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Imran Khan Should Apologise For Sexually Objectifying Nurses

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Fauzia Yazdani argues that PM Imran Khan’s recent statement where he jokingly said that nurses at a hospital looked like ‘hoors’ when he had painkiller is demeaning and unbecoming of the PM. 

Let me first thank Tabdeeli Sarkar that ensures we continue to live in interesting times. Every day, something exciting is pushed our way and we are outraged as per our socio-political liking. It infuses instant dopamine in us – be it the key board social media warriors or media channels – and that saves us from PTSD pills that we were about to pop post our utility and grocery bills.

Our PM remains brand name of his own kind – be it his looks, cricketing, philanthropy and/or his passionate politics. At personal level, he believes in being exceptional than normal as he has always taken high moral ground i.e. nothing short of drawing parallel with Prophet (PBUH), Madina ki Riyast or guided by God.

Institutionally, the only reform that he believes in is to put right leader at the top and it will cure all systemic shortcomings. Therefore, his tenure was to set in a just and equitable society and a prospering welfare state. But all we got is a killer smile that isn’t working to do away the societal or economic woes of our country. However, he assured himself a top slot among world leaders that excel in verbosity that I call ‘foot-in-mouth’ syndrome.

Foot-in-mouth (FIM) syndrome is contracted by politicians to gain publicity which is generally cured upon a political victory. However, some get so addicted to this euphoric feeling that it becomes part of their personality. The most common side effect of the syndrome is “I know all’. There were telling indication of the syndrome with Prime Minister Khan as well during his 126 days protest and later election canvassing.

Despite being called out, it was down played thinking it is a political scheme for campaign theatrics that creates required crowd frenzy. Unfortunately, even then it certainly was not allegorical but representative of a personal mindset and broadly suggestive of the sad state of our society that not only enjoys but accepts sexist and racist comments as normal.

As evil eye would have it, the great Khan had a fall during the election campaign. From the hospital bed under the influence of injected pain killers, he released a message to his supporters that resonated with the public.

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He recalled the moment at a fund raising for SKCMH in Karachi. Incidentally, it was a new low in the series of his ‘foot-in-mouth’ moments as it not only sexually objectified nurses by calling them ‘hoors’ (ultimate religio-accepted sexual bounty in life hereafter), it was demeaning to their physical appearance. And this statement hit on substandard management and skill set of caregivers (doctors and nurses) at government hospitals (which he forgot he was representing) compared to SKMCH.

It not only ridiculed women but a noble care giving profession which is so respected in our society that the nurses are referred to as ‘sisters’. The social media is full of memes and in that worst is trivializing menace of drug addiction.

Imagine the power of a sentence uttered by the PM. A lot has been and is being said on the subject to both criticize and justify it. The most common is ‘he is a simple man narrating what he felt. We all do the same but his critics are mentality sick as they pick negativity in light humor”. What is worse is that even some women are justifying it. Senator Sherry Rehman tweeted “Am frankly embarrassed and horrified at the same time. Please, please STOP objectifying women as objects to fantasize about in a waking dream while you are making speeches as PM. Please! You can do better than this. You are Prime Minister, NOT a guy mouthing off on tv. 🤦🏻‍♀️”.

Let us be assured that we have not seen last of these FIM moments. Surely there are more to come and it would remain sexist. PM Khan has grown-up in times when sexist jokes were slapstick and like most men of his age group – late 60s – he continues to live the same way. It’s difficult to unlearn in his age but there is no harm in a steroid lecture to the PM from veteran Tahira Abdullah. It may actually help. Majority of his followers are ‘Gen-Z’, who jeered on his sexist remarks during Dharna and rallies. Interestingly, most of them would cat-call sexism otherwise but their love for Khan makes them not only gulp but defend such non-sense.

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Prime Minister Khan is the elected face of Pakistan that represents the entire population, of which women are approximately 50%. Each word coming out of his mouth has to be measured – not only in respect to the stature of his office but it represents us in polity of nations where Pakistan has a significant position.

Ideally, having taken a high moral ground on all counts we expected from the PM, in words of Confucianism, that as a leader he would exercise self-discipline to remain humble; treat his followers with compassion; motivate his subjects by teaching them virtue and be the unifying force of propriety. Instead, he is confusing the confused.

Globally as well, we are witnessing a transition to dump sexism. But that’s happening in the countries that recognize it as a critical step to transform their societies as a contribution to an equitable world. At home, we continue to categorize women only as good and bad. Patriarchal norms of our society define them physiologically and psychologically weak, hence a subject of ridicule.

General Musharraf was pioneer of political FIM syndrome when he referred to Mukhtaran Mai rape case and said the victim was using it as a tool to get foreign visas. Our jokes, slurs and abuses remain women centric. Despite having illustrious women in public sphere, the collective male ego keeps on boxing them as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ for their choice of dressing to life style.

In the promised land of Naya Pakistan, Imran Khan has the responsibility to not only instill virtue but lead by example to do-away with all such behaviors that insult and/or objectify women. He is in a unique position to lead social transformation to an equitable and right based Pakistan for citizens of any and all genders; yet it remains a distant dream.

Why did it hit a nerve with me? I was reminded of my aunt who was Matron at the Services Hospital, in Lahore, in 70s. As a child I admired her pristine uniform, dedication to her profession and was awed by the respect she would get. I felt the PM’s statement disrespected her.

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