Sexual Assault and the #MeToo Movement in Pakistan

Pakistan is known for many things. Its people, Its beautiful scenery, its music and film industry, and of course, its mangoes! However, the country is also known for its corruption, association with terrorism and misogyny. As a Pakistani American living in the United States, I can’t help but feel nostalgic when it comes to my country. Truth be told, I miss it. Having lived there for more than 3 years as a child, I have memories with my aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents that I could never forget. As I grew older, the more I realized the horrible truth about my country. In the United States, I could see hear about the atrocities happening here, in a “free” and rich country, so I could only imagine the atrocities occurring in my country.

One of those atrocities is sexual assault. In the digital and social media age, sexual assault awareness has caused the most outburst the world has ever seen. The #MeToo Movement, a movement against sexual assault and harassment, has rapidly become international. Celebrities such as Radhika Apte, Mawra Hocane, Mahira Khan and Nadia Jamil – who is a sexual abuse survivor –  have come out sharing their support for the movement. In the film industry, it is highly common for women to perform sexual acts for their male superiors, such as filmmakers or producers in order to get a part in a movie, tv show, etc. This kind of behavior is what prompted the movement by creator Tarana Burke when Asia Argento and Rose McGowan came forward accusing Hollywood Producer Harvey Weinstein of sexual abuse and harassment.

Issues such as rape and sexual assault are global issues and impact third world countries more frequently, yet Pakistan is one of the countries that still hasn’t done much to bring awareness to this matter. In fact, when it has, it is only due to social media rage. Earlier this year, a 7 year old girl named Zainab Ansari was brutally raped and murdered by Imran Ali. Zainab was missing for 4 days and nothing was done. When her dead body was found in a pile of trash, only then did the outrage begin amongst the locals, the police, the media, and political leaders. In sight of the news of her death, two men were killed by the police in a protest that was bringing light to Zainab’s death. Zainab Ansari was thetwelfth girl to be raped and murdered in the city of Kasur, Pakistan. In March, a 12 year old girl named Samreen was also raped and murdered by a man in Islamabad who happened to be the nephew of one of the local policemen. Police then urged the family to drop the case. This disgusting act and the fact that the police did nothing when these girls were reported missing shows the negligence of Pakistani Police.

The #MeToo Movement in the professional world of Pakistan has also stirred up many different conversations. Many women in the country have come forward with their stories and time and time again have been shut down by their corrupt leaders. In April of this year, Pakistani singer Meesha Shafi came forward accusing Ali Zafar of sexual harassment, which then encouraged more than one woman to come forward against Zafar as well. However, Pakistani artists and leaders in the industry defended Zafar and Shafi has faced backlash. Zafar has taken matters to court, in hopes of beating Shafi in the same court system that is designed to work in the favour of men and against bold women like her across the country. Last year, political figure Ayesha Gulalai accused politician Imran Khan of sexual harassment, after which leaders of Khan’s Political party, which Gulalai also belonged to, publicly denounced her and demanded 30 million rupees in compensation for damage to his reputation and “mental torture”. In 2014, 17 year old Pakistani Cricketer, Halima Rafiq, accused her cricket club chairman, Maulvi Alam Ansari, of sexual harassment during a cricket match. When the Cricket board did not back her up and she was sued of defamation, Rafiq committed suicide. Since these stories came out, women and men in Pakistan have come forward to share their stories. These including  filmmakers, models and fashion designers.

“I will break the culture of silence that permeates through our society”- Meesha Shafi

One of the most recent stories of the #MeToo Movement in the country include more than 50 women accusing their college finals examiner of sexual harassment. At Bahria college in Islamabad, Saba Ali came out in a social media post accusing her practicals examiner, Saadat Bashir of Sexual harassment. After Saba’s post, several women were encouraged to share their stories as well but were told to keep quiet or their grades would be lowered. You can read their testimonies here. Bashir was accused of inappropriately touching and passing salacious remarks at the female students. He then denied the allegations, claiming instead that they are a plot against him. Several Pakistani celebrities, including Meesha Shafi, have taken to social media, demanding justice for the women. At first, nothing was done by the Bahria college board, but after several complaints and celebrity outrage, the administration finally announced that they will start an investigation.

These sexual harassment/rape cases are only a few out of more than a 100 cases in Pakistan. This happens everyday, behind closed doors, and never gets reported. Do we as a country not see women as human beings? Do we not realize that women deserve the equal amount of respect given to men? The #MeToo movement in Pakistan has taken the country by storm, but still testimonies and reports are being ignored. We as a Pakistani society need to erase the notion that what a women wears or says equates to her being raped or harassed. Zainab Ansari and Samreen were little kids with their life wrongfully taken away from them. This is our fault. We don’t hold ourselves responsible, we tell college students to keep quiet or their grades will suffer, we tell our girls to wear modest clothing and to not go outside. These cases have become way too common in Pakistan and it needs to stop. If we don’t condemn this behavior, we are no better than the ones committing the crimes. Silence is support and your silence is heard by Zainab, Samreen, Halima, and more. We as Pakistanis need to better, this is our country, our nation, we can’t call ourselves patriotic and continue to ignore our nation’s faults.

Picture Credit: Asia Times

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