Outlawed in Pakistan

Media Watch

This film premiered at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival and documents the rape of a young girl five years ago and the events that followed.

Reports about rapes are increasing rapidly and especially women in Asia no longer keep silent about the brutal abuse they suffered and dare to go public in spite of often being shunned and attacked by their own families. After a heinous attack on a young woman and her boyfriend in Delhi last year, widespread public protests and outrage demanded the death penalty for the perpetrators and although new laws were recently passed in India to prevent and prosecute rape and other sex crimes, an independent UN expert said they “do not go far enough.”

What usually is not addressed is that especially in rural areas the blame is squarely put on the woman’s head, and although some of the perpetrators are eventually punished, nobody ever thinks about the victim who must try to rebuild her life after the ordeal. A typical example is the social attitude towards women in Haryana. In this region, close to Delhi, men still call the shots. The all-male village council meetings called khaps, are tremendously powerful both socially and politically. Women are usually not included in those meetings. One council elder was reported as saying that girls should be forced to marry young to protect them from rapists although it is clear that being married hasn’t protected women from being assaulted.

A new film shows the courage of Kainat Soomro, a young Pakistani woman who was 13 when she was brutally gang-raped and held in captivity for three days until she managed to flee. The men in her village denied her accusations and the tribal elders declared her as ‘outlawed’ for having sex outside marriage. They even had the gall to encourage Kainat’s family to kill her themselves. Courageously her father and brother refused and the case went to court.

The lengthy legal battle was followed by filmmakers Habiba Nosheen and Hilke Schellmann for years. They filmed the daily problems the family faced, reported on the murder of Kainat’s brother, followed her alleged rapists, and investigated women’s lives in traditional Pakistani communities. The result is the PBS Frontline documentary, ‘Outlawed in Pakistan’.

It is unimaginable cruelty that such men unleash on a woman, it is a crude and sick self-importance that makes them think they can just abuse and torture a woman as if it were their birth right. And don’t think this is only happening in Asia. It is happening everywhere 24/7 on this planet in various contexts.

Men have shown inconceivable disrespect of women down the ages. They have murdered millions of women by forcing them to be burned alive on their husbands’ funeral pyre. Have they forgotten that a woman gave birth to their miserable life? Have they forgotten that it is a woman who gives birth to their all important sons? This is widespread chauvinist oppression of women who are being used like cattle, many beaten by their husbands on a regular basis.

Whatever punishment is given will not deter other men to go about such dastardly deeds. Nobody addresses the root cause of these atrocious acts – male supremacy and sexual repression that turns into violent acts against women. This is what we must look at. We need change, not revenge. Although knowing that one’s perpetrator has been punished for years in prison might bring some mental relief to the victim, we see across the globe that a woman raped is ultimately being punished for it.

Demonstrations won’t change the bigoted male attitude, women’s liberation movement won’t change the sexist mind. What is needed is for the society to change.


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