Women in fear: Rape cases soar across Pakistan

Published: November 3, 2010

Reports of rape and the abuse of women seem to be on the rise.

Every morning when I leave for work, I feel uncomfortable. The constant nagging of recent (and increasing) news items of rapes in Pakistan makes me feel insecure. I fear for the vulnerability of my sisters in different parts of the city, attending lectures in college halls, making rounds in hospital wards, traveling in school vans, waiting at the bus stop or spending an evening with an aunt or uncle.

And my fear is not just confined to my sisters. It expands its ugly claws for every woman, all over the country. It takes the shape of a pitying monster whenever I wonder about the fate of the victims and the consequences that they will have to live with, and in most cases, die for.

Though the annual number of women raped in Pakistan is far greater than the statistics given in different survey reports by various organizations, the settings in which these rapes have started taking place is frightening. The old notion that perpetrators are only found in certain sections of society and that they are far away from our day to day lives, no longer holds true. It seems as if they are everywhere, plotting to get their target, as and when they wish.

Women are therefore safe nowhere. Whether in hospital wards or girls’ colleges, there are abductions or gang-rapes in the name of ‘honour.’ It is a wild, wild world out there, pregnant with silence and dampened with indifference.

Sadly, those who are responsible for providing safety to citizens are themselves involved in this heinous act. The recent confession of Constable Javed Bhatti in Lahore for having rapped a handicapped woman by taking her three children hostage is just one example of the larger picture.  A similar fate was met by an 18-year old resident of Bahawal Nagar, who was raped in police custody. Another mother of a three-year old was held hostage for two days while she was repeatedly gang-raped in police custody. Once considered safe, even homes are no longer so for women in the country today. The rise in reported cases of incest which is still believed to be far less than the real number, is alarming. 

Rape is a grossly unreported and legally distorted human rights issue in Pakistan and given the nature of our social structure, combined with the status of women in society, the above examples should not be very astonishing. What should concern us more is the ugly culture of silence and shame that confronts us.

Women are assaulted in the name of ‘honour’, often paying the prize for disgrace brought about by male member(s) of the family; a punishment mostly inflicted by panchayats or through brutal force. Yet, our very own ministers take pride in the ‘cultural norm’ or make insensitive statements. Take for example, former President Pervez Musharraf’s statement:

“A lot of people say if you want to go abroad and get a visa for Canada or citizenship and be a millionaire, get yourself raped.”

Even more shocking are reports of recorded videos of the victims, used to blackmail the victim’s parents either in a bid to discourage the woman’s family from prosecution or to earn extra money by posting it on the internet.

And the injustice just does not end here. The future of these ill-fated women hangs in the balance. They become social outcasts by none other than their own families, judged, thrown out and most often, domestically abused, for bringing a “bad name” to the family/biradari. This patriarchal mind set, which has ruled our society since time immemorial, castigates women into further oppression, from where they never seem to return. In Sindh alone, more than 100,000 students, who make up over 70 per cent of the total number of female students, have stopped attending schools, colleges and coaching centres across five districts this year, following a shocking gang-rape incident in Khipro town, in which a student of class XI was allegedly drugged, criminally assaulted and filmed, whose video was shared online.

Where does the solution lie? Does it come with speedy justice or the quick implementation of law? If yes, who decides which law is correct? Unfortunately, the issue of women rights in Pakistan has often been underestimated and not given its due importance. Ours is a nation where the concept and understanding of sexuality is highly distorted, which combined with weaker status of woman strengthens false beliefs and claims.

This situation worsened thanks to Zia’s Hudood Ordinance, which required a woman alleging rape to provide four adult male witnesses of good standing to prove that she has been a victim. In case she failed, she was liable to be prosecuted for adultery, for which the maximum punishment is stoning to death. However, contrary to the morals of Islam, the Hudood Ordinance further deteriorated the status of women in society, where most of the victims were routinely jailed for adultery on flimsy evidence. It led to thousands of women being imprisoned without being proven guilty. According to a report by the Pakistan National Commission on the Status of Women (NCSW) “an estimated 80 per cent of women” in jail in 2003 were there because “they had failed to prove rape charges and were consequently convicted of adultery.”

