A shocking story of violence in the form of gang rape of Ms Mai Mukhtar in Pakistan drew much attention when she came public with her rape a decade ago. The courageous decision of this woman from a remote village to go public with her rape broke a stigma of silence in Pakistan. Two weeks ago a three-member Supreme Court of Pakistan upheld the acquittal of five of the six men accused in her assault. This decision came five years after a lower court found that she had indeed been gang raped. All but one perpetrator was exonerated due to her not being able to substantially prove she was raped. This was seen worldwide as a government not “hearing” its women.
The horrific gang rape was done per orders of tribal leaders who wished to punish her family because her brother had relations with a girl from a powerful clan and higher caste. The act was payment for her family’s ‘crime of honor.’ Her brother was sodomized by a member of the alleged ‘aggrieved’ family, also as punishment.
Rape victims in Pakistan face the ordeal of tremendous social stigma, often leading victims to suicide. Instead of silence, shame, or suicide, Mai defied social and religious taboo and brought her attackers to court. After years in various courts in order to obtain justice, Mai raised her case to the highest levels of government and became a symbol of women’s struggle to end the social stigma that rape carries. For many years women like Mai had silently suffered without asking for justice.
Violence against women is one the harsh realities of a Pakistani women. Increased cases of violence are being reported each year in Pakistan. The sexual harassment at the workplace, abuse, beating, and rape were some of the forms of violence against women.” One third of women in Pakistan are uneducated and have very little concept about making their own choices. The police often cold-shoulder the women and refuse to register cases unless there are obvious signs of injury and judges at times seem to sympathize with the husbands. Anis Haroon, head of Pakistan’s National Commission on the Status of Women, estimates that convictions are obtained in only 5 percent of cases involving crimes against Pakistani women. This indicates that violence against women in Pakistan is not declining and the courts need to intervene more to get women the rights they deserve.
Any kind of change to government policy that prioritizes the elimination of abuse and gender bias must come from a grassroots movement. Pakistani women can achieve these goals by increasing representation in government. Educating women will ensure awareness of what is happening to women around the world today and is an essential step towards improving their situation. It is a surprising fact that women are made to do some of the things simply because of the fact that they are women. Presently small scaled initiatives need to be started to educate women, raise awareness about women’s rights and direct requests to the government that women are conscious of what’s happening. Unless women take the leadership role in becoming the stimulus for change, women’s rights will be neglected in this male chauvinistic legal system.
By Lubna Jamal