Sunday, July 26, 2009

Assiya Rafiq: Fighting Sexual Violence in Pakistan

I sat down and just wrote a letter to the President of Pakistan. If he's anything like ours he probably won't ever read it but that's not the point. I was deeply moved by the story of Assiya Rafiq, a very brave young Pakistani woman who is demanding the prosecution of the two criminals and four police officers who raped and brutalized her . I think her story is compelling not only for exposing the sexual violence that rural Pakistani women are often subjected to but because of the way it reveals how processes of patriarchy, state corruption, and gender violence intersect. If you can, please write a letter to the Pakistani government in support of Miss Rafiq. There is a growing grassroots movement led by women to end sexual violence, particularly in rural communities and we should all try to support as much as possible. Working here in Bluefields, Nicaragua, I have been confronted with how pervasive sexual violence against women is here and how the silence of both the state and civil society reproduces the conditions that facilitate such violence. I don't think American feminists (of any color) should impose political projects on women in the Global South. But when those women are building an organic, grassroots movement for gender justice we'd be absolutely remiss not to follow their lead.

Here's a copy of my letter to President Asif Ali Zardari. It took me 10 minutes to write it. I think we can all spare 10 minutes for this, don't you? You can fax your letters to: President Asif Ali Zardari, President’s Avenue, Islamabad, Pakistan, fax: +92-51-9203297 or Mr. Mumtaz Gillani, Federal Minister for Human Rights, fax: +92-51-9244542. For more on Miss Rafiq's story check out this article in the New York Times.

Peace and blessings to all,

July 26, 2009
Re: The case of Miss Assiya Rafiq

Dear President Asif Ali Zardari:

I am writing you to tell you how devastated I am to hear about the case of Assiya Rafiq, a young woman who was sold to two men, subjected to a year of rape and beating, and after being handed over to the police was brutally raped by four police officers over a period of two weeks. It is horrible enough that she had to endure a year of such brutality but to be doubly victimized by those who are supposed to protect her is simply unconscionable.

Unlike many women who simply hide the shame of being raped, Miss Rafiq has taken a stand and is refusing to remain silent. She is demanding justice for the violence that was done against her and that the criminals and police who raped her be prosecuted and brought to justice. As a result she and her family are facing threats from the police, the criminals who raped and abused her, her brothers and sisters have had to leave school, and her family has lost its livelihood. Women will never be able to fight against rape and sexual violence in their communities while the state allows this kind of intimidation to continue. I urge you President Zardari to come out in support of Miss Rafiq and to assist in the prosecution of these perpetrators. Sexual violence against women is a global epidemic and we must all unite to stop it. However, nothing will ever change if governments do not come out and explicitly condemn these acts of violence against women. I believe that Pakistan can play a crucial role in changing global attitudes about sexual violence against women and taking a stand against this brutal act.

Women should not be shamed for violence that is done against them. Rape is not about lust or desire, it is about power and subordinating women. The government of Pakistan simply cannot allow women to continue to face ongoing violence when they refuse to be silent about rape and sexual abuse.

I urge you to take a clear stand on this matter and support not only Assiya Rafiq but all of the women and girls who have been subjected to this brutality. The two police officers whom betrayed her trust and raped her again and again instead of helping must be brought to justice. Don't turn your back on the women of Pakistan like so many others have. I know that you will follow your heart and do what is right to ensure that all of Pakistan's citizens enjoy a life free of violence and despair.


Courtney Morris
Bluefields, Nicaragua