Though the Hudood Ordinance was revised with the Women’s Protection Bill in 2006, the fate of the implementation of the law loiters in the cobwebs of our deeply divided society. It has become a source of contention between politicians, human rights activists and Islamic scholars. Each has their own version, which fails to go beyond a single point of view. Deeply entrenched in the Shariah law vs. civil law debate, the status of the reforms is not very encouraging.

While the developed world today is engaged in a highly controversial debate about legalising prostitution to ensure the well-being of sex workers, the eradication of STDs, controlling human trafficking and bringing brothels under the umbrella of taxation, we are still faced with a dilemma based on our distorted beliefs and ugly prejudice. We need to come to terms with the concept of basic human rights and the protection of our women in our society.

And while we continue chanting slogans against Dr Aafia’s sentence, ashamed for not being able to protect our ‘Muslim sister’ from the clutches of the ‘evil west’, the humiliation that our women have to face at the hands of our own people is nothing short of barbaric. While I cannot comprehend the pain that assaulted women have to live with, I wonder why dignity in Pakistan is confined to one gender only. I am reminded more of it every evening as I return from work, where on the bus stop I pray for every wish to be a horse to keep me away from preening vultures.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: November 4, 2010

The sentence beginning with “Yet, our very own ministers take pride in the cultural norm” was re-written due to a typo. The tenth paragraph now also correctly notes that the maximum punishment for adultery is stoning. The last sentence in the article was also changed to reflect the author’s original text.

huma.iqbal

Huma Iqbal

A blogger who writes on social development, socio-political and economic issues in the region.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Jim Beard

    Huma,

    You are a true Champion for the women of Pakistan and other countries that tolerate this barbaric practice of punishing the victim for “allowing” a man or men to beat & rape them. When we ponder these horrific acts, think of our mothers, our sisters, our young daughters awaiting a bus in any city & some sexual pervert, who isn’t man enough to find a wife to release himself sexually, deciding to grab her, take her into the darkness, beat her, and sexually violate her. At no time is she a willing participant. To blame her is inexcusable! Come on fella’s join the rest of the world and treat your women as human beings who deserve every right to justice as you do. Please!Recommend

  • Naeem Siddiqui, Australia

    Huma,

    Every Friday noon hundreds and thousands of Muslims all over Pakistan goes to mosque and listen the ‘Khutba’ of molvi that lasts almost an hour. This forum can effectively be used to preach the respect and dignity of women to the ‘Momineen’ of this ‘Islamic Soceity’.

    BUT unfortunately our Molvis are more concern about the rapes of ‘Mominate’ happening in Kashmir, Chechnya, Bosnia and Palestine done by Kafirs and infidels. These Molvis are not concerned about increasing rape incident of ‘Mominate’ done by ‘Momineen’ of this ‘Islamic Soceity’.

    Even if some molvi discuses this issue in Juma Khutba he put the complete blame on women for being too ‘westernized’ to provoke some pervert ‘Momin’ to rape them. But unfortunately none of the audience on that Jumma will dare to ask that molvi how much ‘westernized’ a 4 years old girl would be to provoke a 35 years old ‘Momin’ Police constable to rape her kill her and throw her dead body into gutter.Recommend

  • Hina

    Our society has no respect for women even though OUR RELIGION tells us to treat them equally. Our men will never learn and never change their thinking and will continue to use women like a “thing” merely a “thing” and nothing more, and never give them the equal rights they deserve and need,
    SAD!
    Why worry about going to Hell,our people have made our Homeland A living Breathing Hell spreading fire and hatred among us all..we have no respect for humanity.We’re all FAKE…always talking about religion and NEVER PRACTICING IT.
    Recommend

  • Naeem Siddiqui, Australia

    @Hina:

    Don’t blame every thing to men, women should also share the blame of pathetic state of afairs in our society.

    The first school of every child is the lap of the mother, how much mothers in our society preach their sons to respect the women even if the women/girl are of a bad character or if she is westernized and wears jeans !!! ???

