Pakistan’s prime minister Imran Khan is facing sharp criticism from activists for deeply sexist remarks blaming the rise in sexual assault cases in the country on “increasing vulgarity” by women.
The former cricketer made the remarks during a live television show, preaching women to cover up as he explained why wearing a veil can prevent “temptation.”
Mr Khan said: “If you keep increasing vulgarity in a society, then definitely there will be this impact.”
He advocated the traditional Islamic practice of women wearing a veil and said the it existed so “that there is no temptation in society.”
His controversial remark came on Sunday during a live Q&A show called “Prime Minister On Call With You” when a caller raised questions about what the government is doing about the increase in sexual violence, mostly against children.
Mr Khan was accused of promoting “rape culture and rape apologia”. A number of rights organisation and hundreds of people have signed a statement demanding an apology.
While the Pakistani leader denounced crime against women, he cited examples of Bollywood, Hollywood and the culture of “sex, drugs and rock and roll” in England in the 70s for increase in obscenity. He said these things were responsible for the high divorce rate and breaking up of family units in the west.
A statement by Women’s Action Forum (WAF) and other rights groups said Mr Khan’s remarks were “incorrect, insensitive and dangerous” and would result in “traumatising and silencing survivors of sexual violence.”
“In a country where the total reported cases of rape represent only the tip of the iceberg….” it said. It added that Mr Khan disregarded the sexual abuse of minor girls, infants, and boys that takes place in homes and madrasas (Islamic religious institutions).
Former British wife of Mr Khan and socialite Jemima Goldsmith also hit out at his statements and said she hopes “this is a misquote/mistranslation.”
“The Imran I knew used to say, ‘Put a veil on the man’s eyes not on the woman’,” she said.
She shared a verse from Quran, quoting: “Say to the believing men that they restrain their eyes and guard their private parts.”
Mr Khan’s second ex-wife Rehan Khan also chided him, saying: “The less he speaks the better it will be for all.”
The prime minister’s information advisor Raoof Hasan said his remarks have been misinterpreted and picking out a single line from the statement has distorted the perspective.
“Unfortunately, part of his comment, consciously or unconsciously, has been distorted to mean something that he never intended,” he said. He said Mr Khan advocated a “holistic” approach to sexual assault combining legal remedies with efforts by society.
Pakistan has remained one of the worst countries for women’s safety and equality. Time and again, the country has been rocked by protests against high-profile cases and alleged scandals within the government.
In the latest, a motorway gang-rape sent shockwaves across Pakistan after a woman was assaulted in front of her children after her car broke down on a freeway at night in September last year. Protests erupted after a senior police official blamed the victim, asking why she was driving alone at night and did not choose a busier route.
The uproar forced Mr Khan to approve a law that stipulates chemical castration among harsh punishments for rape offenders.
According to official data, out of 22,000 rape cases reported to the police in the last six years only 77 accused have been convicted. At least 11 cases of rape are reported in the country each day.