An Open Letter to Election Commission of Pakistan by Women’s Action Forum

Politics in Pakistan is rife with misogyny as politicians from all the political parties have been reported making sexist and derogatory remarks against female colleagues and women of the country in general. Most political parties claim gender justice as their utmost priority; however, none of those parties are held accountable for the internalized misogyny they often conveniently display in workplace.

Politicians from all political parties, regardless of the position they hold, have been involved in offensive behavior against women. On January 20, 2017 PML-F MPA Nusrat Sehar Abbasi put a question to PPPP MPA Imdad Pitafi, only to receive an invitation to his chamber for what he called “a satisfactory reply”. The television cameras further caught a UK-educated PPP lawmaker, Nawab Muhammad Taimur Talpur, taunting Ms Abbasi in presence of Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah. In another instance (PTI) legislator Shireen Mazari when protested against some of the points Khawaja Asif made in the Parliament was called a “tractor trolley” by the Minister.

On one hand political parties forge commitment to bridge gender gap, their evident misogyny is revealing about their mindset, the trend being whenever confronted by female colleagues with a strong argument, male politicians often take refuge in adopting offensive behavior against them uttering suggestive statements. Take for instance the example of MPA Shah Farman who was heard using expletives/abusive words against PPPP lawmaker Nighat Orakzai’s parents, besides racist comments when she pointed out gender discrimination in disbursement of funds among lawmakers.

Mian Nawaz Sharif himself despite holding the position of a Prime Minister is also among those flaunting misogyny with pride. In a rally he uttered derogatory and suggestive remarks about women who attended Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf’s rally. Many times PTI has been “accused” of bringing women into political rallies and allegations have been made against the ruling party of trying to discourage female participation by using regressive techniques of character assassination and on one instance in 2016 even sexually harassing women in a PTI rally intending to create disruption. Unfortunately, only women have been blamed for all these incidents. No action has yet been taken by the concerned authorities or regulatory bodies to assert women’s equal right on public spaces.

The Chairman of PTI Imran Khan also chose to counter criticism against himself by bad mouthing critics as he once said in a suggestive manner that he knows how, all these women who’ve been criticising his stance on reserved seats, have themselves been elected. The leader of the opposition, Khursheed Shah when faced criticism from women politicians remarked that they (women) would ‘fall ill’ if they did not talk a lot. He also went on record saying that the Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif ought to send his daughter Maryam Nawaz back to the kitchen.

In another unfortunate incident sisters of PTI leader Murad Saeed were on the end of receiving verbal abuse by PML-N’s Javed Latif. The first ever woman to be elected in the province of KP was also aimed at by PTI’s Fayyaz-ul-Chohan who casually made vulgar remarks against her on live tv. During another TV show in 2016, JUI-F Senator Hafiz Hamdullah verbally abused Marvi Sirmid and even tried to physically assault her.

Politicians from PML-Q and other political parties have also been recorded in the past conveniently contributing to the sexist culture. Arbab Ghulam Rahim during his tenure as the Chief Minister of Sindh made this sexist remark on August 27, 2007, that a “woman’s rule is a curse from which one should protect oneself”

This being an evidence of the fact that the issue of misogyny in politics requires extra effort that goes beyond demanding a simple apology from the perpetrator. Women are still already underrepresented in the Parliament, misogyny and abuse is further putting them off politics. It is duty of the State to make this society a safer place for women. The Women’s Action Forum believes the State has miserably failed in providing equal protection to all its citizens as is evident by the statement of Mian Nawaz Sharif who chose to rather institutionalize misogyny while holding the position of a Prime Minister.

Parliament is a model for society and our male parliamentarians making derogatory remarks against female colleagues reflect on society. Hence the need for the Parliament to model plural, equal and peaceful social relations is desperate. There is a dire need to evolve a code of ethics for all registered parties operating in the country, therefore, Women’s Action Forum demands ECP to intervene in the matter and introduce commitment to gender justice in Codes of Conduct and strict action for non-compliance to ensure safer environment for women in politics. WAF further demands that all political parties take immediate action to ensure their election manifesto includes protection of our democratic values and constitutional rights of non-discrimination.

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