Both Botox and facial fillers are effective methods of rectifying signs of aging. Their popularity and prevalence have risen over the years. Both lift and smooth the targeted folds and wrinkles by adding subtle volume and make a difference to a person’s appearance, giving them a fresher look. But ironically, despite the number of “compliments” which one pockets out of these two, people out rightly deny their usage. In fact, it is mostly a hush-hush affair between the aesthetician & the customer.
Unfortunately, rather with a very heavy heart, I am compelled to draw the above parallel with the women politicians of Pakistan hoping that it rings a bell. “Seasonal”, “proxies”, “party aesthetics”, “props” these are the adjectives repeatedly used for women in the Pakistani political arena. Even worse, their presence in a mostly male-dominated rather “male-reserved” arena is a battlefield of ruthless assassinations both – ‘of character’ and ‘of person’. None is spared, right from Benazir Bhutto to Maryam Nawaz Sharif, from their physical attributes to their clothing, nobody hesitates in maligning these women and reducing them to just nobody.
If we go by statistics, in the last few years, the political arena in Pakistan has seen a surge of women activists in all cadres, and their presence has also been felt in political debates, be they on TV or social media. But the regressive mindset of Pakistan’s politics, were women are acceptable only as proxies or an extension of male politicians has not changed at all. Sadly no amount of ‘lipstick work’ can hide the poor stature of women politicians in Pakistan.
Women progression – a facade in Pakistan politics
Equality of women in politics is not on any party’s agenda. They are happily flaunting their “few” women leaders as evidence of their progressive politics. In practical electoral terms, it is much easier for them to take women’s votes as multipliers of male consent. They are then left with the task of managing only the local-level male power brokers. On the other hand, the parliamentary status of women on reserved seats remains completely dependent on their male colleagues even if they outperform the men on the floor of the house. Women are acceptable only as proxies or an extension of male politicians. This is can be easily ascertained, when we see parties that are deadly against women in the political sphere, including Jamaat-i-Islami which spearheaded their exclusion from the Lower Dir by-election, but selfishly nominate women candidates on reserved seats.
The Constitution of Pakistan asserts the protection of women’s rights under national legislation. While human rights concepts can be found from the preamble onward. Article 25 under the chapter of fundamental rights of citizens highlights the principles of women’s equality in the Pakistani constitution. Article 25 clearly guarantees equality before the law and equal protection of the law stating that there shall be no discrimination on the basis of sex. Furthermore, The Chapter on Principles of Policy – Article 32 and 34 ensures full participation of women in all spheres of national life.
However, in reality, women’s political marginalization and other forms of gender discrimination continue to be the norm. Pakistan has experienced extensive violence within the political sphere against women. Cases of women who have suffered Political violence include the former Prime Minister Ms. Benazir Bhutto who was assassinated in 2007.
Another case of Women’s rights activist and Punjab Minister for social welfare, Ms. Zille Huma Usman who was also assassinated in public view in 2007. Zilla Huma Usman, the minister for social welfare in Punjab province was killed as she was about to deliver a speech to dozens of party activists, by a “fanatic”, who believed that she was dressed inappropriately and that women should not be involved in politics.
Most recently the case of Malala Yousafzai, the co-recipient of the 2014 Nobel Peace prize; Malala was mainly known for raising awareness for women rights and education rights in her native Swat Valley in Northwest Pakistan. She survived a shot in the head in 2012. There are several other cases of suppressing women’s participation in politics such as barring women from voting or expressing threats especially in the province of Punjab and Khyber Pkhtawon (KP). The case of Sindh MPA, Parveen Junejo, is another example of this women empowerment facade in Pakistan. She was elected from a general seat in Dadu as a proxy for her husband who was barred from contesting for legal reasons, but later Ms. Junejo confessed that she was forced to resign her seat at gun point by her husband.
Low confidence on the part of political parties towards Pakistani women
In order to assess the current trends in women’s political participation, we may focus on three key questions: Firstly, how many women were awarded the party ticket for the contesting an election? Secondly, what was the total representation of women in provincial and national assemblies? Lastly, of those women who won seats in these assemblies, how many were elected to general seats, and how many were elected due to reserved seats? The available literature indicates that although women actively participate they are not given due credit in the form of nominations from the respective political parties. The ratio of nominated women is almost negligible vis-a-vis male candidates. The low level of representation of women in the election indicates low confidence on the part of political parties towards them, which contrasts starkly with the level of political activism seen among women in Pakistan.
The debate on women’s participation in politics in Pakistan has largely remained confined to reserving seats for them. The 1973 Constitution reserved 10 seats in the National Assembly for women with the general seat members serving as their electoral college. The reservation was made for three general elections or ten years, whichever came later. The reason for this time bar was that it was hoped that within that span of time, women would arrive at par with men in politics, thus negating the need for special provisions.
