Pakistani Politics Is Not A Welcoming Space For Women
Criticism is a word which is commonly misunderstood in Pakistan. Here, criticism is done with the sole purpose of discouraging others. Sometimes, it takes the form of character assassination – especially of women politicians, by brushing aside all ethical and moral values.
The population of women is about half of the total population of Pakistan and has nearly 106 million registered voters out of which about 44 percent are women. The Inter-Parliamentary Union in terms of representation of women has ranked Pakistan 100th in the list of 190 countries. And the Global Gender Gap Report 2020 has ranked Pakistan at 93 among 153 countries in term of women’s political empowerment. Despite this, the political history of Pakistan is full of many incidents when derogatory and humiliating remarks were passed against political women under the guise of “criticism.”
Benazir Bhutto, first female Prime Minister of the Muslim world, was one of those who faced such character assassination in the political arena. She was humiliated twice on the floor of parliament by a fellow parliamentarian who once said, “You look like a veritable parrot” as she had worn a green shirt with white shalwar. And the second time same, parliamentarians while protesting against her walk-out called her “Pilli Taxi” (Yellow Taxi) due to her yellow dress. The then Governor of Punjab asserted that he had to meet her on the same day, and when she came to meet him, her eyes were red.
Another victim of character assassination in politics is Begum Zahid Khaliquzzaman who, once in the parliament, while explaining her hectic work routine as minister for railways, said, “I have so much work that I have my one foot in Karachi and another in Rawalpindi.” On this, someone from the backbenches of the parliament had shouted that “the people of Rahim Yar Khan must be enjoying themselves.”
Similarly, Khawaja Asif on the floor of parliament used vulgar words for Dr. Shireen Mazari by calling her “tractor trolley” and asked someone to keep her quiet. Another time, he acted in disrespectful manner by using the word of “Penguin” for PML-Q’s female parliamentarian, Begum Mehnaz Rafi about her limp. As an opposition party PTI did organize many rallies against the government led by PML-N. Then Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah while lambasting the PTI rally held in Lahore remarked that the dance moves of the female attendees of the rally suggest that they did not belongs to honorable families.
Another politician Abid Sher Ali, while presiding over a public gathering, issued derogatory remarks against Dr. Shireen Mazari by saying that while she was protesting the budget speech of Finance Minister, she said, “Do not touch me.” To make a lewd joke, he asked the attendees in Punjabi that “Ooh Touch karan liyee hai ki?” (What is there to touch?).
Likewise, addressing a political gathering, Federal Minister for Kashmir Affairs and Gilgit Baltistan Ali Amin Gandapur made multiple sexist remarks about Maryam Nawaz, alleging that her beauty is an outcome of multiple cosmetic surgeries. He further added that during Nawaz Sharif ‘s rule she appropriated tax money to beautify herself.
In Pakistan, politics is perceived as a dirty game: mudslinging and character assassination has become a norm. To politicians, the sole purpose of discussion or debate on a political issue is to satisfy their egos. Whenever a politician thinks that they are losing an argument, they start belittling other. Under such conditions, few women dare come into the political sphere. Those who do enter it face sexist remarks and character assassination. Perhaps their male counterparts think that they are not competent enough to take part in the legislative process or possibly they consider politics a taboo for women.
In this regard, the role of female politicians is also very disappointing, as they are not taking concrete steps to end the character assassination of female politicians. At present, Maryam Nawaz is leading one of the largest political parties of Pakistan. Being a female politician and vice president of a political party, she should set a precedent that if any member of her party makes derogatory or sexist remarks about any female politician, his party membership will be canceled.
Besides this, all political parties have female workers. Some of them have very strong positions in their respective political parties. They should compel their party leaders to take measures for making politics a conducive space for women.