The Platform


Addressing Pakistan’s rape epidemic requires a multidimensional approach.

In the complex societal fabric of Pakistan, the stark reality of sexual violence looms large, presenting a grave challenge to the notion of safety for women across the nation. The legal framework, attempting to grapple with this issue, prescribes severe penalties for the crime of rape, with sentences ranging from a decade to a quarter-century of imprisonment, and in certain instances, the death penalty is imposed. Specifically, in cases of gang rape, the law mandates life imprisonment or capital punishment.

Historically, before the enactment of the 1979 statute, Section 375 of the Pakistan Penal Code unequivocally prohibited sexual acts with girls under fourteen, irrespective of consent. However, this legislative stance is nuanced by a troubling caveat; marital rape escapes legal condemnation provided the wife is older than fourteen.

This legislative landscape unfolds within a broader context of pervasive sexual violence, an affliction not unique to Pakistan but deeply concerning. Discussions on the safety of women in any given country are inherently intricate, resisting broad-brush generalizations. The relative safety of women is inextricably linked to a myriad of factors, including but not limited to geographic location, socioeconomic standing, educational attainment, and entrenched cultural norms.

Tragically, the perilous situation for women and girls permeates every echelon of Pakistani society—be it rural hamlets or sprawling urban centers, and harrowing incidents continue to surface with alarming regularity. The plight of women and minors remains dire, as evidenced by an unending chronicle of gender-based violence.

In response, Pakistan has witnessed a burgeoning discourse aimed at amplifying the call for enhanced protective measures and judicial recourse for victims. Governmental bodies, alongside various organizations, are diligently striving to forge a robust response through a combination of legal reform, public awareness campaigns, and survivor support mechanisms.

Amidst this societal tumult, the nation grapples with multifaceted crises—economic turmoil, spiraling inflation, and acute shortages of essential commodities. Islamabad, the nation’s capital, is no stranger to these tribulations, with high-profile rape cases seizing public consciousness and igniting mass protests, as exemplified by the harrowing incident in Fatima Jinnah Park.

The government’s legislative response to this “rape epidemic,” has sparked much debate. The prime minister, breaking a longstanding silence, has announced an Anti-Rape Ordinance, proposing stringent punishments, including chemical castration, for those convicted of participating in rape gangs and committing acts of sexual violence.

The conversation, however, extends beyond the immediate victims. The haunting memory of Zainab from Qasoor—a child subjected to sexual abuse and murder—serves as a chilling reminder of the countless untold stories that fail to capture the nation’s attention. Outrage flares transiently, fueled by media coverage and social media, but subsides all too quickly.

The fabric of rape culture is tightly woven into the societal psyche, manifesting in attitudes, language, and actions. It is a byproduct of patriarchal dominance, a quest for control, and, fundamentally, a challenge to the nation’s collective conscience. The Lahore incident has garnered attention due to the victim’s survival and subsequent police intervention, yet it represents just a fraction of a much larger, more harrowing narrative.

Addressing this epidemic requires a multidimensional approach. Victim blaming must cease; rape is a failure of the system, not the individual. Education on personal boundaries, consent, and legal rights is imperative. Children must learn the distinction between appropriate and inappropriate touch, and the unequivocal importance of consent.

Societal change is a gradual process that begins with individual transformation. The onus is on each member of society to challenge and redefine prevailing mentalities. Three predominant factors contribute to the perpetuation of rape in Pakistan: an inadequate education system, pervasive sexual frustration, and a lamentably ineffective legal apparatus.

Society’s initial response to sexual violence often exacerbates the trauma, with victim-blaming questions overshadowing empathetic support. It is a harsh truth that society’s sympathy for survivors often follows a path of resistance, marked by skepticism and judgment. Such attitudes serve only to deepen wounds rather than facilitate healing.

In sum, the discourse surrounding women’s safety in Pakistan is an ongoing and critical dialogue, necessitating a concerted and comprehensive societal effort to address and ameliorate this deeply entrenched issue.

Maida Irshad is an undergraduate student of Government and Public Policy at National Defence University, Islamabad.