THE death of the female student who was gang-raped on a Delhi bus earlier this month is a tragic conclusion to a shockingly violent event that highlighted the threats to women’s security in South Asia. Rape does happen around the world. But the attitudes towards women in this region make them particularly susceptible to sexual violence. For one, they are considered objects belonging to their male relatives, which leads to rape being used as a tool for settling personal scores, tribal feuds or commercial disputes, defending one’s honour or taking revenge on someone other than the rape victim. In the Delhi case, too, the violence may have been linked to an argument between the rapists and the victim’s male companion. But even when a motive is unclear, the sentiment is not: such attackers not only lack any respect for women, but in this part of the world they also expect no consequences for mistreating women in the worst possible way. This is largely because those who should be helping victims share similar attitudes; the suicide this month of a teenaged rape victim in Patiala harassed by police, who wouldn’t take action against the accused and tried to make her settle the issue out of court, is just one instance of the discrimination rape victims face in South Asia.
The latter instance is all too familiar here in Pakistan. Societal attitudes towards rape victims — who bear the brunt of social disapproval — combined with the likelihood that they will not be taken seriously or their attackers punished, makes reporting rape far more trouble than it is worth. The Protection of Women Act passed in 2006 was an important step to rectify some of the problems with the Hudood Ordinance, and the law no longer allows for a rape accusation to be used as an accusation of adultery against the victim. But the deeper problem — the attitude that paints a rape victim as somehow being the guilty party — persists. Delhi has been dubbed the rape capital of India with good reason. However, thousands of women in Pakistan are the sufferers of a police system that fails to respond to victims’ needs and a society that shuns them.