Patriarchy is a horrible vice that has plagued many nations, including ours. Womxn have suffered needlessly at the hands of this villain for too long now, for it is a part of every house, locality and city that you may have the misfortune of visiting.
Recent public outcries have made a lot of harassment, abuse, rape, and murder cases against women widely known, but this problem has existed for much longer and has gone unresolved for too long. According to the Madadgaar National Helpline, 93% women in Pakistan experience some form of sexual violence in public places in their lifetime. 70% women and girls experience physical or sexual violence in their lifetime by their intimate partners. These numbers are staggeringly high.
But we all know that most cases go unreported. So the actual number is much, much higher. According to the Madadgar National Helpline team, only 10% cases of violence from Sindh and Punjab get reported in the media, while even less get reported from Balochistan and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. There are many reasons for this underreported data. There is a certain shame and stigma attached to being a survivor of sexual abuse. Victim blaming is a horrifyingly reality in our society. Because why would you blame the rapist when you can pin the entire blame on the victim?
In this country, women are not even safe in their homes. According to the Young Women in Pakistan: Status Report 2020, 44% of young married women and men see no harm in “wife beating”. In last 12 months, 14% of currently married young women reported physical violence from their spouse, and 4% reported sexual spousal violence. During interviews for a report on intimate partner violence in Pakistan by the Aga Khan University, survivors of domestic abuse admitted to feeling that the women had no voice or agency in their marital relationship; this included agency over sexual matters.
Honor killing is another severely underreported but painfully common exercise in Pakistan. Human rights activists in Pakistan estimate that there are about a 1000 honor killings in the country every year. These too go unreported as they are resolved within the family before the matter can reach the media.
Recently, there has been a surge of reported sexual abuse and rape cases. The public has been more sympathetic to the victims of recent events, condemning the act and demanding justice. However, the police has very conveniently reminded the country – instead of talking about the investigation and what they are planning to do about making the roads safer – that since women are not safe in this country, they should be more careful.
Victim blaming is not the only thing the police is guilty of. Time and again, our law enforcement – meant for our protection, including the womxn’s – has abused their power. In May 2019, a 22 year old woman in Rawalpindi district, Punjab, reported that four men had abducted and raped her; allegedly, three of these four men were police officers. That is unfortunately not all. In April 2019, an assistant sub-inspector was charged with raping a woman in Bahawalpur district, Punjab. In September 2018, another police official was charged with raping a 6-year-old girl.
The problem does not end here. The survivors of sexual abuse and rape have to deal with a lot of emotional and social difficulties. Society is unkind to survivors. Additionally, it is reported that only 23% survivors seek help, and 16% inform close friend or family but avoid seeking help. Only 3% of the survivors inform the police, a lawyer, or other help mechanisms.