When I Step Outside, I Step Into a Country of Men Who Stare

Fatima Bhojani in The New York Times:

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — I am angry. All the time. I’ve been angry for years. Ever since I began to grasp the staggering extent of violence — emotional, mental and physical — against women in Pakistan. Women here, all 100 million of us, exist in collective fury. “Every day, I am reminded of a reason I shouldn’t exist,” my 19-year-old friend recently told me in a cafe in Islamabad. When she gets into an Uber, she sits right behind the driver so that he can’t reach back and grab her. We agreed that we would jump out of a moving car if that ever happened. We debated whether pepper spray was better than a knife. When I step outside, I step into a country of men who stare. I could be making the short walk from my car to the bookstore or walking through the aisles at the supermarket. I could be wrapped in a shawl or behind two layers of face mask. But I will be followed by searing eyes, X-raying me. Because here, it is culturally acceptable for men to gape at women unblinkingly, as if we are all in a staring contest that nobody told half the population about, a contest hinged on a subtle form of psychological violence.

…This country fails its women from the very top of government leadership to those who live with us in our homes. In September, a woman was raped beside a major highway near Lahore, Pakistan’s second-largest city. Around 1 a.m., her car ran out of fuel. She called the police and waited. Two armed men broke through the windows and assaulted her in a nearby field. The most senior police official in Lahore remarked that the survivor was assaulted because, he assumed, she “was traveling late at night without her husband’s permission.” An elderly woman in my apartment building in Islamabad, remarked, “Apni izzat apnay haath mein — Your honor is in your own hands. In Pakistan, sexual assault comes with stigma, the notion that a woman by being on the receiving end of a violent crime has brought shame to herself and her family. Societal judgment is a major reason survivors don’t come forward. Responding to the Lahore assault, Prime Minister Imran Khan proposed chemical castration of the rapists. His endorsement of archaic punishments rather than a sincere promise to undertake the difficult, lengthy and necessary work of reforming criminal and legal procedures is part of the problem. The conviction rate for sexual assault is around 3 percent, according to War Against Rape, a local nonprofit.

More here.