In September 2020, a wave of protests and outcry sweeped over Pakistan, to denounce the statements made by the Lahore Capital City Police Officer (CCPO) and show solidarity with survivors of violence. When questioned on the investigation progress on a gang-rape case of a young woman travelling on the motorway with her children, the CCPO chose to question the woman’s decision to travel late night on the road. His response sparked anger across the nation, which demanded action against the victim blaming attitude of the investigating officer.
Between September 2020 – December 2020, 138 cases of gender based violence were recorded by Digital Rights Foundation, exposing a grim picture of the country’s safety and security for women. Socio-cultural beliefs regarding sexuality, virginity and chastity compounded with a failed justice system, weak processes and lack of survivor care in place, makes it unlikely for women to report violence, and even less likely to escape it.
The stark dissonance amongst the feminists, allies and women rights organisations, and the general reaction from the larger public and governmental response shows how little is understood about the complexities of gender based violence. The outcry from the public following the September gangrape was a call for capital punishment or castration, and in November, an amendment was tabled, calling for chemical castration as a punishment for rape.
Despite ample evidence, dialogues and research, there is continued association of rape and sexual violence to lust; there is little to no acknowledgement of the pervasive rape culture that exists within social and political structures, and no indication that solutions to dismantle or address gender inequalities that perpetuate violence would be adopted. The state’s actions pacify the larger audience, and quiets the voices that demanded justice, and we go back to normal.
Gender based violence has never been, and still is not, a simple law and policy issue, and irrespective of the laws passed, it will continue to exist if the patriarchal system and culture is not dismantled. Gender inequities to education, health, economic opportunity and decision making contribute to the oppression, and until the nation is ready to structurally challenge the patriarchy, male privilege and have those difficult conversations about power, dynamics, rights and privilege, gender based violence will continue to persist and worsen.