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ISLAMABAD: Widespread criticism from political parties and civil society over “misogynistic” remarks made by some Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz lawmakers against Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf women activists put the ruling party on the back foot, prompting party president and Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif to tender an apology.

“I apologise for anti-women remarks made by some party leaders,” the chief minister tweeted through his official social media account on Twitter.

“The PML-N acknowledges and encourages the role of women in national politics. Any statement demeaning them is highly irresponsible,” Mr Sharif said, adding: “We have to maintain decency and element of respect in political discourse.”

The tweet from the PML-N president came apparently after seeing the media and social media flooded with statements from a number of opposition leaders and members of civil society condemning the objectionable and derogatory remarks of Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah, Minister of State for Interior Tallal Chaudhry and Minister of State for Power Abid Sher Ali about the women who participated in the PTI public meeting at Minar-i-Pakistan in Lahore on Sunday.

Not only the opposition members but saner elements in the PML-N also criticised their colleagues for using such language and the party distanced itself from these controversial statements of the three PML-N lawmakers, all of them known for being loud-mouthed.

Meanwhile, Rana Sanaullah declared that he was ready to apologise and withdraw his words which he had uttered for the PTI women activists.

When contacted, Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal admitted that such remarks and actions caused damage to the party.

“Decency in politics is a must. And this principle is applicable to all (politicians and political parties),” Mr Iqbal said, adding that all women were “respectable” and “derogatory remarks” against them were totally unacceptable.

Defence Minister Khurram Dastagir Khan commented on his Twitter account: “Disrespectful remarks about women are reprehensible, regardless of who utters them.”

Rana Sanaullah had reportedly made inappropriate comments while speaking to reporters outside the Punjab Assembly on Monday, saying: “The women who attended the rally were not from honourable families because their dance moves showed where they had actually come from.”

Tallal Chaudhry had at a separate press conference reportedly addressed PTI chairman Imran Khan and said: “When it comes to your wife, she remains veiled, but our mothers and sisters are for display?”

Abid Sher Ali also made some derogatory remarks against the PTI chief whip in the National Assembly, Shireen Mazari, while addressing a public gathering.

PTI chairman Imran Khan also strongly condemned the statements of the PML-N lawmakers about his party’s women.

“Disgusted by (and) strongly condemn the filthy language used by Rana Sanaullah (and) Abid Sher Ali against our PTI women,” said Mr Khan, adding: “In the past 30 years, these people have always disrespected women, which is against our religion (and) culture. I want to thank our women for coming out in such huge numbers.”

PTI vice chairman Shah Mehmood Qureshi condemned the remarks and vowed to raise the issue on the floor of parliament as well.

“I strongly condemn the disgraceful and disgusting statements of Rana Sanaullah and Abid Sher Ali against the PTI women. The party is proud of its women. They are the flag bearers of our movement and a source of inspiration for all of us,” Mr Qureshi said in a statement.

PTI’s Shireen Mazari reacted more strongly, stating that the “PML-N guttersnipes have come out showing their gutter origins by using filthy language against PTI women — from Abid Sher Ali to Tallal Chaudhry to Rana Sanaullah and in footsteps of Khwaja Asif”.

“Can respond in kind about the PML-N women but will not stoop to gutter level. Let them wallow in their filth,” Ms Mazari said through a statement on social media.

Human rights activist Marvi Sirmid commented that “the PML-N men prove almost every day the misogynist culture of their party and patriarchal character of their own. This entire lot of chauvinist males needs urgent replacement”.

Published in Dawn, May 2nd, 2018