The misogyny in our leaders` words

MISOGYNY is deeply rooted in our society, to the extent that every time a public figure talks about women, it almost always results in a problematic statement.

This time, once again, it came from the highest level: a senior political leader and former threetime prime minister of this country, Nawaz Sharif.

In a highly anticipated speech upon his return to Pakistan, he made a distasteful and unacceptable comparison between his women supporters, and those of the PTI.

He suggested that the former are more `decent` than the latter, who supposedly dance to the tunes of music at political gatherings.

This consistent `good women-bad women` mindset is even more alarming coming from Mr Sharif, considering that his own daughter operates in the public domain and, like other women in this country, has been fighting against the patriarchal mindset of society that dis-approves of women in leadership roles.

Mr Sharif seems to have changed his tune when it comes to not calling out powerful quarters or his opponents, but his view on women sadly remains the same, and it reflects on his and the party`s attitude towards women.

This is an unending rhetoric that has been seen across all political entities, from the character assassination of Benazir Bhutto by her political rivals to Gen Pervez Musharraf`s insulting statements regarding rape survivors, to Imran Khan on multiple occasions making misogynistic statements on several occasions, including the nowinfamous quip about men not being `robots`.

Recently, senior PML-N leader Khawaja Asif made a statement on the floor of parliament, using a derogatory reference for PTI`s women members of parliament.

A few years ago, he referred to a senior female PTI member as a `tractor trolley.` Instead of retracting his words in the face of backlash, he took complete ownershipof what was said.

This mindset exists on all levels and among all parties; one wishes the younger politicians may change their approach towards women, but no.

Be it Fawad Chaudhry describing former Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Hina Rabbani Khar as a `low-IQ woman` whoseclaim to fame lies in her handbag and sunglasses, or Moonis Elahi asking women MPAs to present his political opponent, Hamza Shahbaz, with a vanity kit, the list of offensive remarks goes on and on.

In recent times, there is only one pleasant example that comes tomind, when the PPP issued a show cause notice to Nabil Gabol and asked for an explanation after he joked about rape.

The PML-N unapologetically operates as a dynasty, with only the daughter of the party`s supremo holding the position of senior vice president. However, if we look at other women memberswho make it to the party , most of them, if not all, are primarily there due to their familial connections.

While we have extraordinary examples in this country like Benazir Bhutto, who became a role model and a strong example for women in a leadership position, most parties still promote womenwho are related to men in the party, and that is the pattern PML-N seems to follow as well.

While Ms Sharif also deserves recognition for her prominent role in her father`s resistance politics and his return to political discourse, she has yet to use her privilege to make a difference for other women in the country, even symbolically.

These repeated shallow remarks by the party`s supremo and preaching about how female political workers should behave raise questions about whether Ms Sharif lacks an understanding of women`s equality or deliberately avoids using her influence over insensitive and unaware male family members and senior party leaders.

What will she, as a woman, offer to the women of this country if she can`t change the mindset at home? As US rights activist and prominent feminist Audre Lorde said, `I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.`In contrast to the PML-N, their archrivals PTI have demonstratedmore inclusivity in their gatherings, welcoming individuals regardless of class, gender, or age.

PTI supporters, including men, actively involve their women in political events, acknowledging their right to have a political opinion. This stark difference in approach has allowed the PTI to take advantage of the void created by the PML-N`s lack of inclusivity.

Despite Pakistani women excelling in various fields, including education, the political elite fails to take them seriously or give them equal representation. The lack of representation, unaddressed challenges, and absence of women-centric policies in party manifestos contribute to the continued marginalisation of women in Pakistani politics. The leaders` failure to prioritise women`s interests and address modern-day challenges sets a bad example and perpetuates arrogance and unacceptability, particularly among younger male supporters.If PML-N fails to embrace change, even in 2023, they will completely fail their female support base.

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