ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – A protest erupted in Pakistan after Prime Minister Imran Khan blamed the increase in rape cases on how women dressed, remarks that activists denounced as maintaining a culture of blaming victims.
Mr Hahn commented on a live TV broadcast earlier this week when asked what the government was doing to curb the rise in sexual violence against women and children. Mr Hahn acknowledged the seriousness of the problem and pointed to the country’s strict anti-rape laws.
But he said women must do their part.
The excitement was fast.
The Pakistan Human Rights Commission, an independent group, asked Mr Khan to apologize for what he called “unacceptable behavior by the public leader”.
“This not only betrays a confusing ignorance of where, why and how the rape takes place, but also blames the survivors of the rape,” the group said.
In a bid to quell anger, Mr Hahn’s cabinet issued a statement Wednesday saying the prime minister’s remarks were misrepresented.
“The prime minister spoke about the reactions of the society and the need to unite our efforts in order to completely eliminate the threat of rape,” the ministry said in a statement. “Unfortunately, part of his comment, consciously or unconsciously, is distorted to mean something he never intended.”
Mr Hahn’s government is facing enormous pressure to speed up justice for rape survivors after a series of attacks sparked demands for the death penalty in such cases. In December, the government passed a measure requiring men convicted of rape to be sentenced to chemical castration.
There are few reliable statistics on rape in Pakistan, but human rights defenders say it is a highly subconscious crime, in part because victims are often treated as criminals or blamed for the attacks. Thousands of protesters took to the streets last year after a senior police officer in the eastern city of Lahore said a woman raped on a deserted highway was partly to blame for the attack.
For critics, Mr Hahn’s comments this week have fueled mixed sentiments, which have exacerbated the problem for women.
“The prosecution of the victims and the police choice of women’s clothing continue the culture of rape,” said Laalin Suhera, a Lahore author and public relations consultant.
“Everyone and everything seems to be blamed except the actual perpetrators,” she said.
Even Mr Hahn’s first wife, Jemima Goldsmith, a wealthy British heiress, weighed heavily on Twitter. “The problem is not how women dress!” She wrote in a post. In another, she said she hoped Mr Hahn was misquoted because the man she knew had different opinions.
Prior to becoming Prime Minister, Mr. Hahn was an A-list cricket star and celebrity who cut a glamorous figure and was known as a lady’s man. He married Mrs. Goldsmith in 1995 and they divorced in 2004. But he became increasingly conservative in the mid-1990s after entering politics, and in recent years has been accused of being overly sympathetic. to the Taliban.
For women’s rights activists, Mr Hahn’s comments this week were just the latest example of the challenge they face in seeking support for their causes in a deeply conservative society. Organizers of women’s rights rallies on International Women’s Day last month said they were accused of “vulgarity” in seeking equal rights.
“This is already extremely challenging for women of all ages in public spaces in Pakistan, whether on the street or at work or in the digital space, even in their own homes,” said Ms. Sukhera, the author in Lahore. “Regressive preaching prevents women from regaining what they are entitled to and must be addressed.”