Protests against Pakistan Prime Minister’s comment linking rape to how women dress

Pakistan rights campaigners have accused the country’s Prime Minister Imran Khan of “baffling ignorance” after the former cricketer linked how women dress to cause a rise in rape cases.

In a weekend interview on live television, Oxford-educated Imran Khan said an increase in rapes indicated the “consequences in any society where vulgarity is on the rise.” “The incidents of rape of women … (have) actually very rapidly increased in society,” he said.

He advised women to cover up to prevent temptation. “This entire concept of purdah is to avoid temptation, not everyone has the willpower to avoid it,” he said, using a term that can refer to modest dress or the segregation of the sexes.

Hundreds have signed a statement circulating online Wednesday calling Khan’s comments “factually incorrect, insensitive and dangerous.”

“Fault rests solely with the rapist and the system that enables the rapist, including a culture fostered by statements such as those made by (Khan),” the statement said.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, an independent rights watchdog, said Tuesday it was “appalled” by the comments. “Not only does this betray a baffling ignorance of where, why and how rape occurs, but it also lays the blame on rape survivors, who, as the government must know, can range from young children to victims of honor crimes,” it said.

The Karachi chapter of the Women’s Action Forum called on Khan to apologize for his “callous and damaging remarks.”

Pakistan is a deeply conservative country where victims of sexual abuse are often viewed with suspicion and criminal complaints are rarely seriously investigated. Much of the country lives under an “honor” code where women who bring “shame” on the family can be subjected to violence or murder. Pakistan regularly ranks among the worst places in the world for gender equality.

Nationwide protests erupted last year when a police chief admonished a gang-rape victim for driving at night without a male companion. The Franco-Pakistani mother was assaulted in front of her children on the side of a motorway after her car ran out of gas. After that incident, Khan called for rapists to be publicly hanged or castrated for their crimes.

Last year, Khan was also criticized after another television appearance where he failed to challenge a Muslim cleric’s insistence that coronavirus had been unleashed because of the wrongdoings of women.

The latest controversy comes as the organizers behind International Women’s Day marches battle what they have called a coordinated disinformation campaign against them, including doctored images and videos circulated online. It has led to blasphemy accusations — a hugely sensitive issue in Pakistan where allegations have previously led mobs to attack people.

The organizers of the annual rally have called for the Prime Minister to intervene.

In his weekend TV appearance, Imran Khan also blamed divorce rates in Britain on the “sex, drugs and rock and roll” culture that began in the 1970s, when the twice-divorced Khan was gaining a reputation in London as a playboy.

An ill-informed understanding

Pakistan’s famous daily The Dawn said in an editorial on April 6, 2021:

“THE myth that a woman’s clothing is somehow linked to the sexual violence against her has long been debunked, but it seems the prime minister still harbours this problematic view. During a telethon where members of the public were invited to ask him questions, Imran Khan’s response to one caller was unsettling. Though Mr. Khan denounced crimes against women and children, his explanation that sexual violence is somehow a product of ‘obscenity’ — which he described as a Western and an Indian import — betrayed an ill-informed understanding of a very serious issue.

“Not only did Mr. Khan say that the pervasiveness of obscene behaviour has contributed to these crimes, he also implied that they can somehow be prevented if women observe purdah. In his words, purdah would lessen the temptation of those who lack willpower. While he noted that society would have to evolve to better protect its women and children, his point appeared to be more about limiting government responsibility than reforming male behaviour. Mr. Khan’s views on this subject are shockingly insensitive and even harmful to the women’s movement in the country.

“If the holder of the country’s highest office is framing the narrative of sexual violence in a way that places the responsibility of ‘doing more’ on women, it gives little hope that common citizens will espouse a broader and less misogynistic approach. If the prime minister had engaged with rights activists in the country to really understand women’s grievances, he would instantly comprehend that this mentality of equating rape with a lack of ‘modesty’ is the very manifestation of victim-blaming that women fight against.

“Blaming the increasing incidence of rape on Western influence is convenient, but Mr. Khan should not forget that women in the countries he blames for obscenity and high divorce rates have better protections and more freedoms than women in Pakistan. He should understand the basics of women empowerment, and acknowledge that imposing a solution is no support; the government must protect women regardless of their choices.”

The daily also published the following commentary: “In Pakistan, rape culture is not only systemic, it is reinforced at every level

Put veil on the man’s eyes: Jemima’s version

By now, many in Pakistan have taken exception to Prime Minister Imran Khan’s remarks on the causes of sexual violence and rape, terming them factually incorrect, insensitive and dangerous.

International media has also picked up the Pakistan PM’s comments linking the incidence of rape to obscenity and women’s modesty, and one article has caught the eye of Jemima Goldsmith, the ex-wife of Imran Khan.

UK’s MailOnline ran the news with the headline Pakistan PM Imran Khan blames how women dress for rise in rape cases and says ‘not everyone has the willpower to avoid it’, to which Jemima tweeted:

“I’m hoping this is a misquote/mistranslation. The Imran I knew used to say, ‘Put a veil on the man’s eyes not on the woman’.”

Then she quoted a verse [24:30] from the Holy Quran: “Say to the believing ‘men’ that they restrain their eyes and guard their private parts. That is purer for them. Surely, Allah is well aware of what they do.”

“The onus is on men,” she wrote.

While admitting that the number of cases of rape and sexual assaults, particularly against children, are much higher than reported, Mr. Khan advised women to observe purdah to protect themselves.

“Such suggestions reflect a warped sense of morality, and insensitivity towards a serious problem. More dangerously, they try and provide justification for the increasing incidence of sexual crimes in Pakistan,” noted senior journalist Zahid Hussain in his article.

Meanwhile, a statement signed by representatives of several rights organisations said that Prime Minister Imran had actively fostered and promoted rape culture and rape apologia.

“In a country where the total reported cases of rape represent only the tip of the iceberg, such statements have the effect of further traumatising and silencing survivors of sexual violence by placing the blame on them, instead of on those who carry out the crime and the system that enables rapists,” the statement said.

Representatives of several rights organisations, including the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, War Against Rape and Pakistan Bar Council’s Journalist Defence Committee, have signed the statement.


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