Nearly a week after he claimed ‘vulgarity’ led to an increase in rape cases, the prime minister’s statement continues to provoke outrage
What started as an uproar on Pakistani social media has now made headlines globally, with critics urging Prime Minister Imran Khan to stop suggesting women are to blame for sexual assaults and educate himself on the inequalities that need to be tackled to curb the heinous crimes.
On Sunday, during a live question-and-answer session with Pakistani citizens, Khan responded to a caller who questioned his government’s plans to tackle sexual crimes by saying the root cause was “fahashi” (vulgarity). Claiming that a rise in vulgarity in any society resulted in “consequences,” he said that the concept of “purdah” (modesty) in Islam was meant to tackle this. “This [purdah] is to remove temptations. Not everyone has the willpower to restrain themselves,” he said, claiming that he had witnessed the results of this first-hand while he lived in the U.K. He also claimed that “imported” entertainment from Bollywood and Hollywood was against Pakistani culture and was aiding in the spread of vulgarity and sexual crimes.
The comments quickly drew outrage on Pakistani social media, with many calling out the premier for his “insensitivity” and “backwards thinking.” Highlighting his previous statements on the issue of women’s rights and sexual violence, many have branded him a “misogynist” and demanded he apologize for the pain his insensitive remarks have causes victims of sexual assault. One user pointed out that Khan, while in opposition, had voted against the Protection of Women’s Rights Bill and the Domestic Violence Bill.
On Wednesday, international news agency AFP picked up the story, prompting several international news outlets to develop their own articles on the outrage. From the U.K.’s The Guardian and the BBC to the U.S.’s CBS and Al Jazeera, the prime minister’s statements have been described as him linking how women dress to whether or not they could be raped.
Reacting to one such story, Khan’s first wife—Jemima Goldsmith—said she hoped it was a “misquote/mistranslation,” as “the Imran I knew used to say, ‘Put a veil on the man’s eyes not the woman’.” After being informed by users that the translation was fairly accurate, she said the Quran places the onus on men to restrain themselves—not women.
The independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan on Tuesday issued a statement saying it was “appalled” by the prime minister’s comments. “Not only does this betray a baffling ignorance of where, why and how rape occurs, but it also lays the blame on rape survivors, who, as the government must know, can range from young children to victims of honor crimes,” it said.
Similarly, the Women’s Action Forum and other rights groups have issued a statement maintaining that Khan’s statement is “factually incorrect, insensitive and dangerous.” They said Khan’s statement was actively fostering and promoting rape culture and rape apologia, noting that such comments can further the trauma of victims and encourage them to stay silence, as they fear all blame would be placed on them instead of the perpetrators of the crime. The statement also noted that Khan’s comments seemed to ignore the rape of minor girls, sexual abuse of young boys, and sexual abuse and violence within the confines of the home.
Farzana Bari, a human rights activist, has announced a protest at the Islamabad Press Club today (Thursday) to condemn the P.M.’s mindset. In a posting on Twitter, she said the protesters wanted Khan to issue a public apology for his statement and urged the public to join them in solidarity.
Despite the mounting outrage, the prime minister isn’t completely isolated. Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf supporters have claimed he is being “misquoted” and was actually referring to the impact of easily available pornography on a society. However, this does not take into account his suggestion that any man—if tempted—would be willing to rape a woman because he lacks the “willpower” to avoid it.
Similarly, Special Assistant to the P.M. on Religious Harmony Maulana Tahir Ashrafi has claimed that the prime minister is being “unfairly” targeted by a segment of the population that is misconstruing his words. In a press conference, he claimed that “vulgarity” in advertisements could be “proven” to have resulted in an increase in rape cases. While acknowledging that both men and women could be “immodest,” he specifically targeted the use of women in ads as evidence of vulgarity leading to sexual crimes.
In a statement on Twitter, Special Assistant to the P.M. on Political Communication Shahbaz Gill described the outrage as a product of “misinterpretation of the facts.” Claiming that the P.M. had never mentioned any dress code, he claimed that the P.M.’s “recent” backing of legislation for women proved that his government was fighting for the vulnerable segments of society.
The Prime Minister’s Office has sought to clarify Khan’s statement, claiming that the prime minister “said that our strict anti-rape laws alone will not be alone to stem the rise in sex crime.” It does not make any mention of the prime minister suggesting rape could be avoided if there was no “temptation” to commit the crime.