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Open Letter to Punjab C.M. Buzdar

by Nabeela Rafique

File Photo. Money Sharma—AFP

Pakistani women deserve answers on how the government is planning to tackle the toxic mindsets that perpetuate rape culture

Respected Chief Minister!

I am a Pakistani woman, and the working mother of a three-month-old daughter. We have never met or spoken to each other. Nor have we crossed paths. Of course, I have seen you on TV many times when you address people after visiting gatherings or inaugurating new projects. And, I must say that I have always found you a humble gentleman who seems to focus more on his work than publicity; who is an introvert but doesn’t let it be an impediment to his performance.

I understand the past few weeks must have been as challenging for you as they have been for the public due to the horrifying gang-rape of a mother in front of her children on the Lahore-Sialkot motorway. Let me offer my sincere compassion and support for all those in your government who are working with you in trying to transform this country along the lines of the Riyasat-e-Madina.

Good things take time, they say. So while others might have questioned your service delivery, I was somewhat assured that we would be able to live safely, and securely, with the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf in power, and you as the chief minister. But this heinous and barbarous crime, committed against one of my fellow sisters, has rightly shocked the entire nation. It has triggered countrywide outrage and unrest, with people demanding the heads of the rapists. It has now been over two weeks since the events of Sept. 9, but the primary accused remains at-large. My earlier observation about the safety and security of women in this country stands questioned.

This is not the first time I’ve felt like this; when seven-year-old Zainab Ansari was raped and murdered in Kasur, I also felt unsafe. It took me quite a long time to be at peace with myself after that horror. Now, my person is once again at trial with myself. It looks as if we, Pakistan’s women, are not safe anywhere, and, sir, this is a very terrifying feeling.

Can you imagine the lack of trust, humiliation, misery, helplessness, and insecurity we feel being women in this country? And then Lahore CCPO Umar Sheikh came on TV and shifted part of the blame on the victim, reminding us that this is not France. Alas, this is Pakistan.

I understand heinous crimes such as rape or sexual harassment happen everywhere in the world, unfortunately. But the sort of victim-blaming we see in Pakistan truly distinguishes us from any other country, as the CCPO rightly mentioned.

No woman wants or deserves to live under constant fear. We don’t deserve to pick and choose between our basic liberty to live or to get raped. When I look at my daughter, I feel I am a failure in raising her in a country where being female is looked upon with a pity tinged with disgust; where no place is safe for her or her mother. I feel the time has come to choose my future over my love for this country, an opportunity I didn’t avail in the past despite having the option.

Today, as a Pakistani woman, I no longer want to hear any of those lofty promises about Naya Pakistan. I just want my basic right as a citizen of this country to live with my head held high, and not sit scared in some corner, apprehensive and fearful that if I go out, I will be attacked in front of my children! Why? Because I am a woman and my existence and survival perhaps do entirely depend on how many men accompany me when I walk.

Respected C.M. sir! It’s time for you to understand that this is not just one victim. Today, every female, every daughter of this province feels like a victim, waiting for justice to be served. Please step out and see how the victims are managing to carry on amidst all the uncertainties. We are sitting devastated, feeling miserable, abandoned, and lesser of human beings. We are also apprehensive that anyone could attack us anywhere, anytime, and it won’t change anything on the national horizon.

Today, we want to question where PTI’s vision of Riyasat-e-Madina stands if women are faced with such brutality and bestiality—impermissible in any civilized society. Also, apart from the punishments suggested by Prime Minister Imran Khan, will we ever have a conversation about male-dominated behaviors in our society; how boys need to be raised differently so they know how to respect women—not as their mothers, wives, daughters and sisters—but as women who they happen to cross by in their daily life? When will we start having conclusive discussions with religious scholars such as Maulana Tariq Jamil—whose opinions about women appear to be no different than that of the CCPO—on socio-cultural introspection, addressing the prevalent gender-gap?

Don’t you think that we, Pakistan’s women, have the right to know how seriously this incident has changed—if at all—the course of action, policies, and/or discourse of discussions of our sitting government?

This time, let actions speak louder than words. We live in hope that not only will justice be done, but would also be seen to be done to restore our shattered confidence once more.

Rafique is a publicist and Lahore School of Economics alumni. She tweets at @NabeelaRafique_

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