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Cook, clean and vote for men


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If women do get up the guts to enter politics, the results of the survey further showed that they have almost no chance of survival within it.
If women do get up the guts to enter politics, the results of the survey further showed that they have almost no chance of survival within it.

Words tell stories but numbers tell better ones.

One such story, the story of Pakistani women comes from the discoveries made by one recent survey on women in politics in South Asia and it is not a tale of happily ever after.

According to findings of the survey, which was conducted by the Center for Social Research and United Nations Women, a majority of Pakistanis (55 per cent) think that women so lack education and political skills that even if they are elected to political office, a man (husband or father) should be appointed as a proxy in their place.

 Survey Responses to Attitudinal Statements related to VAWIP
Survey Responses to Attitudinal Statements related to VAWIP

If this general disdain in women’s ability to handle the responsibility of political office was not enough, a whopping 78 per cent of Pakistanis think that women should attend to their domestic responsibilities prior to doing any sort of political work at all. This portion of the statistical story told by the survey can be summarised in just a few words; cook clean and vote for men.

In reality, it’s not that Pakistani women (or Nepalese or Indian women) who were also surveyed have a lot of opportunities to become politically active. However, if they do get up the guts to enter politics, the results of the survey further showed that they have almost no chance of survival within it.

Not only do Pakistani women face more political violence than they did five years ago, a large number report harassment, intimidation and threats based on their gender.

 Survey responses to various types of VAWIP (in percentage)
Survey responses to various types of VAWIP (in percentage)

In the 2013 elections, while the turnout of women voters increased and rose to 40 per cent, the percentage of women competing for political office fell from 12 per cent to a little over 3 per cent.

But while this story of retreating women, who cook and clean and vote for men in elections is one portion of the saga of pushing women back into the private sphere; a more contradictory one is also told in the statistics. When asked, 93 per cent of survey respondents in Pakistan believe that women should have the right to participate in electoral politics.

In addition, 80 per cent of respondents believe that a “supportive husband” is crucial for women entering politics. So while the right of women to participate is believed to be real and the necessity of a supportive spouse recognised; nobody seems interested in its exercise or the provision of such supportive husbands.

A translation of these contradictory beliefs is simply that the right to participate in politics is a right only in theory and subject entirely to the whims of the man whose rights over women trump her rights over herself.

The confusion is not a surprising one. Indeed, politics in Pakistan and in South Asia in general is a deadly arena; where the children of ordinary folk, male or female, possess few chances of making a mark.

Add to this, current climates of religious zealotry, and the public dissections of patriotism and you have a situation where aversion from the smut and sleaze is a normal reaction. But disgust at the dirty business of politics can become, in a few easy steps, part of an even deadlier prescription; one that preaches that women should be “protected” from it because of their delicate nature.

The poison in this prescription is simply that it ignores the fact that women are already present in the public sphere, as teachers and doctors, labourers and professors, students and journalists and scores of other ways. Permitting a lack of political representation and insisting that only men can represent the concerns of half the population in the public realm is hence denying a reality that already exists and condemning half the population to political invisibility.

It is saying to every girl in Pakistan, that her priorities should be to cook, to clean and to vote for men.

Author Image

Rafia Zakaria is an attorney and human rights activist. She is a columnist for DAWN Pakistan and a regular contributor for Al Jazeera America, Dissent, Guernica and many other publications.

She is the author of The Upstairs Wife: An Intimate History of Pakistan (Beacon Press 2015). She tweets @rafiazakaria

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (57) Closed

Shakeel May 02, 2014 06:01pm

I must admit looking at the handful of pictures shown above, there would seem to be more talent in glamour first and then brains required for entering politics. There will be exceptions.

