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Misogyny in politics

June 15, 2017

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KHAWAJA Asif’s penchant for derogatory, misogynistic remarks against women politicians shows no sign of abating. It is symptomatic of the contempt in which he holds women in general, and those who are in the public space in particular. On Monday night, in a series of tweets in which he ridiculed the recent defections to the PTI, the defence minister referred to Firdous Ashiq Awan as the party’s “newly acquired dumper” and Shireen Mazari as a “tractor trolley”, the latter insult being a repeat of what he had hurled at the PTI’s chief whip last year. While Mr Asif did not take names, there was no doubting the identities of those he was targeting.

The minister’s coarse language has undoubtedly elicited some amusement in a society where ‘putting women in their place’ is seen almost as a worthy exercise. That is even more so the case when women stake out their place in public life which in the eyes of many men is an exclusively male domain. Let alone parliamentarians or politicians, such patriarchal attitudes are an unpleasant reality for millions of far less privileged working women in Pakistan every day. Sometimes overt misogyny can take the form of a more subtle chauvinism in which a woman’s achievements are defined not in gender-neutral terms but in a patronisingly gender-specific way. A few days ago, for instance, during proceedings in the Senate, Environment Minister Zahid Hamid addressed Sherry Rehman as “lady senator”. Ms Rehman pointed out — very rightly — that her gender was immaterial to her office. Not doing so would have been tantamount to tacitly conceding that as a woman she is ‘trespassing’ on what is assumed by default to be a male sphere. The incidents cited above illustrate that parliament is, dishearteningly enough, a microcosm of Pakistani society. Nevertheless, this does not mean the individuals elected to represent this country, and the tens of millions of women in it, cannot rise above their base instincts instead of reinforcing the prevailing sexist narrative.

Published in Dawn, June 15th, 2017