Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan's comments asserting that the rise in rape cases was triggered by the way women dress sparked a wave of criticism, while rights were left "appalled" after the country's leader tried to put blame on rape survivors.
In a weekend interview on live television, Oxford-educated Khan said an increase in rapes indicated the "consequences in any society where vulgarity is on the rise."
"The incidents of rape of women... (have) actually very rapidly increased in society," he said. He advised women to cover up to prevent temptation.
"This entire concept of purdah is to avoid temptation, not everyone has the willpower to avoid it," he said, using a term that can refer to modest dress or the segregation of the sexes.
Hundreds have signed a statement circulating online Wednesday calling Khan's comments "factually incorrect, insensitive and dangerous."
"Fault rests solely with the rapist and the system that enables the rapist, including a culture fostered by statements such as those made by (Khan)," the statement said.
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, an independent rights watchdog, said Tuesday it was "appalled" by the comments.
"Not only does this betray a baffling ignorance of where, why and how rape occurs, but it also lays the blame on rape survivors, who, as the government must know, can range from young children to victims of honor crimes," it said.
Pakistan is a deeply conservative country where victims of sexual abuse are often viewed with suspicion and criminal complaints are rarely seriously investigated. Part of the country lives under an "honor" code where women who bring "shame" to the family can be subjected to violence or murder.
It regularly ranks among the worst places in the world for gender equality. Nationwide protests erupted last year when a police chief admonished a gang-rape victim for driving at night without a male companion.
The Franco-Pakistani mother was assaulted in front of her children on the side of a motorway after her car ran out of fuel. Last year, Khan was also criticized after another television appearance where he failed to challenge a Muslim cleric's insistence that coronavirus had been unleashed because of the wrongdoings of women.
The latest controversy comes as the organizers behind International Women's Day marches battle what they have called a coordinated disinformation campaign against them, including doctored images and videos circulated online. It has led to blasphemy accusations – a hugely sensitive issue in Pakistan where allegations have previously led mobs to attack people.
The organizers of the annual rally have called for the prime minister to intervene. In his weekend TV appearance, Khan also blamed divorce rates in Britain on the "sex, drugs and rock and roll" culture that began in the 1970s, when the twice-divorced Khan was gaining a reputation in London as a playboy.
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