Although Gen Zia doubled the number of women’s seats, he did not extend the time bar. The seats thus expired after the 1988 elections and the next three parliaments were without women’s seats. The answer is not difficult to find. It is written all over Pakistan’s politics. The reserved seats have only helped political patriarchs increase their numerical strength in the houses.
Pakistan Tahrek Insaf Women’s Wing is another example of “positive discrimination” against women as it isolates them further, Regardless of the strong representation in the national legislature, the fundamentalist view of interpreting and implementing the country’s law deprives women of their fundamental right of equality provided for by the Constitution of Pakistan.
PTI female members face constant harassment within the party
Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) MNA Ayesha Gulalai exited from the party citing ‘ill-treatment’ of women in the party. Gulalai alleges inappropriate behavior, corruption in PTI. “In our meetings, Imran Khan tells us how to attack our opponents and how to besmirch their names,” she alleged.
Another female politician, Naz Baloch, had also quit the party claiming that only male members were given importance and women party workers were kept at a distance.
In September 2012, Shireen Mazari decided to leave Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) due to rude remarks that were being passed around by ex-party members. She, along with her daughter, was called ‘prostitutes’. In an interview, State Minister for Parliamentary Affairs, Sheikh Aftab, replied to a question asked by Shireen Mazari as to what international standards of security were being observed at the airports by saying, “In airports abroad, they also strip-search you. Is that the international standard she wants?”
Mudslinging women politicians are the common norm adopted in Pakistan
It is no secret that nasty smear campaigns are launched in Pakistan during elections ripping the women representatives of their honor irrespective of the fact that whether they belong to the tallest political dynasties or are common social activists. They are used as pawns as when the need to “up the game” is felt.
Benazir Bhutto (former PM of Pakistan)
Begum Nusrat Bhutto & daughter Benazir were repeatedly targeted by such mudslinging campaigns spearheaded by Hussain Haqqani on the behest of opponents. ISI too put its weight behind her opponents in the Muslim League and main religious parties. They airdropped leaflets showing an old photograph of Begum Nusrat Bhutto in a cocktail dress dancing with President Gerald Ford. They referred to mother and daughter as gangsters in bangles (http://www.szabist.edu.pk/Publications/Books/Reflections on MBB.pdf )
In 1988 election campaign, her political rivals hired planes to throw leaflets with photographs that were doctored to show her wearing bikinis, relaxing by a poolside in a revealing swimming costume, miniskirts and dancing at college parties.
Sheikh Rashid’s snide remarks top the list of dirty tactical measures employed against women representatives for political gains. These days her [Benazirs] situation is going up and coming down [O de halat uttay thally ho rai ne.]. He used his right thumb up and down suggestively which meant something extremely lewd. Then he made fun of her for losing her temper and said: O barai chaiti garam ho jandi aye! [She heats up very fast]. With that, he made dirty gestures and publicly used unparliamentary language for her.
Chapter on Principles of Policy – Article 32 and 34
Maryam Safdar (daughter of former PM of Pakistan Nawaz Sharif)
In a TV show, Maryam is accused of running away with Capt Safdar Awan, her present husband. There are allegations leveled that she owns property in England, with money illegally channeled from Pakistan. Snippets from her personal life have made it to the public domain.
Jemima Goldsmith Khan (Imran Khan’s ex-wife)
Jemima Goldsmith Khan was called a Zionist agent conspiring of a Zionist plot to take over Pakistan in conjunction with Imran Khan. She had to flee Pakistan during her pregnancy due to threats to her life.
Reham Khan mercilessly trolled (Imran Khan’s ex-wife)
Reham too is facing severe backlash and is called names ever since she has revealed about her book wherein she is supposedly highlighting the prevalence of sexual harassment, sexual perversion, sexual favors in political corridors. She speaks of nepotism – “if somebody gets a position in the party or a ticket because of a sexual favor or amount of money they bring in, or someone is limited if they cannot give sexual favors or money, that is the public interest”. Her forthcoming autobiography is viciously being trolled by Imran Khan’s PTI.
The Pakistani male politicians should stop these cheap tactics of shifting public’s focus from their own under performance to the personal lives of these potential women. While the plight of women politicians in Pakistan is usually associated with religious oppression, it all really boils down to the deeply ingrained patriarchal mindset of Pakistani society that allows such a toxic culture to flourish. It’s about time that Pakistan realizes that democracy will be strengthened through the participation of women, not by their exclusion or adopting cheap tricks to pin them down when they outshine and you feel threatened.
14 Jun 2018/Wednesday. Written by Afsana