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No room for misogyny

Updated May 05, 2018


AT a point in time when the PML-N is facing an uphill battle to stay in the saddle after the next general elections, some leading lights of the party are once again revealing an ugly side which is repulsive beyond words.

I was travelling last week and was jetlagged, and so was unable to follow even social media and missed the misogynistic diatribe, outrageous to say the least, of PML-N stalwarts Rana Sanaullah and Abid Sher Ali.

Also read: Misogyny in politics

It was left to a PTI supporter to bring the two mindless remarks to my attention, even as he made insinuations about my affiliations and accused me of being selective and hypocritical in ‘championing feminist’ causes.

Will women voters remain unaffected by the thinking of Rana Sanaullah and Abid Sher Ali?

Initially a bit miffed at being unfairly attacked, one can only be grateful to the angry and sarcastic young PTI supporter for pointing out the outrage. The remarks have been widely reported in the media and were just so awful that I have no wish to repeat them.

Both the PML-N leaders, I am told, belong to the Nawaz Sharif camp. Therefore, the embarrassment, shame actually, they brought reflected terribly on the disqualified prime minister rather than Shebaz Sharif, the Punjab chief minister.

It was to the credit of the Punjab chief minister and then some level-headed PML-N ministers such as Ahsan Iqbal and Khurram Dastgir Khan to slam their colleagues for the use of language for women that was totally intolerable.

Again if I missed their reaction and they did actually issue a condemnation, apologies to them but I have yet to hear what Nawaz Sharif or Maryam Nawaz had to say regarding the remarks subsequently withdrawn by Rana Sanaullah on a TV channel with few signs of remorse.

The problem for the father and daughter duo is two-fold. They feel they are under attack and may even be convicted. Then, there is clear evidence of pressure on PML-N constituency-level big guns to abandon ship and move elsewhere where there may well be offers that their electoral success could also be facilitated.

This pressure may have succeeded in forcing the change of loyalties of a number of southern Punjab legislators who have historically found the lure of power irresistible and have gravitated towards whosoever is in power or represents it.

Elsewhere, particularly in the central Punjab PML-N heartland, the scenario is less clear and at least till the central and provincial governments are dissolved and the caretaker setups are in place it appears there are no dramatic shifts in loyalties.

Once, of course, their governments go and with it the party’s ability to approve projects and development schemes, who knows what will happen, particularly given the experiences of the past such as the formation of the PML-Q.

Understandably, neither father nor daughter seems keen to test the loyalty of any party lieutenant. This is evident in the softly, softly approach to dealing with senior leaders who are making such obnoxious remarks. Nawaz Sharif may also feel that such attitudes don’t cause the party damage as might, for example, the disciplining or sacking of a stalwart and even more if such an attempt is met with defiance.

These may well be some considerations for Nawaz Sharif and Maryam Nawaz. They must also consider the fact that it is their ‘principled’ stance that may be the source of many of their hardships but it also may explain the apparent surge in support in their power base of Punjab.

Taking positions on the basis of principle in some areas and succumbing to political expediency in others gravely undermines their case for support and may even appear hypocritical to the voter on the fence who may shy away from casting a vote in their favour.

Women in general and those in the urban areas in particular can’t be unaware of the impact that systemic patriarchy and worst still misogyny have had on them and their lives. Will such women voters remain unaffected by the thinking of Rana Sanaullah and Abid Sher Ali?

Last month in these pages, I had pleaded with all political parties to sign up voluntarily to a code where attacking women would be frowned upon as the election campaign got under way and gathered steam and momentum.

It was a forlorn hope then and it remains so, given the recent outbursts targeting women and their person for no other reason than misogyny. A PTI leader also made a misogynistic remark though he may have used slightly less offensive language.

Only one politician contacted me to say he was initiating a move in his own party for such a code. For the record he belonged to the Pak Sarzameen Party.

All political parties — the PML-N and PTI in particular as the two have demonstrated a greater propensity to use such tactics — need to really think whose hands they are strengthening each time one of their leaders uses such language and displays such attitudes.

There can be only one answer: those who tend to gain from discrediting democracy. And, mind you, such elements belong to many institutions and different religious denominations. Any lesser esteem for democracy will be a collective loss for us all.

The dissolution of assemblies is round the corner and as attempts to engineer a ‘positive’ outcome intensify with the largest chunk of the media now more or less totally compliant in the game, the election campaign will be inevitably spirited.

The PML-N in particular will likely see its public meetings as an opportunity to counter the combine opposing its return to power. Against such a backdrop it is imperative that political parties at least decide within their own top-tier leadership to never degrade or attack women. That is if they are reluctant for whatever reason to sign up to a formal code.

The writer is a former editor of Dawn.

Published in Dawn, May 5th, 2018