The culprits were arrested later. In the third incident, a girl and her male cousin were returning home after visiting a shrine when they were intercepted by four men. They took both of them in the forest nearby and sexually assaulted the girl. The assailants were later identified. In the same year, another woman from Fatehpur was held hostage on gunpoint and raped by two unidentified men in her own house. Later, they cut her hair and threw acid on her which resulted in several burns on her body. Finally, a visually impaired woman from Sultan Koh was picked up by a few men, under the guise of being helpers, and took her to an identified place where they sexually assaulted her.
Four out of these five cases took place during the last year. These incidents are not only heart-wrenching but they also point toward an increase in culprits’ impunity. As per a 2018 report by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), at least 875 incidents of sexual violence against women surfaced in that single year. This is just the tip of the iceberg as most women remain silent out of fear of losing relations and being alienated from society.
The need for taking effective measures to protect women in our society has never been more desperate, nor too the provision of swift and decisive justice. In 2019, the government of Pakistan had decided to set up more than 100 gender violence-based courts across the country to expedite the judiciary process in cases of rape, domestic abuse, sexual assault and harassment. We may only hope that with the latest incident on the M-11 motorway, which has the entire nation gripped in a frenzy and rage, this step will finally be executed on a war footing. We desperately hope we can come up with such a system that may act as both a deterrent and a swift arbiter of justice.