In press conference, three lawmakers claim no one has empowered women as much as the prime minister
Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) parliamentarians Zartaj Gul, Maleeka Bokhari and Kanwal Shauzab on Tuesday sought to defend Imran Khan’s comments linking women’s dress to a rise in sex crimes in the country, stressing that no one was more committed to women’s empowerment than the prime minister.
On Sunday, U.S. cable network HBO broadcast an interview of Khan’s by journalist Jonathan Swan on its Axios program. In the interview, Khan was questioned on an earlier statement in which he had appeared to suggest a link between rape and obscenity. “It is such nonsense,” the prime minister had responded, claiming he had been commenting on the concept of purdah and not the veil. “The concept of purdah is to avoid temptation in society,” he had said, adding that in Pakistani society, young men didn’t have many outlets for their sexual urges so they were “tempted” to commit sexual assaults when they saw women wearing “few clothes.”
As outrage mounted over the statements broadcast, the government released an “unedited” clip of the segment concerned with Khan’s views on sexual assault. In it, he clarifies that he believes several factors boost sex crimes, including the proliferation of mobile phones among children; women wearing “few clothes”; and Hollywood and Bollywood movies.
“Do you think that what women wear has any effect, that it is part of this temptation?” Swan had asked. “If a woman is wearing very few clothes, it will have an impact on men unless they are robots. I mean its common sense,” Khan responded, adding that expecting all cultures to hold the same views was akin to “cultural imperialism.”
Parliamentarian Shauzab, during the press conference, quoted a verse of the holy Quran and claimed it reflected the “essence” of the prime minister’s statement. People who disagree with, and criticize this statement, she added, were actually disagreeing with Allah. She claimed that Khan’s statements had been taken out of context—a common refrain from the PTI whenever there is outrage over any leader’s statement—and the prime minister’s actions, and not words, proved his concern about the sexual abuse of women and children.
“In the interview … [the P.M.] explained how our culture was different from that of the West. He explained that just one percent cases of rape were reported because it was a problem of honor for people in our culture,” she said and alleged that the social media outrage against him had been manufactured by the opposition and “liberals.”
Alleging, without any proof, that PMLN lawmakers had patronized criminals involved in the rape and sexual abuse of children in Kasur, she said they had no grounds to criticize Khan’s statement. “We passed the anti-rape law,” she said and accused the “liberal brigade” of misrepresenting Pakistani society before the global community.
In an echo of Khan’s victim-blaming, she said: “Who would want their daughter to dress up in a way that makes her vulnerable to attack?” Stressing that “nudity” was not a part of Pakistani culture—“it is the culture of animals”—she said Islam taught mankind to cover themselves. “He [P.M. Khan] explained our family structure, that our society doesn’t accept vulgarity. He spoke about how our children were exposed to porn on social media,” she said, adding that it was the responsibility of society to work together to end sexual violence.
She also sought to deflect attention from Khan’s statements by pointing to previous instances of misogyny from opposition lawmakers. “Where was this liberal brigade, which is accusing the prime minister of victim-blaming, when Abid Sher Ali made obscene remarks about Firdous Ashiq Awan and other women parliamentarians? Were they sleeping when Talal Chaudhry used indecent remarks for me during a live television show?” she asked, perhaps unaware of the impact that a prime minister’s comments carry compared to those of politicians who hold no office.
Minister of State for Climate Change Zartaj Gul, meanwhile, described Khan as a “symbol of women empowerment,” claiming no other party had mobilized women as he had. “For the first time in Pakistan, five women ministers are sitting in the federal cabinet. This means that if there is a symbol of women empowerment in Pakistan, it is Prime Minister Imran,” she said.
Claiming that Pakistani culture was “idolized” globally, she also referred to “corrupt liberals” as maligning the country’s image abroad. “My culture has given me respect, Islam has taught me modesty. Do not try to distort the things said in the holy Quran,” she said, evoking religion despite the social media outrage focusing primarily on the legal implications of a prime minister describing rapists as men who are tempted by women wearing skimpy clothing. She claimed that “liberals” were trying to shift the narrative while the prime minister was working to strengthen Pakistan’s social fabric “in line with our religious teachings and culture.”
Maintaining that women in Pakistan enjoy more “respect” because men vacate their seats for them, she claimed Khan had empowered women to a degree they had never enjoyed in the country’s past.
Parliamentary Secretary for Law Maleeka Bokhari stressed that Khan “prioritized the protection of women and children.” Referring to legislation designed to curtail sexual abuse and violence against women and children, she said critics needed to look at actions, rather than nitpick words. “Under P.M. Imran’s leadership, the two-finger test was abolished,” she said, even though it was banned by a court of law and not the government. “Because we realize the difficulties that women have to face, we ensured that they get their inheritance rights. No other premier has called for such a law,” she added.
While the government maintains that the prime minister’s interview has been “taken out of context,” both the unedited and edited versions have him suggesting the way women dress is a factor contributing to a rise in rape cases in Pakistan. He also stresses that this is a particular problem of Pakistani society, telling journalist Swan that as a man raised in the West, he “perhaps” does not feel tempted by skimpy clothing as a Pakistani man would.