Islamabad [Pakistan], March 10 (ANI): A young woman out for an evening walk with a friend was beaten and sexually assaulted at gunpoint by two men in Fatima Jinnah Park, the largest park in the capital. The attack on February 2 sparked an uproar on social media and protests by women’s advocacy groups. A rape case in Islamabad and the killing of the alleged assailants by the police have provoked renewed scrutiny of the rights of Pakistani women and flaws in the nation’s justice system, reported Nikkei Asia.
Two weeks later, on February 16, the Islamabad police said that both suspects had been killed in an exchange of gunfire when they were stopped at a checkpoint.
The victim’s lawyer and others criticised what they said were extrajudicial killings, which the police department denies.
Experts say the episode highlights the issue of violence against women and the need for overhauling the criminal justice system.
In 2021, 5,200 rapes were reported in Pakistan, according to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP). The conviction rate in rape cases is less than 3 per cent, the activist organisation, War Against Rape says, Nikkei Asia reported.
Zohra Yousaf, a former chair of the HRCP, believes that the space for women is shrinking.
“In a country like Pakistan, when women try to break barriers, the patriarchy in the society tries to stop them by employing the violent tool of rape,” Nikkei Asia wrote quoting Zohra Yousaf, a former chair of the HRCP. She added that law enforcement agencies typically do not cooperate with the victims, adding to their suffering.
Yousaf, who has been campaigning for women’s rights since the 1980s, argued that misogyny is rampant in every level of Pakistani society.
“Even the women parliamentarians and high-profile journalists are often the targets of misogynistic attacks in Parliament and online spaces, respectively,” she said.
In June 2021, former Prime Minister Imran Khan said if women wear fewer clothes, “it will have an impact on the men, unless they are robots.” Yousaf countered that if even a prime minister blames women for sexual violence, what can one expect from average people?Peter Jacob, the executive director of the Center for Social Justice, a human rights and social justice advocacy organization in Pakistan, said that sexual violence is caused by psychological conditions, social patterns and criminality.
What is clear is that the rape in the heart of Islamabad has raised concern that if women are not safe there, they are not safe anywhere.
Hameeda Noor, a human rights activist based in Balochistan, noted that the victims report not all rapes due to the social stigma attached to it. Otherwise, she said, the figures might be much higher.
Noor suggested that there is a need for a campaign to educate and sensitize lawmakers and others. “Making laws alone will not resolve the problem, because in Pakistan the implementation regime is very weak,” she said.
Yousaf emphasized that the criminal justice system needs to be drastically reformed. “Police personnel must be trained to deal with rape cases in an appropriate manner so that they can record all evidence and present a strong case against the culprits,” she said.
Yousaf added that the government also needs to invest in improving the capacity of prosecutors so that they can effectively argue rape cases in court.
Even with a stronger justice system, she lamented, it is likely to take years of work to root out misogynistic attitudes. (ANI)