This is the first of a two-part article on rape culture, how it exists in Pakistan, and how it can be dismantled
Once again, the country is wracked with anger and shame over the gang-rape and murder of a girl in Layyah. The incident occurred less than a month after the brutal public murder of Farzana Parveen. (See Bolo Bhi’s blog on the murder of Farzana Parveen here) This should not come as a shock considering the high rate of violence against women (VAW) in the country. What’s disturbing is the similarity between the case in Layyah, and that of a case in India, where two minor girls aged fourteen and fifteen were raped, and unable to face the “shame” of being rape survivors, decided to hang themselves from a tree. It is highly unlikely, though, that such an incident has never occurred before in Pakistan, considering that most crimes against women are not even reported, and women are urged to keep silent to protect “family honor.”
But we have nothing to worry about, of course. Because rape is something that happens accidentally, so sometimes it is wrong, and sometimes it is right. You see, boys will be boys at the end of the day, and if a girl accuses her ex-boyfriend of rape, should the boy be hanged for a little mistake? At least, that is what Indian Ministers have to say about rape. That it’s an accident that is sometimes right, and that it happens because “boys will be boys.” Following that line of thought, we could assume that perhaps, the four men who raped the Layyah victim ‘accidentally’ decided to gang-rape her. Perhaps in their panic over their “mistake”, they accidentally strangled the victim and didn’t realize they were killing her. Perhaps they panicked even more – being boys, after all- and then decided to make it look like a suicide.
It is not enough to simply outrage over individual incidents. We need to ask ourselves, why? Why does such a culture of impunity exist within our society? The statements of Indian ministers about rape may not be regarding Pakistan, but you do not have to look far to find such examples at home. So the question arises; why? Why do the statistics grow by the year, instead of decreasing? Why are laws to protect women ineffective or not implemented at all? Why are people so apathetic to crimes against women until one case out of hundreds is pounced upon and highlighted by mass media?
Rape culture. It’s a word you don’t often hear in a Pakistani context. When you do hear it, it’s in a confused, garbled narrative where those discussing rape culture think that it means that all women are rape victims. And what exactly is rape culture? Definitions tend to be framed around a white, first-world Western perspective, but can be adapted to our third-world Pakistani context as well.
Rape culture is treating rape as something that happens because of where you were, or what you were wearing, or what time of the night it was. Rape culture is the time my tenth grade Chemistry teacher told a class of 25 female students that they could never be brave enough to stand on the street at 10 pm because they’re girls. Rape culture is claiming that laws against domestic violence push a “western” agenda, and deny men the “right” to beat their wives.
Rape culture is victim-blaming, as if a woman chooses to have her body violated. Rape culture is telling survivors of rape that they have destroyed the family honor. Rape culture is burdening women with the honor of their entire family. Rape culture is burdening women with family honor because a woman is her father’s property, and then her husband’s property. Rape culture is lack of rape kits and forensic labs because conducting tests to prove that a woman has been raped is not only unimportant, it is also considered un-Islamic. Rape culture is Islamic councils persisting in the claim that if a child hits puberty, they can be married. Rape culture is treating women as property to the point of “exchanging” brides in tribal customs because “If the family, we marry our daughter into gives us one of their women, then they will treat our daughter well for fear that we would mistreat their woman.” Rape culture is suspecting a woman has ‘illicit relations’ because she’s seen talking to a man. Rape culture is killing women because they were dancing or talking on a mobile phone, because a mobile phone serves no other purpose than to facilitate women with loose morals who conduct affairs with men and bring shame to their family. Rape culture is a woman being of loose morals because she works, talks to men, has a boyfriend, or goes out at night. Rape culture is your father telling you that you can’t go out at night with your female friends because if someone he knows sees you, “what will people say?”
Rape culture is throwing acid on a woman’s face because she refused your marriage proposal. Rape culture is slaughtering your cousin’s three children because she refused to marry you. Rape culture is corrective rape of a lesbian because it isn’t homosexuality, “she just hasn’t met a real man yet.” Rape culture is discriminating against the LGBT community to enforce and strengthen the heteronormative patriarchal structures of society.
