Photo Courtesy of the BBC.

Imran Khan Is A Cog In The Wheel Of Pakistani Patriarchy

Men need to be taught boundaries and respect toward women growing up and courts need to be more apt at bringing criminals to justice. It’s not women’s clothing which needs to change, but people’s mindsets, including yours, Mr. Prime Minister.

On April 7, the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan held a question and answer session for the public in a live television address. During the session, he was asked what measures the government is taking to tackle the rising cases of sexual assault in the country. Khan proceeded to give a long-winded answer, eventually reaching the conclusion that a rise in rape cases is due to an increase of “obscenity” in society, owing to the influence of the West and Bollywood movies. His solution to the predicament is for women to observe “purdah” which can be translated to “covering up”. According to Khan, women are to dress more modestly in order to remove “temptation,” given that not every man has the “willpower” to resist their sexual urges.
Such statements from the leader of a country are extremely dangerous and insensitive because of the sway they hold over public perceptions. Given that Khan belongs to the elite, educated class, has spent about 30 years abroad, and enjoyed fame as Pakistan’s most famous playboy, they are simply hypocritical and opportunistic.
As of 2018, Pakistan is the 6th most dangerous country for women to live in. Eleven rape cases are reported every day, but the real number is much higher given that estimates suggest only about 14 percent of cases are actually reported. Violence against women has been on the rise, but conviction rates remain extremely low, hovering at a mere 2.5 percent of all cases reported. In a country like this, blaming women’s clothing for a rise in sexual violence perpetuates stereotypes that allow rape culture to flourish. By removing accountability from the rapist, the Prime Minister is effectively supporting the existing patriarchal notion of victim-shaming, dissuading victims from coming forward and giving confidence to those who lack the “willpower” to respect women’s humanity to do whatever they want.
Moreover, it is shocking that such statements are coming from someone who is well educated. Khan has attended elite schools in both Pakistan and England. He attended Oxford University for his higher education, and then enjoyed a career as Pakistan’s most popular and desirable cricketer. He was widely known to have a lifestyle consisting of partying, visiting nightclubs, being romantically involved with multiple women and enjoyed an overall life of freedom, luxury and privilege. One would assume that someone who is well-educated would not indulge in such regressive thinking and blame women for the atrocities committed against them. Although even ‘educated’ men can and do perpetuate patriarchal and misogynistic views, in light of the recent Aurat Marches which have been championing the rights of women, one would rightly expect the Prime Minister to learn from and react to this movement. For a man who has led a self-indulgent life to start regulating the freedoms of women for the “moral protection” of society is both hypocritical and wrong.
It is vital to clarify that even his religious justification for claiming that the increase in “vulgarity” leads to a rise in cases of sexual assault is inaccurate. If Islam recommends modesty for women, it asks the same of men as well. The Quran very clearly states that believing men are to “lower their gaze and guard their chastity. That is purer for them”. This statement in fact precedes the commandment for women to do the same. And so, as Khan’s ex-wife Jemima Goldsmith says in a tweet in response to his statements, “The onus is on men” . The Prime Minister’s own reasoning is inaccurate in view of the very religion he is basing his comments on, given that it is an Islamic commandment to control one’s “temptations,” and not use it as an excuse to do harm. It is not the responsibility of women to control men’s temptations or urges. In Islam, men and women are both expected to be modest, kind and respectful toward one another equally.
Khan’s statements reek of hypocrisy, ignorance and misogyny. A more accurate explanation for rising cases of sexual assault in society would be a poor criminal justice system, pervasive toxic masculinity both at home and in school, coupled with a general lack of sex education and awareness surrounding concepts such as consent. Young boys need to be taught boundaries, and respect toward women growing up and the courts need to be more apt at bringing criminals to justice. Without these steps, such cases will continue to rise. It is not women’s clothing which needs to change, but people’s mindsets, including yours, Mr. Prime Minister.
Eyza Hamdani is Deputy Opinion Editor. Email her at
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