    I have came across many aunties who jokingly and some how proudly tell the stories of their sons flirting with the girls in neighbourhood or relatives!! What kind of attitude is this shouldn’t they condemned and punish their sons from day one he did this act!!??

    I have seen boys citing on the street and footpaths staring girls and throwing dirty words towards them. Their parents know all their activities but they don’t stop them, why!! ???
    A person doesn’t become rapist over night; it’s the result of year’s old ignorance and lack of teaching and monitoring by elders and especially women elder like mother, elder sister, aunts, grand mothers.Recommend

  • SadafFayyaz

    Women are treated like products in our community and at times exploited too……..and the second last para…….thats a very hard job……I guess.. Most of the rape cases go unreported………..Recommend

  • Klues

    You need to ask Asma Jehangir why it hasnt ended. She said Huqooq-e-niswa bill will eradicate rape and passed even though it was full of loopholes and actually reduce the rights of women in our society. Good work Asma Jehangir.

    As for Imam saheb sermon on Jumma contains women rights and position in Islamic society if we try to listen it with open ears and minds.Recommend

  • Hina

    @ “Naeem Siddiqui, Australia”.
    Sir, I Totally Agree with you 100% ..& I ask the same questions you have and mostly without gettin any proper/satisfying answer.i have no idea why women feel the need to put sons before daughters or think highly of sons only(im not sayin all of them do but most of the ppl in our society do exactly that).but I also know it wont take just women to change a man’s thinking-level.. yes a mother could and should try to teach her son how to be around women and how to be respectful but what about the mothers who are openly being abused by their husbands/families and what about their kids who have seen it all throughout their lives..seen how the father cares more about the son thn daughters…gives all the freedom to son’s and not daughters…dont you think the kids can already comeup to their own conclusions abt women in tht case?cuz thats what keeps on happenin within our society… very few women can or have the chance to stand up to a man who abuses them in any way or to actually teach a son the proper ways of life or actually BOTHERS TO give him some advice in this particular area…most just do as their man tells them to fearing for their own safety & life, and most importantly for not goin against the years old tradition of puttin men before women! it is sad yes and can be changed but it takes alot to bring abt such a change to a society that is used to having men rule over women in every area possible…be it at home or outside of it.
    therefore i blv the duty also falls onto men themselves that they change their thinking and start giving women the equal respect they deserve and stop lookin down upon them as if they are their properties and their “things” to rule over.(i dont have anythin against men dont get me wrong but Im not happy with them acting like women are a piece of trash and therefore should have no say in anything)
    men in our society need to realise women need to have their own voice their own life, their own choices instead of following the centuries old tradition of fulfilling the duty of just saying “YES” to everything a man orders them to do so. men need to respect women and stop considering them below them and women need to stand up for thmslves but not all are lucky enough to do such a thing,and have to spend their lives in misery or being abused in one way or another.thats all i can say.Recommend

  • murassa sanaullah

    the increase in number of rape cases only sent us a message how sick are minds have become. our society is hypocrite. no civilized society encourage such a crime. our society ,the so called religious leaders ,the police, and the comman man every one is to blame. Recommend

  • Naeem Siddiqui, Australia

    @Hina:

    I am not saying women are solely responsible but they do share some of the blame.

    Yes if a child will see humiliation of most respectable women that is Mother by none but his own father he will never respect any women that may come to his life.

    But Still I believe mothers have immense God gifted influence on their kids and they should exercise this power for the good of their children especially the sons if they really care about them.Recommend

  • Naeem Siddiqui, Australia

    @Klues:

    Here is the list of most favorite topic of molvis in Jumma Prayers

    1) Anti Shiite sermon before moharram
    2) Anti Bralvi sermon before Eid e mildunnabi
    3) Anti Halva sermon before Shabraat
    4) Attrocities in Kashmir with graphic description of killing and rape
    5) Attrocities in Palestine with graphic description of killing and rape
    6) Attrocities in Iraq with graphic description of killing and rape
    7) Attrocities in Afghanistan with graphic description of killing and rape
    8) Anti Qadiyani sermon
    9) Behayai (Adultery) in society and women are prime culprit.
    10) which madrassa best deserve the animal skin before Eid-ul-Fitre

