These Women Want Better Rape Laws. Their Prime Minister Wants Them to Put More Clothes On.

Imran Khan believes that women wearing few clothes impacts all men, unless they’re robots. 
Shamani Joshi
Mumbai, IN
Imran Khan
Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan at his residence on October 15, 2019 in Islamabad, Pakistan. Photo by Samir Hussein / WireImage 

Ranked as the sixth most dangerous country for women in the world, Pakistan has a rape conviction rate of 0.3 percent, one of the lowest globally.

And according to the country’s Prime Minister Imran Khan, the way women dress is partly to blame. 

"If a woman is wearing very few clothes, it will have an impact on men, unless they are robots. It’s just common sense," Khan said in an interview with 'Axios on HBOon Sunday.

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His comments drew flak from social media users who accused him of victim blaming and being a rape apologist. Ironically, Khan made the comments after the interviewer said his critics accused him of a victim blaming. Khan replied and said, “it is such nonsense” and implied that it was “cultural imperialism” to say that women’s clothes don’t impact men in Pakistan.

Khan has sparked outrage for similar comments before, but many were upset that the remarks were made while a video was going viral of a male student accusing a madrassa cleric of sexual abuse. 

“When you say that not all men can restrain themselves in an already deeply misogynistic society, you place the onus on the victim, and that’s even worse when the most powerful man in the country is saying it,” Mavra Ghaznavi, a Pakistan-based lawyer told VICE World News. 

Ghaznavi is one of the lawyers who led the case to ban virginity tests, an unscientific and deeply flawed method to determine whether a woman has been raped. She added that while he had promised to tackle the issue of sexual violence when he first came to power in 2013, Khan has since made problematic decisions, including voting against the Domestic Violence bill, the Protection of Women’s Rights bill, and most recently, handing out a prestigious award for ‘Pride of Performance’ to singer Ali Zafar, who has been accused of sexual harassment and was at the centre of Pakistan’s #MeToo movement. Zafar denies the allegations.

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Lawyers and activists have also criticised Khan for his decision to institute an anti-rape ordinance in December 2020. This ordinance was passed in response to outrage after the gruesome gang rape of a Pakistani-French mother who was raped by two men while waiting for help on the side of a motorway with her children. Experts worry that the new measures, which include chemical castration of some rapists, won’t help increase convictions for sexual assault in the country. 

“The new ordinance isn’t rooted in the information we have on rape and child sexual abuse,” Asha Bedar, a psychologist who has worked with rape survivors in Pakistan for more than 20 years, told VICE World News. “It [castration] doesn’t address the psychosocial issues that lead to rape, such as the power dynamics, the gender imbalance, and the lack of support for women who do decide to report their rape.”

Rights activists believe Khan’s statements are particularly dangerous for Pakistan’s children. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan estimates 13 cases of child abuse occur in Pakistan every day. Sahil, the child rights organisation, says Pakistan’s most vulnerable groups are boys between the ages of six and 15, and girls who are either infants or between 16 and 18. Abusers have even been linked to international child pornography rings.

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Khan also courted controversy in April, when he said said that sexual abuse was a result of the “increasing obscenity” in the country. He advised women to cover up and dress in a way that does not invite “temptation” since “not everyone has the willpower” to control their urges. 

Multiple human rights organisations condemned Khan’s previous statements as "factually incorrect, insensitive and dangerous" comments that "actively fostered and promoted rape culture".

Experts believe that one of the reasons for the low conviction rate is the shame and stigma that accompanies any topic of sex or sexual violence against women and children.

“The majority of rape cases in Pakistan are from people the survivor knows or those who hold power, not a result of sexual frustration,” Maliha Zia, a human rights activist and lawyer, told VICE World News. “The justice system is traumatising for sexual abuse survivors, and so they often settle out of court or don’t report it.”

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