Pakistan’s women are victims of a war — a war waged against their bodies, and their rights as human beings to live lives with dignity, without fear and with access to justice. The latest attack in this war took place in Islamabad’s F-9 park when two armed men raped a girl on Thursday night at gunpoint. The rape survivor had gone to the park with a male colleague around 8pm when they were stopped at gunpoint by the two men who separated them and took the girl to a thicket where they proceeded to rape her. In what is somehow even more rage-inducing is that after gang-raping the girl, they told her that she should not have been in the park “at this time of the night”. Needless to say the rape has rightly shocked the nation, but how many times are we supposed to be shocked? We were shocked when in the same park a few years back another girl was gang-raped. We were shocked when the Motorway rape incident took place. We were shocked when Mukhtaran Mai was gang-raped two decades ago. The young women in this country live in a time when even taking a walk in a park can end in a rape, followed by morality policing by the rapists themselves. And yet this collective shock has not managed to move state, society and government into ensuring the women of this country are safe when they step out of their homes — and even when they are inside their homes.
Victims and survivors continue to be blamed for one reason or another. From the rapists telling the victim that she should not have been out at night to people saying the Motorway victim should not have been driving alone with her children to others saying parks should be closed after sunset to the Islamabad Police saying that those who go to the park should stay within the areas that are well lit — the only response to a woman’s rape seems to be ways to either blame the victim or police future actions by women. That the police are asking people to stay in well-lit areas in the evenings when it is clear from the FIR that the rapists took the girl and her colleague towards a thicket shows that even law enforcement had rather restrict people’s movement than protect and serve.
The fact is that the women of this country do not feel safe anywhere – home, workplace, park, street, school or any other place. And when they do try and report their assault, all of society comes together to make it as difficult as possible for them to get justice. It is important then to reinforce one basic principle, something that needs to be internalized by every single person in the country: in the case of a rape, only the rapist is at fault. The prevalent culture of impunity for aggressors and a regressive mindset at the top all have to end if we are to ensure this. For women to be protected against rape and sexual violence, the state must ensure consistent punishment for those guilty of rape; for it is not severity but consistency of punishment that needs to be the goal. Women do not need protection that insists they cover themselves up even more for fear of being attacked. They need thorough implementation of laws that will give them the right to safety, no matter where they choose to go, or how they choose to dress.