    At least I never heard any Jumma Sermon that talks about respect and dignity of women. Recommend

  • http://haider-voiceofyouth.blogspot.com Haider Ali

    I don’t know what the society is coming to….It’s saddening that we claim to be a democratic country but unfortunately fail to kill the Anti-women elements in Pakistan.Zia-ul-haq Era was the start of this brutality which is present until now.Lets Pray for this country and hope for a better Pakistan in which women are treated equally as men and not as inferior beings.Recommend

  • parvez

    Very important write up and handled very well.
    Pakistan is more and more becoming a male dominated, chauvinistic society with the resultant crimes as you have mentioned. Expecting the leaders, law enforcers etc to do something in this respect is wishful thinking, they don’t give a damn.
    Things will turn around when the women take a stand for themselves, you have to fight this boldly with all your strength and conviction. The moment it is recognised that you the woman of today is willing to fight and fight fiercly, this “male” will back off because he is a coward and people will come forward to support you’ll. Those that are sick in the head will have to be dealt with as is done in other countries through society projects and legal means.
    But the initial steps have to yours and yours alone.
    I hope I haven’t discouraged you with my thinking.Recommend

  • http://blogs.tribune.com.pk/author/264/huma-iqbal/ Huma Iqbal

    I have been following the readers’ comments on my post here. Thank you all for your generous comments and feedback. I believe religion has very little to do with the rape scenario in Pakistan. It is only our distorted beliefs and malfunctioning practices in the name of Islam that creates all such evils.

    Many forums can be used to teach the dignity and honour of women, be it mosques, homes, a mother’s lap, a father’s upbringing, the teachers or the society at large.

    Four year olds being abducted by men (and they can be anyone – her teacher, the qari sahib, the naanbai, some cousin, some uncle) is not very uncommon. Infact I have seen even 2-year olds being raped and later being dumped away in trash. Who is responsible? All of us are. There is no debate on men vs. women…we as a society are to be blamed. The religion that we hold so dear to heart has been interpreted to us in such a distorted manner that we are at a complete loss. Our thought processes have been manipulated to such an extent in the name of religion that we are no more sure of what we think, how we act and what we judge. And hence we end up in a debate on what Islam teaches us and what it does not. Islam teaches us humanity, and we need to be humans first who can think and act on their own. Recommend

  • Ahmad Mirza

    @Author

    Well establisehd facts about the henious crime of “our silence” has led us to this misery.

    I will just say “marvellous”Recommend

  • Angelos

    Nicely written.

    The blame goes to whole society. From porn availability on internet/movie shops to lack of education to justice system to women not making any amends to their situation to ignorant men who look down upon women as slave/toys to government for not taking response. Religious Scholars too need to come up with fatwas against these heinous crimes, if a fatwa can be published against terrorism then fatwas regarding serious issues faced by our society can also be published in the light of Islam.

    Also, we need to implement Islamic Law. We all know what is the punishment for rape related crimes in Islam and they are not their without any reason. We need to make example out of the culprits.Recommend

  • Ali Raza

    Great article Huma…..Keep lighting the bulb in the darkness……Recommend

  • http://blogs.tribune.com.pk/author/264/huma-iqbal/ Huma Iqbal

    @Ahmad Mirza:
    Thanks Ahmad. From the day that I started writing this piece (and subsequent searches therefore), I came across such frightening cases that in many moments the mind went numb. To what lows cannot humanity fall. Recommend

  • Sandra Persson

    Very, very important article Huma – the one thing that brings some hope is that youre writing that the horrible rapes are published in the news. Spread the word – the world has to listen one day.Recommend