" that preaches that women should be

Amjad Wyne May 02, 2014 06:07pm

Not sure how to interpret this survey but one example that comes to mind is that of Benazir - She was called corrupt, dishonest, western agent etc. etc. but, relative to male politicians, not incompetent, or just good for cooking and cleaning. Then there was the case of Zardari vs Zardari's sister (Talpur), most said that Talpur was better. Then there was Dr. Firdous Ashiq in the last government. Literally filthy and worse than men, but no one challenged her ability to do the job even though she did not do much. I think that the reality is more complex - the last batch of elected women came from families of politicians but most stood on the shoulders of their families. They were not of the grass-roots type that built a constituency to get elected. Women need to do that - they will make good candidates and should not have difficulty challenging male politicians in Pakistan.

j. May 02, 2014 06:12pm

All the surveys in the article contradict the main idea, and thus advocates the very point it was written against. If the women have to face all of these harassment and difficulties when they are out of their houses, it is better they stay at homes full time, and raise children that are an asset for the nation. And what is bad if the womenfolk cook and clean at home?

just_someone May 02, 2014 06:15pm

After seeing how poorly women are treated in Pak, I shudder to think how much worse women must be in India. But its not a shock that Indian women are treated worse than Pakistani women.

Arshad May 02, 2014 07:24pm

Seriously? Look at displayed faces, I wonder whether they need GPS for kitchen, artificial hands or Apps for washing. I admit they know the art of gathering vote not to represent their constituencies but to do parliamentarian fashion parade. Sorry but true.

GS@Y May 02, 2014 07:39pm

Just looking at female Pakistani politicians tells you they are not of the people.

Tanvir May 02, 2014 07:54pm

I doubt any of the women shown in the pictures do any household work. They probably have dozens of "Masis" doing the real house chores. The issue is right but the pictures are wrong.

M aslam May 02, 2014 08:05pm

Could you compare number of women parliamentarians in Pakistan vs no. in congress?

Zak May 02, 2014 08:27pm

@Amjad Wyne. Well said, I agree.

aaa May 02, 2014 08:35pm

The point more important is how many make it in politics and the number in pakistan is not less than in western countries.Ratio is about the same.

tufail May 02, 2014 08:57pm

excellent article, its an issue to be raised. thats not fair with women, men and women should have equal chances to participate. in future i see women raising slogans and fighting for their rights which men had deprived them of. inshallah that will bring us a new future. and jo log kehtay hai k women are corrupt and unwise, to mera yahi jawab hai k mardon nay knsa acha kia hai pakistan ko, har jaga fasad, lootmar, dehshatgardi and so on. aj tak knsa karnama tmaray zardari, nawaz nay anjam dia. i m not a political person but i stood by the truth and the truth is that we can't make any progress without our mothersand sisters assisting us on equality basis. BE UNITE and live long, live with prosperity.

Kamran May 02, 2014 09:08pm

Although i completely agree that Pakistan has serious issues when it comes to treating women as equals, i believe the interpretation that you came up with is incorrect. You stated: " a whopping 78 per cent of Pakistanis think that women should attend to their domestic responsibilities prior to doing any sort of political work at all"

However, the survey asked: A women should not ignore her domestic responsibilities even as an elected candidate.

Not sure how you reached the above conclusion from this information. The survey question is not asking if domestic responsibilities are a priority. It simply asks if women can ignore their domestic responsibilities while being an elected official. I am sure if the survey asks the same question from men the response would be similar.

Mustafa May 02, 2014 09:49pm

Pakistanis vote for dynasties, gender is not an issue. Some may recognize Mariam Nawaz, none can recognize her brothers.

aaa May 02, 2014 10:14pm

The problem not many women are allowed to cook and clean either because of abuse they face at the hands of the in laws. They are never cooking and cleaning peacefully so first we should make it our priority that they cook and clean in peace.

independentthinker May 02, 2014 10:26pm

A country that even men find hard to govern, how can we expect a woman to take over the executive position. While I have absolutely nothing against women getting their rights, I believe Pakistan is so backward, when it comes to gender equality - that it will be decades, before men will be able to take orders from women. Furthermore, from my own personal experience, because women have been deprived of equal rights, they tend to misuse their powers, when given that option. I might stir up a "heated debate" on this topic, but I am of the opinion that for now, women are not ready to take over major roles in our society. It requires a change in mentality - which unfortunately will take decades, not only in third world countries - but even around the world.

