“There are two powers in the world; one is the sword and the other is the pen. There is a great competition and rivalry between the two. There is a third power stronger than both, that of the women”

–Quaid-e-Azam M.A. Jinnah

The founder of Pakistan, Quaid e Azam, had great respect for women. His views on women were shaped and informed over a lifetime spent in the company of strong-willed, educated and professional women, like his sister and close confidante, Fatima Jinnah.

During the final decades of his life, Fatima was side by side with her brother, sacrificing life, wealth and property for a higher purpose; to fight against oppression, tyranny and colonisation and to lead millions toward a new homeland.

During the freedom movement for Pakistan, both men and women collectively struggled for independence as equal citizens in a new state.

But despite the Quaid’s clearly expressed vision of social and gender equality, the Pakistan that he created still has a long way to go to guarantee his ideals in the private and public spheres.

Over the last seven tumultuous decades, during democracy and dictatorship, Pakistan has witnessed gross and shocking human rights violations, including a very troubling record of sexual violence.

Pakistan is among those countries where 70 percent women and girls experience physical or sexual violence in their lifetime by their intimate partners, and 93 percent women experience some form of sexual violence in public places (Source: Madadgaar National Helpline 1098 and national commissioner for children, Zia Ahmed Awan).

The Zainab rape case in Kasur, back in 2017, brought the abuse of helpless young children by sexual predators to an international spotlight.

The recent horrific sexual assault on a mother by two men, while she was waiting with her children on the motorway, has shocked an entire nation. It has also reopened the wounds of many who have suffered this kind of violence in the past.

This rape incident was committed in the presence of the mother’s two children and illustrated the diabolical, devilish desire for power and dominance these sick monsters crave.

The children who are brutally harmed will recover from their physical injuries, but it will take a lifetime to heal their mental scars. So who is to blame? A society that breeds these monsters and stays in denial? This motorway incident reflects the alarming and rapidly accelerating breakdown of morals and ethics in Pakistan. Education, family, friends & community mindsets of a nation are all responsible for shaping the views and character of an individual.

Many women groups have expressed heightened fear, coupled with an extreme lack of confidence in state institutions’ ability to provide speedy justice.

The silver lining of this latest dark cloud is that people across the cultural spectrum have been outraged. This outrage has been affirmed in the street protests, on television current affairs programs, social media, animated and fierce debate in Parliament, including the opposition and the ruling party.

PM Imran Khan has publicly, on the floor of the house, acknowledged the cataclysmic damage sexual assault brings to Pakistani society. The PM has promised to put the entire state machinery into overdrive to address the nation’s outrage & palpable fear.

Life-destroying crimes like rape require strategic deterrence.

More policewomen need to be hired and engaged in law enforcement and a more robust medico-legal infrastructure has to aid in the investigation.

The conviction rate in rape cases in Punjab is less than 10 percent. In 74 percent of the cases, witnesses seem to have withdrawn out of fear; the lack of witness protection mechanisms is among the underlying causes of the victim’s silence. Specially trained women lawyers and judges should oversee all cases of rape and sexual assault.

All rape cases should be a capital crime. A country is known for its culture and its adherence to the rule of law. The punishment for drug smuggling in the United Arab Emirates is death. All nations accept it as the law of the land. The crime rate in the Emirates is very low.

A recent Gallup poll shows that the majority of Pakistan wants capital punishment for rapists. Pakistan should be known as a country with zero tolerance for those who prey on defenceless women and children. Enough is enough for sexual violence.

A change in behaviour and mindset of state and society leaders is urgently required instead of victim shaming and blaming. A community needs to stand squarely against the perpetrators of sexual violence. Without these strategic reforms, Pakistan cannot transition into a peaceful, prosperous and vibrant culture.

When mothers and children are not safe, no progress can be made. Another disturbing development that has accompanied the Motorway outrage is the violent incidents of sectarianism after Muharram.

Whether orchestrated by anti-state elements or borne out of wanton ignorance, it is worth remembering that, the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) “Rehmat Ul Alameen”, mercy to all nations, was neither a Shia nor a Sunni nor any other denomination of Islam; he was a Muslim.

After Hijrat, in 622, When he arrived in Madina, he addressed the divisive warring tribes of Yathrib, who searched for leadership & conflict resolution. The prophet (PBUH) underlined a fundamental truth. “I am from you and you are from me.” During his final Khutbah in Makkah, history’s first universal declaration of human rights “All humanity is from Adam and Eve. An Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab, nor a non-Arab has any authority over an Arab; also a white has no power over a black, nor a black has any superiority over white except by piety and right action.”

In his words and deeds, He also reinforced respect and cooperation between men and women. “Do treat your women well and be kind to them for they are your partners and committed helpers.”

We all have to speak in one united voice against those who commit these horrible crimes on women, children and men. If we in the Pakistani media and civil society continue to play a constructive, activist role, it will serve as a vital check and balance on all those who consider themselves above the law.