It would not be an exaggeration to say that women in Pakistan face an increasingly toxic and unsafe society, with the patriarchy continuing to see women as unequal citizens whose safety is just not guaranteed. While there is more media attention now on public harassment cases, there is still a lot that needs to be done. Violence against women comes in many forms – from gender-based violence to harassment cases at workplace and in public to domestic abuse. With the widespread use of surveillance cameras in residential areas and public spaces of the country, there is now more robust documentation of public harassment of women. In the most recent case that has been reported, on July 4, a digital news outlet shared a now-viral video that shows a masked man on a motorcycle in the Gulistan-e-Jauhar area of Karachi. He waits for a young girl to pass by and then tries to assault her. Luckily the girl reacts quickly, forcing the man to escape. There are layers of impunity here that must be unpacked. The very fact that a man had the audacity to expose himself in a residential area at daytime goes to show how little deterrence there is for such crimes. The fact that he was masked and on a motorcycle whose licence plate was missing highlights that he was aware that his identity could land him in trouble.
After almost a week and despite having access to sophisticated tools that can help identify the suspect, the Sindh Police have failed to catch him. But they have taken one right step – registering an FIR on the state’s behalf. Some reports suggest that the victim has not come forward to file a police complaint, which is understandable given there is no respect for such victims and if they come forward, they are bombarded with inappropriate questions. It is impossible to forget the gaslighting reactions the Lahore motorway rape victim/survivor got for driving late at night.
The tragedy of so many women in the country is that they are remembered only in the trauma they have had to face in a society that seldom sees rape and harassment survivors with any kind of empathy or sympathy. From a dictator implying that women make false rape allegations to get asylum abroad to a former prime minister saying that “men are not robots” when asked about growing cases of sexual violence, we are a society deeply populated by men who do not acknowledge that women’s safety should be a top priority. According to Sindh Police data, 15 gang rape cases were reported in Karachi from January 2023 to April 2023. One shudders to think what could have happened had the girl not reacted quickly. Women continue to get killed, raped, tortured and kidnapped, and even in death somehow manage to become the holders of their entire families’ honour. What the Pakistani woman needs from the state and this society is 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.