ISLAMABAD-Members of civil society yesterday demanded of the government to immediately take stringent measures to eradicate the rape and women harassment culture from the country. 

Scores of people from all walks of life gathered outside the National Press Club and condemned the heinous rape of a woman travelling from Lahore to Gujranwala with her children a couple of days back.

Holding placards with names of Shaheena Shaheen, Gul Panara, Wazeeran Bibi and other victims of violence, the protestors denounced the rape incident and apathy in the face of the increasing violence against women, children and transgender people.

The protest, called by progressive groups including the Women Democratic Front, Aurat Azadi March, Women Action Forum and Awami Workers Party, called on the government to make a commitment to eradicate the culture of rape and harassment in Pakistan. It demanded justice for all victims of sexual violence and the conviction of sexual offenders.

Among the other demands put forth by the protestors were calls to make public spaces safer and more accessible for women, an increase in investment in the education, health and safety of women, an end to the culture of victim blaming, and the removal of the CCPO Lahore for his comments holding the survivor responsible for the assault.

Addressing the crowd, Ismat Shahjahan of WDF said that patriarchal structures have to be demolished to end violence against women and marginalized groups. “It is not a matter of one incident but an entire culture and the system can be strengthened through curriculum, laws and policies. Our fight is against this entire system.”

Representing the Aurat Azadi March, Tooba Syed said that sexual violence takes place with frightening regularity in Pakistan. 

Demanding action from the government, Maria Rashid of Women Action Form called for the inclusion of women and feminist groups in the policy-making process. 

“Cosmetic changes in the name of ‘women empowerment’ do little as perpetrators of sexual violence enjoy a high degree of impunity, and constant victim-blaming becomes a means for justifying state inaction,” she said.

Women’s rights activist, Tahira Abdullah, said that sexual violence against women needs to be seen as an attack on women’s personal and political autonomy and bodily integrity. 

“In a patriarchal society like ours, women are seen as being responsible for the sexual violence they experience, even though the fault lies with not only the perpetrators of that violence, but also the state that washes its hands off the problem by putting the onus of such crimes on women,” she said.

She said that they insist that the state must allow public discussions of gender violence, be it in the form of peaceful nationwide protests or any other efforts led by Pakistani feminists.

The people gathered outside the Press Club voiced their anger that women are unsafe in Pakistan.