Parvez May 02, 2014 10:29pm

Reading some of the comments...... a very male chauvinistic attitude of ' beauty and brains can not go together ' and that coming from the intelligentsia, says much. The few women in politics that are visible on TV, do a much better job of debating a topic than most their male counterparts. The reason they are rendered ineffective in parliament is because they have to toe the party line and the part is always dominated mostly by seriously deluded macho males.......and we are the poorer for this.

zain May 02, 2014 10:32pm

As per latest data Women in Parliaments 60 WOMEN Pakistan National Assembly ( Lower House) total Setas 342 23 women IN UK Assembly 18 Women in USA 32 Women in Germany 34 Australia

Ms Rafia Zakaria spend more time in research the graph you're showing also questionable if any person do some goole search in terms of Rape and sexual abuse for women in the world

Good Luck Toronto,Canada

Shakil Khan May 02, 2014 10:34pm

all the pictures here sums it all, none of them absolutely none of them came to politics without being relatives of unelected party leader's daughters or a girlfried in case of Kashmala. They all came on reserved seats and none of them has won a open election even a rigged one!

such inclusion of women actually dent the very idea or women in politics, its a slap on the face of women of all these countries. These mafia thugs are only in politics to expand own family and friends grip on power! Lack of local elections stops bottom up leadership growth too. Benazir Bhutto, Sonia/Priynka Gandhi, or Indira Gandhi may not have been party leaders if they were not offsprings of political dynasties. They havent and will not try to empower women of the region as it goes against their interests and power grab!

Kamal May 02, 2014 10:41pm

Well said Rafia. This is the mindset that men have created in women since ages. In the name of religion or some other belief, the men have interpreted laws and rules for the women. Women have sacrifice their will to exercise their rights in favor of love for their children and service to their spouses and other loved ones. Tolerance of abuse brings more abuse. And this is what is exactly happening. Only a real man-leader can educate other men about the change in perception towards women of the society. Every country has different perceptions about their women, which is a proof enough that it is not as much religion driven as it is interpretation driven. The question is how many true men are there who can risk it all and lead all other men out of this so called darkness. Continue your pursuit.

Nuur Hasan May 02, 2014 11:35pm

Do you seriously accept think the four women showed here can make a difference? - none of these women "struggled" to get up there.

Abbasi May 03, 2014 12:01am

Woman has ever been at the altar since the dawn of civilization, sometimes, buried alive, addressed as fool in Chinese civilization, victimized to the Ritual of "Sati" In Hinduism, married to holy book in Sindh, or killed under the label of Honour Killing, harassed and tortured all through the history of mankind....and she seems to continue to be the subject matter for centuries to come.

Rizwan May 03, 2014 12:26am

Is this world a Bed of Roses for Men ??? on the 2nd day when Mr Hamid mir was attacked and whole Pakistani media was focusing on that very incident,an acid attack on a boy was reported in Multan by a girl !! why Ms Rafia don't consider that incident a crime and raise voice for Men rights ??? is Man not human ??? please stop biasing. .

IKE May 03, 2014 01:54am

This woman writes about Pakistani issues from outside Pakistan. I would be suspicious of anyone who tells us what to do. We have seen it from Wall Street, Washington DC and London. Only Pakistanis living in Pakistan know and should decide what to do with their lives.

Zak May 03, 2014 01:57am

Pakistani women are tough so don't underestimate them. Putting oneself out there for man or women, brings the threats and other downside. But if their husbands stand behind them, then these women are formidable.

independentthinker May 03, 2014 02:15am

@j. For centuries, women and men had their assigned responsibilities. A man was expected to be a bread winner, while the woman stayed at home, took care of the household responsibilities, raised the children, etc. Most marriages stayed in-tact and children were raised without any issues about "mental illness", drug addiction, moral challenges, etc. Then came the so called "women's lib". Women went out to work, demanded equal rights, 50% of marriages ended up in divorce, children started dropping out of schools, drug addiction, premarital affairs, etc. etc. The standard of living did not improve from what it was in the "good old days" - but the quality of life definitely deteriorated. Children become more disrespectful towards their parents, since most of the time they are left by themselves, husband and wife have little to no communication, because they are now independent and have their own lives and friends circle - they so-called don't "need"each other! Looking at how things have unfolded, it boggles my mind that women are still fighting for their rights. Pause for a second and ask yourself - how has it benefited women in particular and society in general?

Muhammad Zubair May 03, 2014 06:21am

Numbers do tell a better story, but unfortunately they are dependent on someone with the expertise to read them in order to put the story back in words for the rest of the people.

