ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – A riot has erupted in Pakistan after Prime Minister Imran Khan blamed an increase in rape cases on how women dressed, noting that activists condemned for maintaining a culture of victim guilt.
Mr. Khan made the comments in a live TV show earlier this week when asked what the government was doing to curb an increase in sexual violence against women and children. Sir. Khan acknowledged the seriousness of the problem and pointed to the country’s strict laws against rape.
But, he said, women had to do their part.
The uprising was rapid.
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, an independent group, apologized to Mr Khan for his remarks, which it called “unacceptable behavior on the part of a public leader.”
“Not only does this betray an astonishing ignorance of where, why and how rape occurs, but it also places the blame on the rape survivors,” the group said.
He sought to reduce anger and on Wednesday issued a statement saying the prime minister’s remarks had been misrepresented.
“The Prime Minister spoke about the societal reactions and the need to put our efforts together to eliminate the threat of rape completely,” the office said in the statement. “Unfortunately, part of his comment, consciously or unconsciously, has been distorted to mean something he never intended.”
Mr. The Khan’s government has been under enormous pressure to speed up justice for survivors of rape, after a series of assaults triggered demands that the death penalty be used in such cases. In December, the government passed a measure that said men convicted of rape could be sentenced to chemical castration.
There are few reliable statistics on rape in Pakistan, but rights activists say it is a seriously underreported crime, partly because victims are often treated as criminals or blamed for the abuses. Thousands of protesters took to the streets last year after a police officer in the eastern city of Lahore said a woman who was raped on a deserted highway was partly to blame for the attack.
For the critics, Mr. Khan’s comments this week on women – free attitudes that made the problem worse for women.
“Victims who accuse and politicize women’s clothing choices both perpetuate the rape culture,” said Laaleen Sukhera, a writer and PR consultant in Lahore.
“Everyone and everything seems to be blamed except the actual perpetrators,” she said.
Even Mr. Khan’s first wife, Jemima Goldsmith, a wealthy British heir, weighed in on Twitter. “The problem is not how women dress!” she wrote in a post. In another, she said she hoped Mr. Khan had been misquoted because the man she knew had different opinions.
Before he became Prime Minister, Mr. Khan a cricket star and A-list celebrity who cut a glamorous figure and was known as a lady 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 has been accused of being overly sympathetic to Taliban in recent years.
For women’s rights activists, Mr. Khan’s comments this week are just the latest example of the challenge they face in finding support for their causes in the deeply conservative society. Organizers of women’s rights marches at International Women’s Day last month have said they have been accused of “vulgarity” in seeking equal rights.
“It is already hugely challenging for women of all ages in public spaces in Pakistan, whether it is on the street or in the workplace or in the digital space, even in their own homes,” said Ms Sukhera, the author in Lahore. “Regressive preaching prevents women from regaining what is rightfully theirs and which needs to be treated.”