Political participation

About a fortnight ago, I wrote on the issue of how the present crackdown on women has been devised as a deterrence for women to participate in politics in general. It’s a fact that in Pakistan, after PPP, PTI was the unique party to attract women and youth. PPP due to its liberal leftist agenda, and mostly because of student politics romance and later due to the presence of Nusrat Bhutto and Benazir Bhutto emerged as a progressive party with women participation before its time and at its peak, most of the attacks on PPP was targeting its liberal values and women participation. In those days, maligning tactics were adopted about BB and her mother. Misogynistic jokes around BB foreshadowed her while she was in prison, in exile, opposition leader, or even when she was PM. One example is that of Sheikh Rasheed for instance in the nineties, when he did a very bad speech against BB at the foot of the house, BB was in tears until her party swore to take revenge and the rest is history.
BB’s pictures were dropped from helicopters, her bedrooms were filmed, and the massive dirty campaign against her husband which again is a very unethical way to criticize someone, you can comment on their politics, why target their personal relationships? Only recently Maryam Bibi said it was done at the behest of “you know who” but there is no proof. History remembers that it was all done via PMLN. Years down the line comes PTI. The youth and women get interested, it appeals to the educated middle-class diaspora, working women, and overseas Pakistanis. We see active participation of women in these crowds. Imran Khan’s strength exposes other patriarchal and misogynistic structures. Therefore, since 2014, PTI women have been attacked verbally. First Maulana’s party started suggesting “immoral activities” at the dharna, even a liberal party like MQM was spreading pamphlets against women at the dharna and then PM Nawaz said, “Look at these women, what were they doing last night”. Slowly, a narrative is being built against women’s participation, asking the young female members of PTI like Maleeka and Zartaj what they went through, not attacked for political ideology but for being women.
When Maulana Fazlur Rehman brought a dharna to Islamabad, there was not even a single woman there. Similarly, we saw the nefarious attacks on Maryam Nawaz of being too pretty for politics, abhorrent allegations that she is too plastic, vile attacks on her makeup, her being a grandmother, (Nani), constant attacks at her husband, saying she is too bossy, should be working in the kitchen, all of these statements were rife with misogyny. As counteroffensive, attacks were made on Imran Khan’s wife in the way she dressed, her religious beliefs etc, the culture of tit for tat brought too much dirt into politics. Now, women started coexisting with this dirt. While PTI women are under attack these days, the sad fact remains former PM Imran Khan himself said that a female anchor was rightly abused for she should not have gone to jalsa for reporting. Political division was at its peak and women became the collateral damage.
Similarly, we saw the nefarious attacks on Maryam Nawaz of being blonde, being too pretty, too plastic, makeup, nani, vile attacks at her husband, saying she is too bossy, and should be working in the kitchen, all of these statements were rife with misogyny. The culture of tit for tat brought too much dirt into politics. Now, women started coexisting with this dirt. The point is that we see these attacks on women as a recurrent policy in Pakistani politics and misogyny is flourishing and our condemnation is becoming too selective for our own good. This is a dangerous trend and could take us towards the total collapse of the fabric of our society. In the present crackdown, there are reports that in recent protests, the police targeted women with harassing, violent behaviors designed to crush their spirits. You need to see the dirty propaganda some channels and YouTubers have been doing against PTI supporters calling them aunties, dancers too fashionable and too much in makeup, all designed and orchestrated to encourage hate and violence towards women by portraying them as poor characters. And the systematic attack on women in these protests has its origin in the statement that came directly from IG Punjab which shamelessly called the women at PTI jalsa as “wearing too much makeup” and “being of a certain type”. Is that the way to talk about women? The BBC article and many others have reported on the mistreatment of women. Was their political patronage to discourage women altogether?
The culprits of 9th May deserve severe punishment but in the absence of transparency, did we witness political revenge? With women political prisoners crammed in tiny cells, relieving themselves in a communal hole in the ground, flies, mosquitoes, diseases rife in windowless cells. These women have not been allowed access to lawyers and their families have not been able to meet them. Interior minister’s midnight press conference about rape, victim blaming, and curtailing their right to speak and ask for justice, even before they have had a chance to speak. Pakistani women face violence and abuse as part of their day but with political parties weaponizing misogyny, Punjab police abusing and baton charging women, being dragged and held in police vans, and men threatening to strip the women naked, Senior anchor Mehr Bokhari relating the story of close friends being sexually harassed and molested when in police custody, a disabled woman being dragged mercilessly across the ground, a young woman being dragged by her hair, all this bodes very ill for Pakistani women. If political leaders use misogynistic policies and rhetoric, then it has a domino effect on the rest of governmental structures with regard to women’s rights. As Meher Bukhari wrote in her message on social media, the tactics would succeed, as the families will not allow women to be in political rallies again, their absence will achieve a political purpose indeed. But what about the national cause of women’s participation which we have deteriorated many years backward? I would say it’s time to ponder.

The writer is the host of Eight PM with Fe’reeha Idrees on Waqt News. Email: fereeha@gmail.com

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