Female MNAs from the ruling PTI on Tuesday defended Prime Minister Imran Khan's problematic comments on rape and sexual violence, calling out the "liberal brigade" for misrepresenting the facts.
Their presser comes a day after female lawmakers from opposition parties lambasted the premier for his "condemnable" comments.
During the presser, Minister of State for Climate Change Zartaj Gul claimed that the premier was "a symbol of women empowerment" as no other party had managed to mobilise women in the political sphere to this extent.
"For the first time in Pakistan, five women ministers are sitting in the federal cabinet. This means that if there is a symbol of women empowerment in Pakistan, it is Prime Minister Imran," she said.
"Our culture and way of dressing is idolised across the world. They wish and try to dress like us graceful Pakistanis," she said, adding that no "liberal corrupt" would be allowed to be a spokesperson for Pakistani society.
Gul was referring to Prime Minister Imran's heavily criticised remarks on the link between a woman's clothes and rising rape incidents in the society.
"If a woman is wearing very few clothes it will have an impact, it will have an impact on the men, unless they’re robots. I mean it’s common sense," Imran had said in his interview with Jonathan Swan for Axios.
"My culture has given me respect, Islam has taught me modesty. Do not try to distort the things said in the Holy Quran," said Gul in the press conference.
She said that women empowerment is incomplete without the implementation of the law. She lashed out at "liberals" for trying to distort the narrative when the premier was trying to "strengthen social fabric in line with religious teachings and culture".
"When we go somewhere men stand up and vacate their seat. They don't say 'equality'. They say you have more respect because you are a woman." She said that the way the prime minister had given space and a "strong position" to women had not been witnessed before in the country's history.
Parliamentary Secretary for Law Maleeka Bokhari said that she was proud to be a member of parliament under the leadership of "a man who prioritised the protection of women and children".
She said that the first instructions the premier gave the law ministry were to make laws to put an end to sexual abuse and violence against women and children.
"You can't distort a question and determine whether or not the premier cares about protecting women and children. You need to see what the government has done," she said pointing to the establishment of special courts for deciding rape cases and anti-rape crisis cells at hospitals.
"Under PM Imran's leadership, the two-finger test was abolished," Bokhari said. "Because we realise the difficulties that women have to face, we ensured that they get their inheritance rights. No other premier has called for such a law," she said.
Bokhari said that women's protection was not guaranteed through just words and required laws, legislation and implementation. She called on citizens to see the premier "in light of the realities and steps taken by him".
MNA Kanwal Shauzab maintained that the prime minister had empowered women in the true sense.
Quoting a verse from the Holy Quran, which she said was the essence of the prime minister's statement, she remarked that those contesting the premier's statement were actually contesting Allah.
Shauzab said the prime minister's actions showed his concern for the issue of sexual abuse of women and children and that his comments were taken out of context.
"In the interview, the prime minister explained the problem in detail. He explained how our culture was different from that of the West. He explained that just one per cent cases of rape were reported because it was a problem of honour for people in our culture," she said.
The MNA went on to allege that PML-N lawmakers had themselves been involved in cases of rapes and sexual abuse, claiming that they had patronised those involved in the Kasur incident.
"On the other hand, we passed the anti-rape law," said Shauzab, adding that the "liberal brigade" was misrepresenting Pakistani society.
She questioned: "Which parent would want their daughter to dress up in a way that makes her vulnerable to attack?"
"Nudity [...] is not a part of our culture. It is the culture of animals," she remarked. "Islam teaches us to cover ourselves."
This was what the PM explained in the interview, the MNA said.
"He explained about [our] family structure, that our society doesn't accept vulgarity. He spoke about how our children were exposed to porn on social media," she said. "He said that we, as a society, will have to take the responsibility of ending sexual violence."
The MNA contended that since just 1pc of rape cases were reported in Pakistan, it was not practical to solely depend on law enforcement agencies to end the crime.
"The prime minister, therefore, said society will have to take the responsibility for ending the crime," Shauzab added.
She denied that the prime minister's remarks amounted to blaming and shaming the victims.
"Where was this liberal brigade, which is accusing the prime minister of victim blaming, when Abid Sher Ali made obscene remarks about Firdous Ashiq Awan and other women parliamentarians? Were they sleeping when Talal Chaudhry used indecent remarks for me during a live television show?"
She recalled the character assassination that former prime minister Benazir Bhutto was subjected to by the PML-N.
"But our prime minister has stayed true to his words of [respecting and protecting women]," she said.
PMO releases unedited version
A day earlier, the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) shared the unedited version of the premier's take on the issue of sexual violence after people on social media claimed the part in the interview was drastically shortened and his comments were taken out of context.
In a press conference on Tuesday, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry, while responding to a question on the PM's comments, said the "matter regarding the PM's comments has been resolved. It was an edited clip. We have shared the complete clip and the matter is now open to all."
In the complete clip shared by the PMO, the discussion began with Prime Minister Imran Khan being asked about the epidemic of sexual violence and rape in Pakistan.
"You [the PM] were also quoted as saying that the practice of women wearing veils is to stop temptation, not every man has willpower. You said on increasing vulgarity, [that] it will have consequences and you were accused of rape victim-blaming. How do you respond to that?" Swan had asked.
