Last Thursday afternoon, while walking in the park I overheard two men discussing the rape case which is currently making headlines in the media. This was before the victim’s death.
Both of these individuals appeared to be educated and in their early 50s. One of them said,
It is entirely a drama to gain fame in the vein of Mukhtaran Mai.
“I agree, women are nothing but blackmailers. Do you really think what happened did not have her consent?” the other remarked.
I’m immune to hearing garbage in Pakistan but this literally transcended even the already high prevalent limits of what normally goes around across the country.
A woman who sets herself on fire, subsequently dying from her injuries after the accused gets bail is looking to get famous? Or, that it wasn’t a rape at all, instead it had her consent?
I’m not saying that the entire Pakistani society thinks this way, but the fact is that misogyny is so deeply rooted in our society that even a horrific rape and its aftermaths often produce completely counterintuitive reactions.
When news of the woman’s fatality made the news, I wished to find the two gentlemen to ask their opinion after her death. Death through suicide often forces changes in opinions; only after her death, have people finally begun to take her case seriously.
Suddenly the government machinery is in action and the media spotlight is hoping to extract retribution from her rapist, something that would have completely evaded them otherwise.
But one has to understand that not every girl can commit suicide to be noticed. She was among those rare brave women, who actually reported the rape. To be able to do that in Pakistan is in itself an extremely courageous step, given the stigma attached to it.
Social perceptions about women, particularly the linkage of family honour with female chastity, imperatively need to be addressed in Pakistan. Due to this linkage, a woman, if raped is forced to keep quiet so as to protect her family’s ‘honour’, moreover her own life.
And then, there is that blaming-the-victim attitude. Often instead of actually exerting efforts to reform the prevalent masculine attitudes towards women, our focus is to reform women by expecting them to dress modestly or limit their movements. When a rape occurs, the first thing many in the society do is to reprimand the victim by blaming her for “negligence” – or worse “deliberate sexual provocation”.
And when a woman, despite these huge social pressures and stigmas, musters up courage to report a rape, the system fails her as it did in Amina bibi’s case.
A combination of these social pressures, victim-blaming attitude and a lack of proper legal recourse has bred a culture of rape. Rapists in Pakistan have no fear of retribution.
Also read: Rape: The Culture of Silence
Unfortunately, this too is not the whole picture. There is often a tendency to reduce rape to merely higher male libido. To completely understand rape, we have to go beyond the biological differences between sexual drives of men and women. Rape is also a twisted way of flaunting so-called masculinity and reducing women to their perceived status of weaker humans and in essence, mere commodities to be abused by men.
In countries like Pakistan, a woman’s status is not merely “natural” rather it is constructed socially through culture and laws. And this construction is then reinforced through our behavior and customs. Rape is essentially one of the more perverted and “illegal” expressions of patriarchy which is already so deeply entrenched in the society.
Where it is unfortunate that rape is a universal setback, at least in western societies, there is a progressive movement, with respect to treatment of women, after the rape is reported.
I am only pointing this out because many apologists for our society's mindset have a tendency to promptly point to US rape statistics. There, the society has progressed to such an extent that when a rape does occur, it is more of an individual transgression rather than a systemic issue.
I wonder how much more horrific matters will get, until our society starts waking up.
Most of our hard work in this regard lies not in merely improving the judicial system but on the way gender identities are socially constructed.
Without attacking that patriarchal social construction, make no mistake, the culture of rape will flourish.