Pakistan is shocked after the robbers gang-raped a woman with her children near the motorway. But in a country where sexual violence against women is common, the incident has forced people to take to the streets and demand change, BBC’s Saira Asher asked.
Women in Pakistan are often advised by family members or relatives not to stay out until late at night, or to ensure that they have a male partner with them for their safety.
But when a top police official accused him of finding the attackers, it was alleged that the victim was blamed for being left alone after partially blinded.
Comments not previously publicly questioned are now being touted as victim-blaming.
“By blaming the victim, determining a woman’s character whether she was a victim or not, these have been rooted in our society for decades,” says Moneza Ahmed, who is part of a feminist collectivity.
“So there is a sign behind that our society is listening, changing and a lot more women are speaking.”
What happened in ‘motorway rape’?
At around 3 am on 9 September, the woman refueled on a motorway going out of the eastern city of Lahore. He had two children with him.
He called his relatives in Gujranwala who advised him to call the emergency numbers of the motorway and asked him to help.
According to a complaint lodged in police by a relative of the woman, the car was broken into by two men in their early 30s to mid-30s who stole money and jewelry. They raped her in front of their two children at a nearby farm, and then escaped.
Police say she is still traumatized, although she provided them with some basic details of their attackers.
The next day, the most senior police officer in Lahore, Umer Sheikh, came before the media and alleged that he was partially guilty. She questioned why she did not take a busy road, noting that she was alone with her children, or checked her fuel before leaving.
She repeated these points in several TV shows, adding that the woman, who hails from France, seemed to believe that Pakistan was as safe as France.
The response was seen as nothing in the country as before and came from all quarters.
On social media people blamed him for his victimization.
Federal Minister for Human Rights Shireen Mazari said on Twitter, “An officer effectively convicted for gang-raping a woman, saying that she should take him to GT Road or questioned her with her children Why she went out at night is unacceptable & raised the issue. Nothing can ever rationalize the crime of rape. ”
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan also condemned the remarks, as did others.
Ms. Ahmed says that she and others are “fighting against a patriarchal mindset; women are being blamed for rape, or not being able to go out at night with their children, or if they do so If it does, it can be called educative “.
Change brave women demand change
This week’s apology for his remarks served to ease the anger directed at the police chief.
“Television, activists, academics as well as representatives of all political parties, it was a beautiful event with brave women coming forward,” says Reema Omer, the legal advisor for the South Asia program of the International Committee of Jurists.
Protest marches are taking place in major cities across the country. There is a demand for reforms in the police, and medical-legal, court and prison systems.
For the victim, all this can amount to nothing. Some rape cases are sometimes prosecuted in Pakistan, and far less successfully.
Federal Minister Fawad Chaudhary said in the National Assembly this week that on an average 5,000 rape cases are filed every year and this causes 5% punishment. The rights group says the correct figure is even lower, stating that many rape cases are never brought to the attention of the police.
Women fear being humiliated by police officers and for social justice if they go public.
Speaking to BBC Urdu, lawyer and social activist Hina Jilani said that training was needed to sensitize the police and judiciary to crimes such as rape. And to improve the methodology of forensic evidence collection and investigation to improve conviction rates.
In 2002, Mukhtar Mai’s case made international headlines when she decided to take legal action against those who gang-raped her on the orders of a village council.
After a protracted legal battle – already an extraordinary act in a country where many women of rape took their own lives instead of reporting their cases – in 2011 five out of five men accused them of rape, He was acquitted for lack of evidence.
But the reaction to motorway rape, as it is known, or to victim-blaming, would be incomprehensible when Mukhtar Mai’s case was in world headlines.
In recent years, Pakistan has seen the rise of a more vocal and social-media savvy group of feminists, challenging social norms that severely restrict women’s freedom.
“We now have women who are expressing themselves on social media and moving to mainstream media and this has shaped our discourse,” says Ms. Omer.