When interpreting results of a survey one should let the results do the talking instead of trying to milk them to satisfy one's own theories. Two of the points raised in the article are examples of the latter.

Firstly, the article claims that 55% Pakistanis think that men "should" be appointed as proxies in place of elected women. In the survey, however, 55% agree to the statement that women have no skills therefore men "have" to take up proxy positions. The question therefore is about what the ground reality is and not what the responder thinks the ground reality should be.

Secondly, the article states that 78% Pakistanis think women should attend to domestic responsibilities "prior" to any political work. The survey, however, questions about women not ignoring domestic responsibilities "as" an elected candidate i.e. "while" doing the political work. A logical reading of this question does not lead to the conclusion that 78% Pakistanis think that women should "cook, clean and vote for men" only.

As a student of statistics, let me suggest that before this survey is utilised in support of female politicians' state of affairs, a comparative survey on male politicians is also conducted. It would be interesting to note the percentage of people who think that male politicians should ignore their domestic responsibilities as an elected candidate.

illawarrior May 03, 2014 06:31am

@independentthinker The change in mentality only comes when women take on such roles, and excel in them.

FIZA Soho May 03, 2014 06:31am

Stats are simply numbers, it's the reality on the ground as we see it that counts. From Pakistan's inception, strong and highly educated females have been the power behind the erstwhile throne. Later as Pakistan evolved, more women took the helm, by steadily and surely steering Pakistani political and socio-economic mandates to new heights.

When Pakistani women run for political office, they truly do far better and are more successful if they have strong family support which could be a father, brother or husband. This is so even in the West, for no woman is an island unto herself especially in a developing nation like Pakistan. That said, former President Musharraf had the most number of highly educated females in his cabinet and they were chosen by merit and stellar credentials. Surprisingly Benazir Bhutto's cabinet didn't have as many qualified females as did Pres. Musharraf's.

FIZA Soho May 03, 2014 06:41am

Well Done Zain! It's truly pathetic to see so many judgmental males with an extremely narrow mindset commenting about what they have no knowledge about: Pakistan's female politicians which per Zain's correct info outnumber even the West and of course India's Parliament.

"Judge not lest ye be judged! " Seems like most men here have never heard of "multi-tasking" which most females, especially if they're mothers and professionals are quite experts at!

Bilal May 03, 2014 08:06am

Our Beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWS) said that a nation that is led by women will not prosper. There are plenty of examples out there.

The problem with Muslims is that they have picked up all the junk that the world has to give - in this case feminism - and run with it - and exchanged the diamond (true Islam) for a piece of feces (secular/feminist/capitalist/communist/ and other ists) values.

Our Beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWS) said that at the end of time Muslims will run into every rat hole.

It is not a competition of men versus women. Each has their roles and each must fulfill them in order for peace and prosperity to be there.

Muslim men have the highest responsibility in society in terms of making sure justice and wellbeing reaches everybody. For the most part Muslim men have left their obligations and responsibilities leading some women to believe they need to get in the action to change things.

It is the responsibility of Muslim men to lead in the change and deliver justice and equality to all.

It is most important that ALL Muslims return to the way of our Beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWS) - the real way - not a faked version skewed for the convenience of a few - and then InshaAllah we will see the fruits of Islam.

And by the way I do cook and clean the dishes at home too...


Hawk May 03, 2014 11:57am

There is a legendary example available in both countries India and Pakistan - Of course no one doubt extraordinary attributes of Indira Gandhi and Benazir Bhutto who never let their husband or father stood beside them for their help in political affairs.

JQ May 03, 2014 12:00pm

Pretty ladies, only serviced for nothing.

ahmedj May 03, 2014 01:28pm

When it came to the contents of copy and paste, it was easy to publish the report a little short of plagiarism. However, when it came to the choice of your (author's) mind the writer picked the wrong portraits.

Four ladies! I have seen no:1 and no:3 on social websites confronting men and actually threatening them who seemed weak. Is pic no:4 is of that lady, whose bodyguards threatened a male cleaner of a bakery? Now no 4, is she the famous, known for her in-trend products. She cunningly manipulated better than men from one military to another democratic govt. The icon for better reasons should be known for her fashion and clothing sense called "turncoat" dresser.

complete mismatch write up.

