Misogynistic politicians and female agency – 12 Apr 2023

Gabol’s constant justifications on social media are merely adding fuel to fire.

In a recent podcast episode of The Pakistan Experience hosted by Shehzad Ghias, PPP stalwart and former member of the National Assembly Nabil Gabol made a repugnant analogy comparing rape with the current political situation of the country, all while smirking sinisterly as if it was an intellectual anecdote. The fact that he said it so brazenly on a recorded podcast that is watched by thousands of Pakistanis shows the complete insensitivity of politicians towards abuse and exploitation. To make matters worse, his defence, that it was a mere use of a quote from some literary novel, is even more perturbing as he pretends to not realise the consequence of it. But, in fact, he very much does. He has used such remarks in the past and will continue to use it in the future because of the lack of accountability. His constant justifications on social media are merely adding fuel to fire.

Despite the fact that PPP has issued him a show-cause notice and despite a half-hearted apology, there can be no defence for the absurd use of the quote in that context, or any for that matter. Those who have shown a habit of using such rhetoric should have no place in the political sphere. Unfortunately, politicians across the spectrum — whether they belong to PML-N, PPP or PTI — have unabatedly used repulsive and derogatory language in parliamentary sessions, press conferences and live talk shows. It is a fact that the current political line-up is filled will misogynistic, insensitive politicians who have no moral standing and cannot empathise with the plight of marginalised groups. In fact, many political parties have gone to long lengths to harbour criminals that have committed serious human rights violations. But enough about my rant. Let us move on to the main issue at hand.

The use of such rhetoric by someone in the highest echelons of power is extremely dangerous and aids in normalising the idea of rape in society. Pakistan is already reeling with a rape epidemic as heart-wrenching cases come to the fore every week without fail. Just recently, a 14-year-old girl from Azad Kashmir gave birth to a child allegedly after being subjected to rape for months by her own brother and father. The DNA has matched that of her brother. Justice remains elusive as rapists are exonerated, cases are settled through coercion, and the conviction rate remains deplorably low. It is because of such a threatening environment that women have started demanding agency over their own bodies, as even narratives around it are being regulated by misogynistic men. Those that vehemently criticise the slogan ‘mera jism meri marzi’ must be given a lesson on social movements. Movement and slogans are birthed from within a very specific socio-political context before being universalised. In this case, it is historically about how a women’s body has long been considered as a piece of meat that can be used for pleasure at will. That women are daily subjected to exploitation and violence, psychologically and financially abused, abducted and trafficked, killed for honour or shame, and kept captives in their own houses by their own family members clearly shows that female agency is absent in Pakistan.

It is this agency, the freedom to make autonomous decisions about themselves and their bodies, that needs to be rejuvenated through grassroot struggle. This is what the slogan really means. But to fight the prevailing mindset, the idea of agency must go beyond freedom, autonomy and liberation. It must provide a potent political meaning within the existing patriarchal landscape. This political ‘performativity’ that we see taking place in the form of Aurat March and periodical protests becomes essential for rediscovering female experience and taking back control of bodies, both in a physical and symbolic manner.

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