Prime Minister Imran Khan expressed shame and pain at the recent incident where a young woman was sexually harassed by a mob of men at Minar e Pakistan in Lahore. He categorically stated that the incident was against our religious and cultural values, while asserting that growing up he found more respect for women in Pakistan than in the West.
Furthermore, he blamed such sex crimes on the poor upbringing of Pakistani youth and the misuse of technological gadgets that expose youth to obscenity. Pontificating on proper upbringing, he suggested making youth aware of the life of the Prophet. After associating the sexual urges of young men with the lack of veil, the PM put his foot in his mouth yet again.
However, one cannot just blame him for he is but a reflection of a toxic mindset that has enveloped many educated and professional young men in the nation. Indeed, he is merely projecting a narrative that is upheld by his support base of otherwise university educated young men in a country marred with illiteracy. This narrative is heavily based on victim blaming.
If a mob sexually harasses a woman, she is to be blamed for being sexually suggestive, seeking attention and besmirching the name of the country. If a woman is raped on the highway, she is blamed for not driving with a male relative. If a poor woman like Mukhtaran Mai is gang raped, then she is blamed for seeking attention, wanting a Canadian visa, and bringing shame to the country. If a talented woman like Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy highlights such issues, she is again blamed for besmirching the name of the country. This narrative remains deeply entrenched.
It is so easy to see that the PM is out to lunch again. His whole narrative is defensive and about looking good instead of tackling the root cause of sexual harassment, and that is to focus on the perpetrator and never the victim. His statement that growing up he saw more respect for women in Pakistan than in the West is based on pure jingoism and a nostalgia for a romanticized past. Does he forget the many rape survivors in Pakistan were imprisoned for adultery under Hudood laws by President Zia ul Haq? Women in rural areas are paraded naked to settle vendettas and their heads forcibly shaved? And what about the women who were raped by the faithful during the bloody partition of 1947? How well does the PM narrative on blaming the lack of veil and technological gadgets hold in all such cases? Indeed, when does blaming the victim end and when does holding the perpetrator responsible begin?
If the PM wants people to learn about the Prophet (PBUH)’s life, then why does he not highlight the incident when the Prophet turned the face of the young man away instead of asking the woman to adjust her clothing? Why does he not narrate the incident where the Qur’an stands in defense of Aisha against those who tried to accuse her of misconduct? Why does he not emphasize that the Islamic ethos is heavily centered on the protection of the vulnerable and not the 101 excuses for the oppressors?
Many young Pakistani men are saying that the woman was being provocative and throwing flying kisses. But here’s the thing, her action still does not give the young men the right to look let alone touch her. Does not the veil start from lowering the male gaze? So, when the PM wants youth to be acquainted with Islam, then should he not be telling his support base of young men to stop victim blaming and start looking within?
The PM deflected to the West, but does he not know of the late Dick Gregory who stated that “if I’m a woman and I’m walking down the street naked, you still don’t have a right to rape me.” Does he not know of nude communes where consent is of paramount significance?
The need of the hour is education based on consent: that no one can touch you without your express approval. Kudos then to the brave women of Pakistan, who face physical and sexual harm and yet push back with a simple yet powerful slogan “mera jism meri marzi” (my body my right).