THE horrific sexual harassment of PTI women activists by over 50 men after a rally in Lahore on May 1 has drawn attention not only to the deplorable behaviour, but also to the absence of effective security mechanisms at political gatherings.
Women activists were captured on video being physically assaulted by crowds of unruly men, then thrown to the ground and literally mauled as they screamed until they managed to escape by crawling through dangerous barbed wire fencing.
Although criminal cases have been registered against the suspects identified in the footage, Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah said investigations will determine whether the PTI failed in its responsibilities to protect its activists.
Other PML-N lawmakers were quick to express disgust at the rally assaults, at the same time hurling political barbs at PTI chief Imran Khan.
For its part, the PTI pinned the blame on PML-N, saying it deliberately caused the disruption.
This mudslinging is counterproductive because it belittles the overwhelmingly serious issue of sexual harassment.
Earlier PTI rallies in Islamabad and Multan also witnessed incidents where women were attacked. In cases like these, the sexual offenders must be prosecuted to send out the message that such behaviour will not be tolerated.
At the same time, women have a right to political participation and should not be discouraged from coming to rallies.
Indeed, PTI has among the most inclusive rallies in this regard where women freely participate alongside male activists.
However, their harassment gives right-wing parties an excuse to discourage women from participating as they did some time ago when certain politicians publicly cast aspersions on the character of PTI women when they were seen dancing and singing during sit-ins.
Prosecuting sexual offenders will certainly send a clear sign to those who harass women activists.
But more is needed over the longer term. The state must take the lead in ending the anti-women narrative in the country by ensuring the enforcement of pro-women laws and ending socioeconomic discrimination against women.