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The New Arab Staff & Agencies

Uproar after 'victim blaming' in Pakistan gang rape case

Women march on Friday against an alleged gang rape of a woman in Lahore [Getty]

Date of publication: 11 September, 2020

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Protests hit Pakistan after a police chief appeared to blame the victim for an alleged gang rape while she was driving with her children at night without a male companion
A Pakistani police chief faced a growing backlash Friday after he seemed to blame the victim of an alleged gang rape because she was driving at night without a male companion.

The controversy started after a woman was allegedly assaulted and raped by multiple men in front of her two children when her car ran out of fuel outside the city late on Wednesday. 

Lahore police chief Umar Sheikh repeatedly chided the victim for driving without a man at night while speaking to media about the incident, adding that no one in Pakistani society would "allow their sisters and daughters to travel alone so late".

Sheikh went on to say the victim - a resident of France - probably "mistook that Pakistani society is just as safe" as her home country.

Human rights minister Shireen Mazari said his remarks were unacceptable. 

"Nothing can ever rationalise the crime of rape," she added.

Lawyer and woman's rights activist Khadija Siddiqi told AFP that Sheikh's comments were part of an unfortunate and "very rampant" culture of victim blaming in Pakistan.

Protests were planned in cities across Pakistan on Friday, and Sheikh's comments sparked demands for his resignation.

"We are angry, we demand his removal and we demand his apology," said Nighat Dad, a women's rights activist and one of the organisers of an annual women's rights march in Lahore. 

Much of conservative Pakistan lives under a patriarchal code of "honour" that systematises the oppression of women by preventing them from, for example, choosing their own husband or working outside the home.

Activists have denounced pervasive, sometimes deadly violence by men - usually male relatives - against women who break those taboos.

Around a thousand Pakistani women are murdered in so-called honour killings each year - in which the victim, normally a woman, is killed by a relative for bringing shame on the family.

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