Rape culture is the refusal to teach a child sex-Ed because not only is sex shameful and dirty, but children must not be allowed to learn about sexuality. Rape culture is parents sending their daughters to girls-only schools because boys are uncontrollable animals who see a female and immediately want to violate her. Rape culture is a male classmate looking at a girl wearing capris and a fitted shirt and saying, “Where’s her dupatta?” Rape culture is his female friend refusing to admonish him, and playing along by saying “she forgot it at home.” Rape culture are the memes or social media updates about Pakistan “raping” India because the former won a cricket match, and a sports victory indicates the strength of your masculinity which must further be reinforced by references to raping the opposing team.
Rape culture is the rape joke that makes survivors of assault flinch and cringe and suffer from traumatic flashbacks. Rape culture is the rape joke that taps into every woman’s greatest fear, and makes a mockery out of the violation of a woman’s body and her very being. Rape culture is calling women over-sensitive for taking offense at a rape joke, and thereby delegitimizing a woman’s experience and trauma.
Rape culture is bro culture, where men support each other in sexism and misogyny because “bros before hos.” Rape culture is young women assimilating into bro culture because it is easier to live as a woman who perpetuates discrimination against her own sex, simply for the sake of earning men’s acceptance and validation. Rape culture is when men have sex because “boys will be boys” but if a woman has an active sex-life, she’s destroying her life.
Rape culture is using the violation of a woman’s body as a tool for ethnic cleansing or a weapon of warfare. Rape culture is women being harassed when they go to file an FIR after being raped, with police treating them like they “asked for it”. Rape culture is the dehumanization of sex workers. Rape culture is the claim that a woman who sells her body to make a living cannot be raped and deserves no rights. Rape culture is denying the existence of marital rape. Rape culture is a marriage contract that asks if the bride is “a maiden/virgin, a widow, or divorced.” Rape culture is a religious cleric crossing out the clause of the marriage contract in which the husband gives his wife “permission” to divorce him because a woman shouldn’t have the right to divorce. Rape culture is young women being “honour-killed” for singing and dancing at a mixed gathering. Rape culture is the prevalence of tribal customs which insist that a woman who dances or sings in front of men has dishonoured her family/tribe and must be killed. Rape culture is a television anchor harassing a rape survivor on live television, within hours of her assailants being acquitted.
Rape culture is that when Dr. Shazia Khalid was raped, she was pressured into leaving the country because the ruler of the country was a military dictator who wanted to protect the soldiers who raped Dr. Khalid. Rape culture is when that same military dictator went on to say in an interview, “Nowadays they say in Islamabad, if you want to get a Canadian visa and make millions, get raped.” Rape culture is the dictator going on to say, “Who knows with Dr. Khalid, maybe it is the same case of making money.” Rape culture is when the dictator denies ever making such heinous statements, rather than apologizing for such vile claims. Rape culture is years later, a woman self-immolating because she cannot get justice for her rape, and still being treated as a joke.
Rape culture is a young girl being gang-raped, but being frightened into dropping her case within 24 hours. Rape culture is the reasons that the girl dropped her case; that a prominent politician who came to the police station to see her, named the survivor on live television, as well as calling her “rude and hyper” because she’s too traumatized to say anything. Rape culture is the politician mentioning that the man who brought the survivor to the station lives with her as her roommate, and stating that “this is her version of the story.” Rape culture is the reporter who loudly said mashallah in a sarcastic tone when the politician stated that the survivor said she did not want notoriety. Rape culture is two newspapers publishing the name of the survivor, as well as where she lived, her friend’s name, and the personal fact that she lived with her boyfriend. Rape culture is the assumption that the survivor was a ‘prostitute’ (because if a woman sells her body, then she’s asking to be raped) or painting her male friend as her pimp. Rape culture is the lack of justice because the assailants were from elite, influential families.
Rape culture is wrong. There is no black or white in this situation. There will never be a way to justify rape culture, not in the name of religion, not in the name of honor, not in the name of social values, not in the name of tradition. But in actuality, rape culture is justified. It is justified by the excuse that Islam promotes modesty and has tasked men with protecting the oh-so-inferior women. It is justified with a culture that is not like the much-disparaged Western culture where women wear shorts and have abortions. It is justified by the most dangerous of all excuses, traditional norms. (Read Sana Saleem’s blog on rape culture here.)