Asif May 03, 2014 01:54pm

They bring in more damage to themselves in the ill mannered behavior that they explicitly display in talk shows. I am referring to the first lady from left. The Foreign Minister .... what credentials does she have other than being close associate of Zardari. She was appointed in this position because Shah Mahmood Quershi overshadowed to goons .

Shakil Khan May 03, 2014 02:51pm

@FIZA Soho , @Zain

No doubt if we go by numbers, Pakistan may have more in numbers of MP women that mostly relatives of political fathers, brothers, in laws etc.

A common and real politician in west outweigh all in Pakistan as she would have fought her way up in men's world with her own abilities not like these awarded plastic politicians.

Ailly May 03, 2014 03:22pm

failed to see the motive or direction on above article.

Mohammed A. Sukhera May 03, 2014 06:26pm

Women with talent don't have to cook, clean and vote for men if they don't want to. Who is forcing them to do all these things against their will? if certain things are forced upon them, they have a choice to leave the partner. On the other hand, If women want a happy, harmonious life in the society, they have have to do something and not be a complete burden on their partners.Men cant two jobs at one time. I say, If you can make more money than men, we will be happy to switch roles, we will stay home, cook, take care of the kids, clean the floor, do the laundry/wash dishes, provide you protection and even remind you of your doctor's appointment. One thing we don't want are the complaints of harrasment at job and continous nagging. Take your pick, either way we will be fine. Please stop complaining, you are really killing us before our time. Thanks

independentthinker May 03, 2014 07:20pm

@illawarrior Look back a few decades and look at what we are experiencing now. Are we better off? If the answer is yes, I would say you are looking at it from a materialistic point of view - which is temporary. Looking at it from an emotional point of view, which lasts a lifetime, we are as bad as we can ever get! Families were stable - now it has become a "dog eat dog" kind of life, even between spouses, siblings, etc.

Tariq, Lahore May 03, 2014 08:44pm

On observation at the panel of the photos of the female 'politicians' I must admit they're more of the 'catwalk' material than fighting for the rights of their own species. Sadly our female politicians are on a power trip just emulating their male counterparts in our NA!

Ganga Din May 04, 2014 12:19am

@Mohammed A. Sukhera They'll be lucky if they have someone for whom they can cook and clean. As the ratio of single females increases and there are less and less single males available in Pakistan, female frustration will increase. They can put up all the facade, including the author, but at the end of the day their lives are lone some, meaningless, unfulfilled and deprived of necessary experiences.

Man from UNCLE May 04, 2014 01:16am

These Vertical smiles are assets of Pakistan.

nk May 04, 2014 10:36am

A nation does not become modern just by using smartphone,wearing suit and tie,driving the latest cars or be able to buy latest is thought process that makes a nation modern and progressive.we have to treat girls equally at an early age to be able to face the world. we have to give her power of decision making at an early age and respect it,giving a women power is not a fashion its her right!.that is the only way a nation can truly progress!.

Khuram Nisar May 04, 2014 12:18pm

I don't think; writer have done justice to the article. Pakistani womens are brave and they guts to become even prime minister. If some indiviudal whether female or male is not capable of certain task; then he / she bring shame for that designation. Otherwise, we have such a brave lady Benzair Bhutto leading this country two times. I m sure; if some intelligent like her enter into arena of our politics; can definitely be admired by public.

Secondly, writer is not able to compare it with western world. United Stated of America has never been elect any women president; not even any party has been able to elect a women presidentail candidate. Why writer is just criticisizing our developing countries who still lack education and resources but not comparing it to the developed countries?

Shak May 04, 2014 12:38pm


"Muslim men have the highest responsibility in society in terms of making sure justice and wellbeing reaches everybody."

Give me an example of a Muslim country where this is happening.

On the other hand, I note the ideology of daydreamers has reached such heights that the women are asked to go out and be the breadwinner and at the same time use the woman as an assembly line for producing large numbers of babies. More than they cab afford.

Anyway keep plugging your rhetoric.

khan May 04, 2014 02:06pm

@Tariq, Lahore I liked the way you described them "catwalk material". None of these women are real politicians. I also don't think the majority of the male politicians are any better than these women in fact they are worse. There is a disconnect between this write up and the photos shown.I don't think it matters that much whether a politician is male or female but he or she should be honest, visionary and courageous leader.

