TO be a victim of gender-based violence in this country is to be violated over and over again. From far too many fellow Pakistanis — mostly male but not exclusively so — such a woman will not find support, but censure that will compound her trauma. Instead of empathy, she will encounter sexist slurs that will intensify her humiliation.

This ugly pattern of victim-blaming is playing out yet again in the horrifying case of the female TikToker assaulted by hundreds of men on Independence Day at the Minar-i-Pakistan in Lahore. An FIR was filed against nearly 400 men; among the charges is “assault or use of criminal force against woman and stripping her of her clothes”. The videos of the attack that flooded social media show the men crowding around her, pawing at her, throwing her into the air — it is unbearable to watch. And yet society has found ways to blame the victim; indeed, some have even accused her of ‘staging a drama’ for publicity, a willing pawn in her own degradation. It beggars belief.

The fact is, case after case of violence against women has laid bare the frightening extent of misogyny to be found in society. Even Noor Mukaddam, who was tortured, stabbed to death and beheaded last month, has been shown no mercy by this self-righteous brigade that has resorted to specious moral arguments to somehow put the onus on her for her terrible fate.

Read: The roots of misogyny

Victim-blaming is of course not exclusive to Pakistan, but in patriarchal societies with their restrictive norms for women, it acquires a more menacing quality. A female is seen as vulnerable and weak but also culpable by default, responsible for ‘enticing’ or ‘provoking’ men. All manner of warped reasoning is employed to support that position. Law-enforcement authorities also display such bias, for after all they too are products of this environment. In September 2020, after a woman was gang-raped in front of her children on the Lahore-Sialkot Motorway, the Lahore city police chief repeatedly implied that she was partly to blame for not taking a busier road at that time of night, travelling without her husband’s permission, etc.

In the recent Aug 14 incident, a number of arrests have been made, with the government vowing that more suspects will be taken into custody. One hopes the perpetrators are meted out the exemplary punishment they deserve. However, nothing will change in the long run. This country will remain unsafe for women, and gender-based violence will continue to be massively underreported because victims do not want to risk being pilloried in the court of public opinion.

Pakistani society has a problem; it needs to acknowledge it. But there are also many who are outraged and sickened by what they see around them. Their voices must be heeded, and the state should take the lead in changing a deeply misogynistic narrative.

Published in Dawn, August 23rd, 2021



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