Misogyny in politics

May 24, 2022

In the backdrop of growing political unrest last month, on April 8, the then prime minister Imran Khan in his last address on national TV proclaimed that reserved seats are mere ‘gifts’...

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In the backdrop of growing political unrest last month, on April 8, the then prime minister Imran Khan in his last address on national TV proclaimed that reserved seats are mere ‘gifts’ to candidates and that complete allegiance is expected of them, indifferent to autonomous voting agency for women. A month later, while addressing lawmakers from Punjab, he indicated that women on reserved seats must be put behind bars for not abiding by party lines. This past week, his sexist remarks against Maryam Nawaz took another low.

The PTI, which claims to be the liberal voice of the people, is utterly confused between left, center and far-right. This disorientation further escalates with the apparent tendencies of liberal fascism that its leadership has shown in the past four years specifically. How can a party allow openness of ideas and freedom of expression when its few gurus have stanchly hijacked the ‘Great Leader’s’ thinking capacity, communication mediums and social associations?

The rise and fall of the PTI cult movement reminds one of the Hippie Movement of the 1970s. For all 60-plus youth of today, those were the days of a carefree life, filled with bell bottoms, tight tops, marijuana, Parveen Babi and Dam Maro Dam. Little did they realize that the period also had freedom of expression, acceptance of ideas and respect for alternate lifestyles.

While Caesar desires utmost allegiance of his Caligula-style court, the court sadly is filled with dirty intrigues, clandestine mudslinging and naked leg pulling. The party has proven to be seriously incapable of restraining a misogynist culture and its promotion, sadly by women and men of the party who unapologetically defend Imran Khan’s vile remarks on Maryam Nawaz. For a chairman of a political party and self-acclaimed revolutionary, ridiculing women with sexual innuendos legitimizes misogyny among his followers. His views on sexual harassment against women and their dress code is no short of victim blaming. This is a dangerous trend for a country with poor gender parity in all spheres.

Here is a party chairperson who believes that reserved seats for women in parliament are a favour and that these women are obliged to blindly follow party decisions. The Supreme Court’s interpretation has consolidated authoritarian style power for political party owners who have traditionally managed parties as a private enterprise; the move is a blow to democratic values.

In a country where women struggle to contest general elections because of an unequal playing field, reserved seats for women are a temporary special measure put in place to accelerate women’s political participation at multiple levels. These affirmative actions have been taken to narrow gender disparity and promote gender equality. Preventing gender discrimination by requiring equal treatment of men and women is important, but usually insufficient and can be debated. However, to achieve substantive equality, affirmative actions need to be followed by concrete sustainable interventions.

In recent years, we have witnessed a trend in Pakistan where more women than ever before are participating in political activity. Although gains have been made, women remain traditionally underrepresented in the face of systemic challenges to take up positions in the political and public sphere. In defiance of the fact that Pakistan has had a woman prime minister twice and a woman speaker of the National Assembly, patriarchal notions of power-sharing and decision-making guide institutional structure at the level of family, community and the state. The major obstacles that women face in the context of electoral agency are due to stereotypical gender roles for women, irregularities in the electoral process, low economic dividends, disproportionate share of responsibility for the family and home.

A UN Women study on violence against women in politics in South Asia shows that 60 per cent of women do not participate in politics due to fear of violence. The region is home to one-fifth of the world’s population. One-third of South Asian women experience violence throughout their lives – South Asian politics being no different. Female candidates, their families and voters routinely face threats.

Sexist violence against women, especially those in politics, violates women’s right to fully and equally participate in political life. By extension, the foundations of democracy and the exercise of democratic institutions are compromised as well. The quality of democracy’s institutional architecture in Pakistan depends on whether it has a strong foundation of shared democratic values and principles.

Democratic values are more likely to flourish and endure when all segments of society are allowed free participation. To allow citizens’ agency to influence political outcomes without reprisal sets the bases of an inclusive and participatory democracy.

The writer is a technical adviser to the Women’s Parliamentary Caucus, parliament of Pakistan. He tweets hassanhakeem87



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