THE message to women is clear: silence is your best option. In public, in the ‘sanctity’ of the home, wherever you face gender-based violence, silence is the best option.
The gang rape of a young woman on the Lahore-Sialkot motorway has once again underscored why it is so difficult to contain the scourge of sexual violence in Pakistan. Despite the public outpouring of sympathy for the victim, who along with her children has endured an ordeal she may never be able to put behind her, the fact is that a deep vein of misogyny runs within this society.
Read: Pakistanis take to the streets to demand justice and structural reform after motorway gang-rape
The Lahore CCPO Umer Sheikh’s reprehensible victim-blaming springs from this very mindset. When the city’s top cop says in so many words that women who step outside their homes after a certain hour cannot expect to be protected from predatory men, he does more than disgrace his office. His casual sexism reinforces a patriarchal order premised on controlling women, not just in the public sphere but in the domestic one as well. Moreover, Mr Sheikh also let slip identifying details about the rape survivor, flouting the most basic protocols about the handling of sexual violence cases.
This is precisely why only a small minority of women take the ‘risk’ of reporting crimes like rape or domestic violence. Most would balk at the prospect of being quizzed by boorish, insensitive cops who are the product of a society where moral policing of women is almost a national pastime. Suggestions that they somehow ‘asked for it’ — classic victim-blaming in which the onus is on the woman to prove why she shouldn’t have expected violence to be visited on her — compounds their suffering. The fight to bring the perpetrators of gender-based violence to book is often thus lost at the very first hurdle.
Some urgent measures are called for. Gender sensitisation should be an integral part of police training, rather than constituting the occasional workshop. Moreover, personnel who are incapable of reflecting on their prejudices and modifying their behaviour accordingly must be held accountable; misogyny is a badge of shame, and no police officer should be made to forget it.
The process of evidence gathering, including medical examination and obtaining the victim’s statement, must be geared towards avoiding further trauma. In a positive development, the humiliating and discredited ‘two-finger’ virginity test — upon which are based often demeaning conclusions about rape victims’ character that are then used against them in court — may finally be abolished in Pakistan.
Finally, the police in this country needs to stop resembling a boy’s club. The recruitment of women in law enforcement must be further stepped up and more of them promoted to senior positions. Victims of gender-based violence should have access to female police officers especially trained to handle this type of crime. Pakistani women deserve to feel safe in their country.
ACCORDING to the Living Planet Index, the global population of animals, birds and fish has decreased by over two-thirds in less than five decades; a startling reminder of the dangers of human excess and myopia. As we witness the catastrophic effects of climate change, the loss of biodiversity, and the spread of zoonotic diseases, it is time to pause and reflect on the contemporary world’s relationship with the natural world, including its indifference to the plight of other sentient beings. Apathy and egoism has cost us heavily, and will continue to do so, until better sense prevails. The past few decades have strengthened a single ideological and economic system, but its ‘progress’ has come at the expense of the environment and natural resources, and it has increased disparity. Rapid urbanisation, rampant consumerism, agricultural expansion, deforestation, and unthinking, unchecked greed have led to the present situation, and we now have to live with its discontents. If sincere efforts are not made to reverse the self-destructive trajectory we are on, we risk leaving behind an uninhabitable world for future generations.
We know that the planet and all species within it are interconnected, and yet the short-sightedness of some has robbed many of a better future. High-profile meetings are held, international accords are signed, and tall promises are made — but then what? The natural habitats of animals continue to be encroached upon, entire forests are decimated, oceans are choked, and the air is made unbreathable. The Living Planet Report goes on to mention that 40pc of the world’s oceans have been “degraded”; while 75pc of the total fish stocks are “overexploited”. Another recent study by the UK’s National Oceanography Centre found there was 10 times more plastic in the Atlantic Ocean than estimated before. This is not entirely surprising, given that 8m metric tons of plastic waste is dumped into the ocean each year, and eventually makes its way into the human food supply. Or it suffocates and kills marine life. The previous year saw an alarming number of whales wash ashore on beaches across the world; their digestive systems bloated with plastic. This included a juvenile sperm whale with 100kg of plastic, rope and netting in his stomach in Scotland. With the Covid-19 pandemic raging in many parts of the world, there is a surge in demand for personal protective equipment, which only adds to the plastic pollution.
Media in the line of fire
IN an incident that has become an all-too-familiar tale, Express Tribune journalist Bilal Farooqui was picked up and detained by police on Friday. A case was registered against him under Sections 500 and 505 of the Pakistan Penal Code and Sections 11 and 20 of the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act by a factory worker who alleged that Mr Farooqui had posted “objectionable material” about the country’s armed forces on social media. On the same day, a sedition FIR was registered against journalist and ex-Pemra chief Absar Alam by a lawyer who accused him of using derogatory language against state institutions and personalities. Though Mr Farooqui was released and the PPC sections removed, his and Mr Absar’s case follow several incidents in which journalists have been threatened, abducted or silenced.
Contrary to the impression of a ‘free media’ the prime minister gave in a recent interview to an international media outlet, journalists in Pakistan are living under constant threat. They are watched, followed, intimidated and — if they don’t comply with the ‘requests’ of the state — they are abducted or arrested. The message is loud and clear: Big Brother is watching, and those who post criticism against certain institutions will be punished. From the head of a media group to a blogger, no one feels safe. The climate of fear that journalists live in is suffocating. It is an indictment of democratic values that support the freedom of an individual to express opinions without fear of retaliation, censorship or legal action. This environment has led to an unprecedented wave of censorship and self-censorship, as journalists and media houses can see the writing on the wall. The government must acknowledge that this is a reality instead of dismissing abductions and threats to journalists as non-issues. It must not be a party to this gross abuse of power and thuggery. International forums such as the Committee to Protect Journalists, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have time and again highlighted the routine harassment and intimidation of journalists in Pakistan. The world will not be fooled.