Prime Minister Imran Khan, oversimplifying rape isn't the way to stop it

Prime Minister Imran Khan, oversimplifying rape isn't the way to stop it

There was a lot of unpack in the PM's recent Q&A session with the public, especially his discussion of rape.
06 Apr, 2021

Prime Minister Imran Khan over the weekend held a two-hour long question and answer session with the public and there's one topic he discussed that's of particular interest to us and the rest of Pakistan — rape.

One caller from Hyderabad had two questions for the premier:

  • What steps has the government taken to prevent rape and child abuse, and are you satisfied with them?
  • Since you speak of the State of Madinah, why isn't the government hanging rapists in public?

Now, instead of answering the question — particularly part A — the prime minister went into a different direction.

He started with stating that the issue pained him greatly, adding the crimes against children and women reported in newspapers are not even 1 per cent of what actually happens in Pakistan.

Rape has always existed in our society but people were ashamed and didn't talk about it before, said PM Imran, adding that now, more people are talking about it.

"I want to say, like corruption isn't eradicated by enacting laws, the same goes for rape cases. We have made the law on rape and child abuse very strict but society must fight it together," said the prime minister.

"Society has to decide that these crimes are [equal to] the destruction of society."

Well said, prime minister. A society has to be cognisant of this menace and take steps together to combat it.

But here's where we lost him: The premier then linked the rise of rape and sexual abuse to the rise of "vulgarity".

Pause: To begin with, his oversimplified take on rape is problematic to say the least because "vulgarity" (also, who gets to decide what is vulgar and what is not?) is not the only reason for rape. In fact, we're very interested to know if this reasoning stems from some research that the government has conducted? And this is us genuinely asking the government: if you have taken steps to find out why cases of sexual violence are on the rise and more common in one place than the other, do share it with the public.

He mentioned several times that we as a society should fight rape and "vulgarity" but he never mentioned educating people on why this is wrong. By blaming vulgarity, he's removing the onus from the rapist. What he should be saying is we must teach men that rape is wrong regardless of what the victim is wearing or doing.

And if there is rampant "vulgarity" in the society, then perhaps the government could open rehabilitation centres for such men who have been affected so badly that they resort to violence? Instead of highlighting how vulgarity has corrupted the people and led to a rise in sexual violence — a dangerously ambiguous statement — tell us what you are doing to tackle this issue.

The premier also spoke of religion and the concept of 'pardah' in Islam. It is to remove "temptation" from society because "not everyone has willpower", he said.

Pause: His assertion that some people don't have any willpower is, again, problematic as it, again, places the burden of blame on the victim: the man didn't have the willpower therefore the woman should have been covered from head to toe. We wonder if the same concession would be given to a woman for lets say an extramarital affair: she lacked willpower so the man should have known better. We highly doubt it. So why this leeway for men?

Also, Islam talks about modesty for both sexes. Why is it that our leaders and those in power forget to talk about how men should lower their gaze to avoid temptation? Countries like Saudi Arabia and Iran prove that layers of clothes alone do not stop rape. The problem is not in the women and children who are abused and harassed, neither is it in their clothes — it's in the rapists and abusers and their mindsets. And by perpetuating this mindset, the prime minister is telling women living in Pakistan that the burden of safety lies on them.

Imran Khan went on to touch upon his time in England (surprise, surprise), India copying Hollywood, him asking local film producers not to bring in Indian or Western content, children's access to information on their mobile phones, and of course, the Turkish shows that will save us all.

What he did not do, however, was actually answer the caller's questions. He missed an opportunity to brief the people on what his government is doing, has done and intends to do by the time his government's term is over. That is what parents of children want to know. That is what women — regardless of whether they wear a chador or not — want to know.

The basic idea of what he was saying is sound — that rape is everyone's problem and that laws are not enough, we must all fight it together — but his moralising saw him veering off topic and displaying a dangerous misunderstanding of a critical issue.