Monday May 09, 2022
The recent act of verbal abuse directed by Pakistanis at Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting Marriyum Aurangzeb, while she was at one of Islam’s holiest sites, is yet another reminder of the rampant misogyny that plagues Pakistani politics.
As if that was not horrific enough, some ex-ministers belonging to the PTI posted the video of the incident on their Twitter accounts, endorsing these actions. This is not the first time, nor will it be the last, that misogyny against Pakistan’s women politicians is tolerated and endorsed. Pakistan’s political history is rife with women political leaders’ character assassination at the hands of their male colleagues.
My first experience witnessing such blatant misogyny was as a child growing up in Lahore in the 1900s, when Benazir Bhutto’s political opponents would repeatedly attack her character, her choice of clothes from before she entered politics, and her personal life. The words used for her by large sections of the population are categorised as the worst form of verbal abuse directed at a politician only because of her gender.
Even though I could understand very little of what passed as a political discussion at the time, I knew that her personal life was open to disgusting attacks by the PML political leadership and their followers only because she was a woman who had stepped into an overwhelmingly patriarchal political world.
While the 90s may be one of the vilest political periods, current events indicate that nothing has changed. Clearly, political parties that enjoy massive support from the Pakistani public do not own any responsibility of bettering political discourse and condemning misogynistic and sexist comments directed at women politicians.
Most of this abuse is considered funny rather than something that needs to be apologised for. This is truly reflective of Pakistani society where casual homophobia and misogyny are not called out. We have ingrained these attitudes in ourselves so deeply that most people do not even recognise why it is offensive to call women names on the floor of the National Assembly or refer to a male politician as a woman in a public political rally. Much like the streets and parks of Pakistan, public institutions are also no place for a woman. Entering politics as a woman in Pakistan means that her physical appearance will be discussed and mocked by her male colleagues. Her personal life and character will be freely tarnished for the entertainment of the people.
One cannot have much hope from the majority of male politicians but at least women politicians should present a united front and condemn misogyny and sexism across the board. This is something that no woman, regardless of her political affiliation, is safe from. Today it is Marriyum Aurangzeb, but it has been Shireen Mazari, Firdous Ashiq Awan, Maryam Nawaz, and countless others in the past – and there will be others in future.
When one woman faces abuse by political leaders or members of the public, others should come to her defence regardless of the political party they belong to. After all, these are the experiences that all of us Pakistani women share. We all know what it is like to be targeted because of our appearance and to be dehumanised purely based on our gender. Be it women in journalism, who have been at the receiving end of abuse, harassment and threats, women in public offices, doctors, nurses, or women belonging to any other occupation, we all have stories that have sexism and misogyny at their centre. When it comes to abusing women, nothing is taken into account – not the sanctity of the place, nor a woman’s position. It is time that people are held accountable online and otherwise for how they treat women and what they choose to say about them.
Men who are responsible for saying and endorsing the most disgusting things to women political workers and leaders must be held accountable publicly; on TV shows that they are invited to, at press conferences, and on social media. The impunity with which they display their misogyny must come to an end if Pakistani politics is to mature beyond petty personal attacks.
The writer is a former civil servant.
Originally published in The News