Mr. CM, that wasn’t insulting enough

If one more person tells me that Pakistan has a better record on women’s political representation than the “developed nations” (meaning the US) because we have twice had a female head of state, I will use my very female and very strong hand to slap them across the face.

The Women in Politics Maps 2014 released by the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) and UN Women recently ranked Pakistan 72nd among 189 countries in terms of female representation in the parliament. We could have been ranked even lower – there is no woman on Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s handpicked cabinet, for instance.

But one does not even need the IPU and UN Women to corroborate the claim of women’s pathetic representation in Pakistani politics. All we need to do is look north to Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa where Chief Minister Pervaiz Khattak just today told women lawmakers to refrain from suggesting development schemes and avoid doing tasks that fall under the duties of male members of parliament. Since when has development been gender-specific, Mr. CM?

Furthermore, in case his statement wasn’t patronizing and misogynistic enough, he also asked women legislators to concentrate on policies regarding women’s welfare. I mean, seriously, if women have such an itch to do something with the opportunity that’s been handed to them by their benevolent male counterparts in parliament, they can stay in their “zenankhana” and discuss their women problems. Why do they have to distract the alpha men from their noble jobs as saviors of the nation, including women?

So yes, what was it that you were saying about women’s representation in Pakistani politics?

The truth is that Pakistani women parliamentarians have almost always run second-fiddle to men, which is why the findings of the Women in Politics report and the KP CM’s comments shouldn’t come as a surprise at all. In the May 2013 election, for example, an overwhelming majority of election rallies were addressed strictly by men. In none of the mainstream political parties is a woman in charge of anything remotely important, and a large majority of the women who are now members of Pakistan’s National Assembly have made it there on the reserved seats for women, not the competitive ones that are open for contest among genders. The female head of government we talk of, Benazir Bhutto, was only able to become the prime minister because she was her father’s daughter. The reason she was nominated for prime ministership was because she was the chairperson of a national party that swept the elections, a party also inherited from her father.

Perhaps it is because of this perceived “privilege” that women parliamentarians are barely ever taken seriously, a rather laughable assumption to make if one were to spend a few minutes looking at how much Pakistani legislators have contributed. I would like to draw Mr. Khattak’s attention, and that of every man who holds the same view as him, to a report by non-profit legislative watchdog The Free and Fair Election Network, which found women parliamentarians in the outgoing National Assembly were a lot more attentive than their male counterparts. Despite being only 76 out of 350, women members asked 1,826 questions out of a total of 3,314 questions that were posed. For some clear perspective, read it like this: while women made up only 22% of the Lower House membership, they asked 55% of the total questions asked while the assembly was in session.

As the CM of the province, it is indeed Mr. Khattak’s prerogative to delegate legislative topics to his subordinates. However, I wonder if he was just as concerned about the overstepping of gender boundaries when a bunch of men decided to usurp a woman’s right to decide who represents her in the Provincial Assembly that he was himself the head of?

On May 13, 2013, I had travelled to Lahore just to be able to vote – and vote for PTI. I was then out in the street in Karachi, demanding re-election in NA-250. But the party just keeps disappointing me again and again. I know that many PTI supporters, some genuinely well-meaning and respectful men, will respond to my tweets about this statement and this blog with some sort of opaque explanations, but the message is clear: the one certain change that is coming is that women can talk, until they decide to challenge men on topics of consequence. Thank you PTI for that reminder.

Published in The Express Tribune Blogs here: http://blogs.tribune.com.pk/story/21477/pti-just-keeps-disappointing-mr-cm-that-wasnt-insulting-enough/

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