'Injustice of Silence': Dawn - Rape in Pakistan

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Preserving honour through a woman’s body

By Maliha Zia Lari - Advocate High Court

The criminality of rape is a contentious matter in Pakistan. Already entrenched in social stigma, the offence is so closely correlated with cultural and political conditioning, that it is difficult to treat the issue as merely a legal one.

In actuality, the crime, it’s investigation and it’s prosecution all reflect a deeper cultural dynamic that ultimately results in how rape is addressed in Pakistan.

In a patriarchal culture such as Pakistan’s, women are viewed to be subordinate to men. They are not recognised as individuals but through their relationships, those of a mother, daughter, sister, wife. Rather, seen as a ‘commodity’ being transferred from one man’s home (her father’s) to another (her husband’s), a woman must therefore be protected to maintain her best possible form until lead-time.

This prevalent mindset stems from local traditions, values and practices across the country that perpetuate pigeon-holed roles for women as mere reproducers.

The concept of ownership and with it the ‘preservation’ of a woman is the crest of why men exert control over restrictions of space, mobility, and behaviour among other liberties.

This control is designed to ensure that a woman does not bring shame to her family. While she is contrastingly viewed as ‘fragile’, the weight of upholding her family’s honour starts the day a girl is born.

With such limited social standing, women often suffer the lack of financial benefits of their work, inevitably rendered as the ‘family’s’ money. In some cases, women are not allowed to work, in many others, they are unable to due to illiteracy, resulting in permanent economic handicap.

Consequently, women are unable to leave abusive relationships where they are consistently exploited without an avenue of long-term state support.

The core reason behind the rising incidence of rape in Pakistan lies within the confines of sexual objectification – violating a woman’s body for the ultimate dishonour.

This is evidenced by the punishments meted out by the illegal parallel systems such as jirgas and panchayats, that order the rape or stripping of womenwhen men in their family have committed an offence. Such systems are particularly dominant in southern Punjab, where the majority of rape cases are reported.

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