close
Sunday April 14, 2024

Women in politics

Over the past few years, while women have become much more visible in politics

By Editorial Board
March 03, 2024
Punjab Chief Minister Maryam Nawaz signing a book in the Punjab Assembly on February 23, 2024. — Facebook/Maryam Nawaz Sharif
Punjab Chief Minister Maryam Nawaz signing a book in the Punjab Assembly on February 23, 2024. — Facebook/Maryam Nawaz Sharif

In a country where we have had a female prime minister, a female speaker of the National Assembly, and now the first female chief minister of Punjab, we sure are still many many miles away from where we should be when it comes to women in politics. Over the past few years, while women have become much more visible in politics, there has been an unfortunate rise in open and public misogyny right from party heads themselves. For the past few years now, we have also been lamenting the dangerous polarization the country is stuck in. One potent example of the consequences of such a Good vs Evil way of doing politics would be the recent incident in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly where PML-N lawmaker Sobia Shahid was physically assaulted by PTI workers with shoes, a cigarette pack, and other objects. Why? Because Ms Shahid chose to walk around the assembly floor displaying a watch (alluding perhaps to PTI founder Imran Khan’s watch case). Surprisingly, the fact that things were thrown at a woman lawmaker was not the worst thing that happened to her. The kind of sexual verbal abuse directed at her by men in the gallery is a terrifying reminder that, while we may have had many ‘firsts’ for women in politics, the reality is that it is a treacherous journey for a woman if she enters mainstream politics in the country. An ironic reminder: the KP Assembly has sworn in a woman deputy speaker.

The reaction to the assault on Sobia Shahid in the KP Assembly has been as one would expect: denial, gaslighting, blaming the victim. First, PTI leader Sher Afzal Marwat justified the reaction by saying Ms Shahid provoked the workers and a lota should have hit her head. Then KP Chief Minister Ali Amin Gandapur also indulged in victim blaming by saying the woman in question wanted to be in the media limelight by provoking workers. Not only that, we have also seen obfuscation by some women politicians opposed to Ms Shahid – drawing parallels between what happened in the KP Assembly and Pakistan’s not-so-great history with women parliamentarians and politicians. If this is the attitude we are left with, then it makes sense that Pakistan ranks 142 out of 146 countries in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2023. Some analysts have pointed out that had this incident taken place in the Punjab or Sindh assemblies, the reaction would have been different. It is because it happened in a smaller provincial assembly, which many see as a periphery, that it was neglected even by the media to a large extent.

Sexist and misogynistic remarks against women in politics by political opponents is nothing new of course. Benazir Bhutto faced vile remarks in the assembly by PML-N lawmakers back in the day. Khawaja Asif’s ‘tractor trolley’ remarks against Shireen Mazari on the floor of the house are still fresh in everyone’s memory. Gandapur’s remarks inciting violence against Maryam Nawaz a few years ago made headlines. The crackdown against female PTI workers and leaders shows that political participation by women is still a very difficult path. When political parties were awarding tickets before the 2024 general elections, there were hardly any women in those committees. When political parties don’t have women in the decision-making process, how can we expect our patriarchal society to change?

What this comes down to is for our political parties to first change their attitude towards women in politics and make substantial changes to ensure that women are given more representation in the parties. Most of these political parties just pay lip-service to women empowerment when in reality, they barely fulfil the bare minimum quota for women candidates on general seats – giving tickets to candidates on seats where they think their party position is weak just to fulfill the Election Act requirement that five per cent women have to contest direct elections. Political parties should ensure that women are respected and appreciated for their work and given more decision-making roles. There should be more women in cabinet positions. We need more women in politics, in law enforcement, in bureaucracy, in our judiciary, in the media, and in every sphere. This is the only way that we can defeat misogyny, slowly but surely. And not only that: the idea of tokenism – whether through girlboss feminism or nepotism or class politics – has to be challenged every time. But every critique directed towards a woman has to be just that – critique not sexism.