Parvez May 04, 2014 03:07pm

@Nuur Hasan Do you really think their male counterparts ' struggled ' to get where they are ?.......NO SIR, they rigged the system so they and only they will come into power....and what good have they done ? Lets be honest.....the men have failed us.....why not give the women a chance ?

Mohammed A. Sukhera (USA) May 04, 2014 05:56pm

@Ganga Din . I would not go that far. They are jewels which need to be protected by a stronger gender and not displayed in the open market places. Its a tough job to keep every one happy and keep reading their mood 7/24. Best among us are the one who treat their partners justly. They only comment /complain when we act in strange ways and they try to help us become better individuals.

AL May 04, 2014 08:36pm

@j. Because many women don't want to just stay at home and raise children, and as equal citizens, have the right to lead the lives they choose. If you can't understand that very basic premise, there really is no hope.

SPD May 04, 2014 10:36pm

@Bilal you must be kidding.. Did u read your own write up???

Necromancer May 05, 2014 09:25am

The survey is flawed it should have Bangladesh included in the sample it would have been more relevant plus Bengali society is predominantly feminist.

Manzer May 05, 2014 09:37am

The author is equating domestic responsibilities with cooking and cleaning, this is really a very myopic view of a Woman's responsibility. A woman should not abandon her responsibility towards her family when she gets elected. The same is true for men of course. Those who do get elected usually come from a social class where household chores are handled by multitudes of servants anyway.

Frankenstine May 05, 2014 11:51am

most of the women in our Politics use shoulders of male members of their families.. all 4 above is a testimony of this.. so I would not call it progress of women.. I think the writer should have come with genuine examples.. self struggled women.. because most of the women in our country rely on their family back ground.. i.e Hina Pervaiz Butt (MPA Punjab Assembly) than MNA Pervaiz Malik's wife and his sister is in PPP.. and than u have Ayla Malik and her sister .. so if cronyism and nepotism is the criteria than the nation will never accept this ..

moas May 05, 2014 12:05pm

At least the women in picture, are by all means incompetent to do the job yet I don't see many protesting or challenging their role. In addition to that I don't see any political struggle behind any of these women rather they are in politics based on their political background. Even worse is that some of these women introduce bills in assemblies which they themselves opening disregard. If someone is competent, irrespective of men or women, people will finally accept them.

independentthinker May 06, 2014 03:38am

@AL What is so wrong about cooking, cleaning and raising your children? Since when has cooking, cleaning and exercising your democratic right to vote become such a degrading task? Can't you see the problems that the families are having, because both genders are "fighting" for their rights? The children are growing up, totally messed up, because the parents are out of the house and they are not getting any attention. I don't know why we become so selfish, that we don't care about the children that we give birth to - and want to continue pursuing our own career. If Almighty made man and woman different and only made women to be child bearing - there has to be a reason!

independentthinker May 06, 2014 03:44am

@nk Pakistan was progressing just fine in the 1960's, when women were sharing in the household responsibilities and men were sharing in the business responsibilities. You can still give equal rights, without having to change the whole demographics!

nk May 06, 2014 08:22am

@independentthinker ...Pakistan was progressing in the 60's compare to what?.women's were denied their rights even more in the 60' can not live in a cocoon,time doesn't stop for anyone,if you can not keep up time will pass you by. the world is getting smaller everyday,every man,women and child is competing with the same from other countries.the more dead weight a country has the backward it will actually made my argument for me,look around who is governing the country?.all these corrupt people that everyone is so mad about were kids in the 60's!.FIRST SCHOOL OF A CHILD IS MOTHER<IF SHE DOESN"T GET HER RIGHTS OR CAN NOT FIGHT FOR THEM...WHAT DO YOU THINK SHE CAN TEACH THAT CHILD?.EXACTLY THE SAME WHAT SHE KNOWS!.there is not a single country in the world that is successful and happy where women's were denied their rights!.ABOVE ALL ITS THE RIGHT THING TO DO!!!.

Hamza E May 06, 2014 02:38pm

This survey is a very good proof of why culturally Pakistan belongs to South Asia rather than Middle East.