Violence against women seems to have become a never-ending plague in Pakistan, with news stories about women getting harassed, assaulted, or raped coming out every day. The outreach of this plague is such that not a day goes by when our society is not shaken by devastating news of a woman or female child being violated, brutalized, and/or killed. motorway incident
Not a lot of time lapses before we find our people, politicians, and police officials engaged in misguided discourse that mostly revolves around patriarchal notions of a man’s presence being the source of a woman’s safety, victim-blaming involving questions about the woman’s incapability to protect herself, and the enthusiastic calls for punitive justice in the form of public hangings; when their main focus should be on devising a comprehensive plan for providing women their basic human right to security and freedom of movement.
Motorway Incident: An occurrence that has jolted society
The recent motorway incident that jolted the public and set ablaze social media and television news channels with statements of outrage and condemnation was that of a woman getting gang-raped by armed men while being stranded with her children on the motorway between Sialkot and Lahore.
While the majority was united in expressing their disgust and feelings of heartbreak at the occurrence of the assault, a minority still exists that resorted to victim-blaming by questioning why a woman decided to travel without an adult male during the night. The fact that the victim’s decision to travel alone was even being questioned was problematic in itself because this is the sort of thinking that shifts the blame onto the citizen who has been wronged, while absolving the state of its failure to safeguard its people.
The question we should all have been asking is not why the victim chose to undertake this long journey independently or why she was “reckless” enough to enable a car malfunctioning at the motorway, rather why the state failed to provide safety and protection to a family who found themselves in a vulnerable situation even after multiple calls for assistance were made to the highway police.
The discussion should not have been centered around how women’s mobility would inevitably lead to an increased frequency of such heinous crimes being committed, but how the continued incompetency of the state’s institutions would and had previously resulted in its people’s safety being undermined and under constant threat.
Public outcry following this incident caused the hashtag #PublicHangingOfRapists and other similar hashtags to trend on Twitter, as thousands and upon thousands of people called upon the government to make an example of the culprits. This is a demand that our public has often made in the past, whenever a horrific account of violence against women has beaten the statistics of under-reporting, defeated the silence imposed on victims by oppressive patriarchal structures, and managed to make headlines as a last resort for seeking justice.
Capital punishment is not the solution motorway incident
However, capital punishment is not the solution to the problem of this widespread violence that is inflicted on women both inside and outside of their homes. At best, capital punishment for rapists will act as a deterrent, but will not serve the purpose of a permanent solution.
The patriarchal state we live in aligns itself with men by default and leaves little room for women to be seen and heard when they speak of the oppression and torture that they suffer through at the hands of men. If, even tomorrow, the state would begin to sanction public hangings of rapists and other sex offenders, that would not change the reality that women were, are, and will continue to be unsafe in Pakistan until systemic changes are made to improve the competency of our police forces and justice system.
While exercising the law and enabling justice to prevail is important, we cannot deny the fractures that exist within our judicial bodies that often cause criminals to slip through the cracks and evade punishment. Punishing harassers and rapists is only one aspect of the multi-faceted solution that we need to ensure the safety and protection of rights of women and other vulnerable groups in society.
Nipping the evil in its bud
It is not enough that the Prime Minister, Imran Khan, vowed to personally look into the matter, or that demands were made for the CCPO Lahore to be removed from his post, or that our Federal Minister for Human Rights, Shireen Mazari, tweeted about the incident.
Holding the relevant authorities accountable for their inefficacy, forcing them to reform their plans of action, addressing and working to eradicate the prevalence of rape culture, and introducing sex education are just some of the crucial steps that need to be taken by the government to begin to fight this menacing plague.
The writer is a graduate of the Lahore University of Management Sciences, she holds a degree in English Literature. The views expressed in this article are the authors own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.