  • Klues

    @NaeemS

    Here is the list of most favorite topic of molvis in Jumma Prayers
    1) Anti Shiite sermon before moharram is actually about refuting Ibn-e-Saba teachings
    2) Anti Bralvi sermon before Eid e mildunnabi is actually about removing Hindu influence from our rituals
    3) Anti Halva sermon before Shabraat is actually about removing Hindu influence
    4) Attrocities in Kashmir with graphic description of killing and rape is about our Muslim brothers and sisters killed and persecuted
    5) Attrocities in Palestine with graphic description of killing and rape is about our Muslim brothers and sisters killed and persecuted
    6) Attrocities in Iraq with graphic description of killing and rape is about our Muslim brothers and sisters killed and persecuted
    7) Attrocities in Afghanistan with graphic description of killing and rape is about our Muslim brothers and sisters killed and persecuted
    8) Anti Qadiyani sermon is about false prophet who claims divinity funded by double crossers Brits
    9) Behayai (Adultery) in society and women are prime culprit, sorry but both genders are responsible and more flak is toward males
    10) which madrassa best deserve the animal skin before Eid-ul-Fitr, you dont complain about donations to International brands but complain about free learning centers

    At least I never heard any Jumma Sermon that talks about respect and dignity of women.

    Women respect as mother

    How a Pearl Develops: A Khutbah for Muslim Women

    She’s My Sister

    My Mother, My Best FriendRecommend

  • Klues

    Role of women in Islamic transnational group Tablighi Jamat

    Women were encouraged to participate since the beginning of the movement. Some scholars objected on the participation of women but Muhammad Ilyas slowly gained their support and the first jamaat of women was formed in Nizamuddin, Dehli. Accompanied by a close male relative, women are encouraged to go out in jamaats and work among other women and family members while following the rules of modesty and seclusion. Jamaats of women sometimes participate in large annual meetings; otherwise, they commonly hold neighborhood meetings. Since, South Asian Islamic culture discourages women to go to the mosque and saintly shrines, these venues offer an opportunity for women to pray together and congregate religiously.
    In many modern Islamist movements, women have been relegated to a domestic role. TJ tends to blur the boundaries of gender roles and both genders share a common behavioral model and their commitment to tabligh. The emphasis on a common nature and responsibilities shared by both genders. Just as men redraw the gender roles when they wash and cook during the course of da’wa tours, women undertake the male responsibility of sustaining the householdRecommend

  • http://blogs.tribune.com.pk/author/264/huma-iqbal/ Huma Iqbal
  • Sana N

    Thank you for addressing this. Very well written and thought provoking article. Bless you and all our sisters and daughters.Recommend

  • iqra

    a.o.a………..! HUma g …….its true that every girl is not safe in this society bt who is responsible 4 it……? we people our media…………? who is ………? and plz tell me why a man consider superior than a women.? its our culture or not whats the reasons behaind that…?Recommend

  • Thoma Yosip

    People, including men, or rather males, are responsible for their own actions. Anyone who commits rape, let alone rape a child, has no honor and should be publicly humiliated before being put to death. If they are operating under the color of law or other authority, the death should be slow and painful.

    I am an Assyrian Christian from Iraq and have some experience with this “tactic” which has been used against my people at times in the past. Of course, our “neighbors” never did understand our reaction of anger at the rapists instead of being angry with our women for “dishonoring” our family.

    You, Huma Iqbal, are a brave woman, and I shall pray for you and the victims of this terrible crime.Recommend

  • http://blogs.tribune.com.pk/author/264/huma-iqbal/ Huma Iqbal

    Thanks Thoma. It would good to read your side of the story, in detail:) Recommend

  • http://ashfaqueshah-pakistani.blogspot.com ashfaqueshah

    very serious issueRecommend

  • Lady6

    Uff kia women women women…………………….. don’t you have any other topic to write on?Recommend

  • http://nice ADIL

    @Jim Beard:
    NICE COMINTS I AM ADIL FROM LOHARERecommend

  • RASHID

    well written,
    I appreciated you, its your brave effort Miss Huma…..
    Unfortunately, in this country honor is attached only with women, and most of the peoples treats women as commodity rather than human being.According to reports most of the rape case do not reported due to shame attached for women. its a male dominated society, male are free to do everything which is matter of honor for women.
    our so called religious parties do not raise their voices for women rights…how many religious parties many religious patties rallied against honor killing…
    Unfortunately we are forgetting the teachings of humanity..i don’t know where this lawless and senseless society goes..Recommend