The premier had replied: "It is such nonsense. When I first came to power, I asked the heads of police [...] the crime that was rising very fast was sex crime. Sex crime does not only include rape, it was child abuse [as well] which really shocked me."
The premier said it was disturbing that only 1pc of such cases were reported, adding that the families of the victims were not reporting the abuses because they were "so embarrassed".
"What I was saying was that law enforcement can basically only deal with less than 1pc [of cases], the rest the society has to deal with." He elaborated that society could play its role by raising awareness.
"I never said veils, this was never said. I said the concept of purdah (modest dressing). And the concept of purdah is to avoid temptation in society. We don’t have discos here, we don't have nightclubs, so it is a completely different society, the way of life here [is different]. We don't have any places where boy meets girl. So if you raise temptation in society to the point and all these young guys have nowhere to go, it has consequences in the society which were reflected in the crime chart."
He said that since the police were unable to deal with the 99pc of cases that were not reported, it was up to society, schools, teachers and the media to raise awareness. Going back to the concept of purdah, the prime minister said its purpose was to "reduce temptation in society".
Swan then asked Prime Minister Imran what were the kinds of temptations that needed to be curtailed to stop sex crimes.
The premier answered: "For instance, one thing we discovered [...] children have mobile phones. Children have never seen such material in human history, they have never had this exposure before."
He shared that his government was working on how it could control social media content, which he said was "free for all at the moment". He added that there should be plays to raise awareness about the "sort of things children are exposed to".
When asked whether Hollywood films had contributed to the rise in sex crimes, Prime Minister Imran replied, "Absolutely".
"When X-rated films become acceptable, clearly it has an effect on the society. From Hollywood, it (the films) goes to Bollywood. What was the Indian film industry in the 70s, 80s and 90s? It has completely changed and it has an effect on society. You can see the divorce rates, you can see the sex crimes, it has an effect on both India and Pakistan."
The premier insisted that there must be an alternative to represent the way of life in Pakistan, stressing that what was shown on television was "not modernity".
Swan remarked that he did not see anything in Hollywood movies that had inspired him to commit sex crimes to which the premier replied that he (Swan) lived in Western society and had grown up there.
"We are talking about the impact on our society. Every society must analyse itself. What is the effect it is having on different segments and then take steps."
The interviewer then asked the prime minister whether he thought women's dressing had an effect on sex crimes against them. "If a woman is wearing very few clothes, it will have an impact on the men unless they are robots. It's common sense," the premier answered.
Swan recalled that there were pictures taken of the premier in the past, showing him shirtless in his bedroom upon which Prime Minister Imran said it was not about him.
"My priority is how my society behaves, what reactions are caused in my society. We sat down and discussed how we were going to tackle this (sex crimes). It doesn't mean what Imran Khan did 40 or 50 years ago, so it's hypocrisy. This is absolute lunacy. I, as a prime minister, have the responsibility [that when] a sex crime takes place or a child is abused, we have to do something about it," he said.
Opposition lashes out at PM Imran
Meanwhile, the opposition has lambasted the premier for his comments. Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari expressed disappointment at the prime minister’s statement on sexual violence, saying we were now witnessing a new tradition of "victim-blaming" in the country and it was worrisome.
He said we should always support the victims of crimes instead of blaming them. "The prime minister should be careful in issuing such statements because remarks like the one given by the PM gives excuse to rapists," he added.
Bilawal said Islam taught us how to dress, but women’s dressing wasn’t a reason to trigger sexual assaults.
Calling the prime minister "coward", he said Imran Khan never dared to call terrorists as "terrorists" and asked him to review his policy.
He said the premier and Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi should apologise to all victims of terrorism in the country.
PML-N's Marriyum Aurangzeb said that the world had gotten an insight into the "mind of a sick, misogynistic, degenerate and derelict Imran Khan".
"It's not women's choices that lead to sexual assault rather the choices of men who choose to engage in this despicable and vile crime," she said in a tweet.
"Maybe the misogynist, degenerate can defend pedophiles and murderers, as he advocates for rapists, after all men cannot be expected to control temptation," she said.
PPP's Sherry Rehman asked the prime minister to explain "why he chose to victim blame women for the violence and sex crimes they face".
"Not OK at any level. Social, judicial, religious and political. He’s saying it’s the victim’s fault, not the man’s. Could he explain what else leads to assault? Misogyny 101," she said.
In the interview, Prime Minister Imran was asked about the epidemic of sexual violence and rape in Pakistan.
“You [the PM] were also quoted as saying that the practice of women wearing veils is to stop temptation, not every man has willpower. You said on increasing vulgarity, it will have consequences and you were accused of rape victim blaming. How do you respond to that?” Swan had asked.
The premier had replied: “It is such nonsense. I never said veils, this was never said. I said the concept of purdah. And the concept of purdah is to avoid temptation in society. We don’t have discos here, we don’t have nightclubs, so it is a completely different society, way of life here, so if you raise temptation in society to the point and all these young guys have nowhere to go, it has consequences in the society."
Earlier in April, Prime Minister Imran Khan during a two-hour-long question and answer session with the public spoke of religion and the concept of 'purdah' in Islam. It is to remove "temptation" from society because "not everyone has willpower", he had said.
The premier had come under fire from members of the civil society, rights groups as well as international media for his comments.
Additional reporting by Nadir Guramani.