ISLAMABAD (AP) — Prime Minister Imran Khan faced growing criticism at home on Tuesday after seemingly blaming a rise in sexual violence in Pakistan on women wearing “very few clothes.”
His comments drew nationwide condemnation from human rights activists and the country’s opposition, which sought an apology. The controversial statements aired over the weekend came in an interview on Axios, a documentary news series on HBO.
“If a woman is wearing very few clothes it will have an impact, it will have an impact on the men, unless they’re robots,” the prime minister said. “I mean it’s common sense.”
Asked directly by interviewer Jonathan Swan whether the way that women dress could provoke acts of sexual violence, Khan said: “It depends on which society you live in. If in a society where people haven’t seen that sort of thing, it will have an impact on them.”
It was the second time in two months that Khan sparked outrage after suggesting that women’s attire plays a role in provoking sexual violence against them.
In April, in an online show on state-run Pakistan Television, Khan claimed that wearing a veil — the traditional head covering worn by conservative Muslim women — would protect women from sexual assault.
Khan’s government has faced criticism over its failure to curb sexual attacks on women since he came into power by winning a simple majority in parliamentary elections in 2018.
Pakistan has been rocked by high-profile sexual attacks, including last September when a woman was gang-raped in front of her children after her car broke down on a major freeway at night near Lahore.
Sexual harassment and violence against women is not uncommon in Pakistan. Nearly 1,000 women are killed in Pakistan each year in so-called “honor killings” for allegedly violating conservative norms on love and marriage.
The weekend interview with Khan in Islamabad covered a wide range of issues, but his comments seemingly linking how women dress to sexual violence garnered by far the most attention. The former cricket star drew broad criticism on social media from both civil rights groups and everyday Pakistanis.
“Shame on You,” Pakistani woman Frieha Altaf said on Twitter.
Marriyum Aurrangzeb, spokeswoman for the opposition Pakistan Muslim League party, condemned Khan on Twitter for his remarks.
“The world got an insight into a mindset of a sick, misogynistic, degenerate & derelict IK (Imran Khan). Its not women’s choices that lead to sexual assault rather the choices of men who choose to engage in this despicable and vile CRIME,” she said.
However, female lawmakers from Khan’s Tehreek-e-Insaf party defended the prime minister, saying his comments were taken out of context, without elaborating.
Zartaj Gul, the minister for climate change, said at a news conference Tuesday “our culture and our way of dressing is idealized across the world,” referring to conservative norms of dressing in Pakistan.