Talking Rape in Pakistan

Last night on my Twitter rounds, I tweeted the Chief Minister of Sindh’s statement that dance and music are not banned in Sindh’s schools. This came after a false report that schools had been “warned” to stop teaching both by the Sindh Education department. The CM issued a clarification that no such notification was in effect and that those who had created it would be censured.

In response to my tweet, two Pakistani men began to discuss whether or not dance and music was obscene or vulgar, and from there, the conversation jumped to rape, with one of the men asserting that “liberal,” “developed”, and “nude societies” didn’t punish rapists properly. Then from this came the leap of logic that “nude countries” were not as “liberal’ as they purported to be. And then, “people like you” want to “bring nudity” to Pakistan, and this would increase rape.

As I followed this conversation, I was struggling to swallow the ridiculousness of the argument — very common in Pakistan — that women’s nudity causes rape.

The absurdity of this argument shouldn’t in normal circumstances even be engaged with, but in Pakistan, where men blame everything and everyone but an actual rapist for rape, it must be engaged with by women. Not just engaged but challenged and fought against. Otherwise people, men and women alike, will still continue to think that how a woman is dressed can provoke or prevent her from being raped (false).

If this premise were true, how does it explain the rapes of children and infants? Or of men and boys? All of which occur in our society. How about the rapes committed at home, by family members? These also occur in our society. Can we truly say that a woman wearing a burqa has never been raped? Can we honestly say that veiling has stopped or eliminated rape?

Even as I was asking these questions, I was told by other Pakistani men that they would teach their sons to “respect women” but they would not like to mention the word “rape” because it was shameful, embarrassing, or downright dirty. But what happens when a young man comes across a woman he has been taught not to respect – an actress, a journalist on television, a sex worker, a woman from an enemy tribe?

What a shame that men are afraid of a word that women have to live with their entire lives. Every woman is a potential victim of rape, or an actual victim (every man too, but numbers are heavily weighed towards women being victims of sexual assault more than men).

If men want to be known as the stronger sex, how do they explain the acute loss of control that the sight of an “improperly dressed” woman causes them that then results in a rape or assault? Are they so unable to control themselves that they can’t lower their gaze, which is what Islam tells them to do?

Then came the barrage of reasons why rape happens. Because of socio-economic conditions. The difference between the haves and have-nots. British colonial rule. Lack of education. Sexual excess. Evolutionary biology (A British man told me that one). Lack of punishment. Lack of enforcement of laws. Lack of fear.

Rape is not a nameless crime. It must be named. You have to name your poison in order to find its antidote.

There is no point comparing the different rape rates of countries in order to feel superior about who lives in a society with less rape. In the entire world women are raped every day. One in five is a victim of rape, one in three a victim of some sort of sexual assault.

But the words that ring in my ears the most came from a tweet directed at me by someone:  Who raped you?

That tweet filled me with such inexplicable fury that I was rendered speechless. It was like a kick to my solar plexus. Was that the only way this man could deal with my questions, or my right to answers? In the entire hour that I tweeted on this subject, I refused to lay the responsibility for rape anywhere else but at the foot of rapists. So obviously I must be the victim of rape in order to be this angry.

I am not but I could be. I know women who have been. So do you, whether they tell you or not.

Going over the entire discussion last night I realized that so much needs to be done to educate men about how to think about rape and consent. Some men really get it and to them I say thank you for your sanity, for your support, and for your solidarity. But far too many seem to think a woman’s actions, dress, or circumstances justify a man raping her. And to them I say: you are always wrong.

The main cause of rape, ladies and gentleman, is rapists.

And there is no justification for this crime.



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