Feb 24, 2012 - published work, women    6 Comments

Politics is far too important a business to be left to men alone

Pakistan is a strange country. While on one hand it has had the first female prime minister of the Muslim world and has the maximum percentage of women in its legislative assemblies in the region; politics has not been used as a tool of empowerment for women at the grassroots.
It is a curious paradox and the reasons can be as varied as politics being a classist business in the country to general lack of women’s access to public spaces. If political parties are scrutinized, most female politicians are either siblings or children of the party heads or are married into the political families. There are hardly any role models, if any, of women political workers who assumed a leadership position after serving their parties over a number of years. Political ascendency on meritorious grounds is a novel phenomenon in Pakistan but more so in case of women political workers.
With exception of Bushra Gohar and now Nasreen Jaleel, no other party barring ANP and MQM has women holding pivotal positions in their parties and they too need to do a lot more. MQM’s Rabta Committee has a disproportionate number of men and the regressive elements in ANP still bar women from exercising their right to vote – as late as November 2011 when all the eight contestants of the constituency KP61, Kohistan decided not to allow women to cast their votes.
Importance of being out and about in politics is obvious to anyone with passing interest in it. The women’s rally staged by MQM last weekend showed us that politics is far too important a business to be left to men alone.
In a country where women are losing ground in the public spaces and confining themselves to fit to the desired patriarchal norms, the rally and its message that a strong Pakistan is dependent on independent women was a timely reminder that women need to go out and reclaim the spaces they have receded and find newer avenues to call their own such as political space at the grassroots. 
MQM may have wanted to show the world that Karachi is still their home and other political upstarts have a long way to go before they lay any claims to the city but what also comes across from this is that women as voters and citizenry are important and must be viewed as such by other political powers. The large numbers that turned up also showed us that women are interested if they are taken seriously and want to engage in the political process.
It is about time the political parties realize that women are a political constituency and their concerns needs to be addressed and fought for, not only in the parliament but also in their party ranks. This is the election year, should we not demand all parties to include issues important to women in their election manifestos and genuinely try to bridge the gap that exists.
In politics, the importance of constituency cannot be overstated. The MQM rally brought to fore the fact that the constituency of women across the ethnic, racial, tribal and class exists and needs to be catered to by all the political parties. Women’s caucus in the parliament have voted across party lines on issues that mattered to them as a group most and if the parliament is a microcosm of society, it can happen at a macro level as well. 
First published in The Express Tribune

PS:  The reason I have only mentioned ANP and MQM is that these are the only two parties where women hold positions as central as  Senior Vice-President and Deputy Convener. PPP’s CEC has a fair number of women, in addition, there are a few female politicians from PTI,  and the high profile female parliamentarians of PML-Q. With Maryan Nawaz Shareef, even PML-N is trying to score with women and young adults.

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  • Yes, it is a serious concern and must be taken seriously. Yet, without your usual prickly humour and snippy satire though it hits like a grim hammer, it doesn’t cut like a surgeon’s knife … your sharp humour is a great tool to expose our shortcomings …
    Having said that, please keep up the good work of pointing out the ills of our society, one way or other … Bold, perceptive and skillful writers and journalist are the antidotes that every society needs … thank you

  • I would like to mention the name of Kaneez Fatima, the pioneering women’s labour activist from the ’60s. She stands tall among women political workers, and must not be forgotten …

  • Bonjour Tazeen,

    You are absolutely right. It is high time to let women rtake part or even take the lead in governing a country.

    As I see it that’s the only way to avoid having a far too great number of politicians strutting around like a cocks and pheasants and spending money like hay on secondary subjects.

    Being a German, I have voted twice for Angela Merkel and had never to regret this decision.

    Cheers to you

  • Aisha was a general of an army. This was centuries ago….

  • Hmm. But you have not given credit where it was due. Discretion is the better part of valour and all that, eh? 🙂

    The MQM, ANP, PML-N and PML-Q – having women holding pivotal positions – is a fairly recent phenomenon. And even if they had women in some important positions, their number was negligible. But there’s one party that had always had a large number of women in its rank and file – even during the most brutal dictatorship, no? Which one is that?

    And as for the “first female prime minister of the Muslim world,” – which the media everywhere tries its best to paper over as “having inherited her father’s mantle” and “dynastic succession”, I for one clearly remember the immense debate those elections (and even the times prior to those elections) triggered. Everywhere in general, and amongst the faithful in particular: about the role of women in Islam, and leadership roles for women – in Islam. Finally it came through that there was no clash. Someone who managed to do this, not after decades or centuries but probably a millennium, is no ordinary person, no?

    Sadly, she is clubbed with the Gandhis and even compared to the feuding Begums of Bangladesh – when there are no similarities. And she was the one who opened the door for those feuding Begums!

    Hers has definitely not been a “dynastic succession” – by any stretch of imagination. It is she who is the architect of that legacy, ‘ism’ and brand.

  • “With Maryan Nawaz Shareef, even PML-N is trying to score with women and young adults.”

    How times have changed!

    How virulently opposed the connoisseurs of nihari and paya had been – about working women, especially about women in politics and in leadership roles. What language they and their acolytes and minions had used against such women, while picking out that prime minister with the ‘wrong’ gender – for special treatment.

    Sitting in another country, I have read, and not just in our English language papers, even in our regional language ones too, all the disgusting and colourful epithets hurled at their choice target, for years. They have even called her a “prostitute” for having come out of char diwari and for speaking and working with men! They had even vowed to construct a room for her – in Hira Mandi. I have read these and much more in our front pages – even those of our vernacular papers.

    There were quarters that even spread canards that she was sleeping around and questioned the paternity of her children. Strangely today, the narrative seems to be that those same children are “fake” Bhuttos since “they are Zardari’s children”!

    But what I have never read is a tit-for-tat response (coming from either the target or her party) – directed at the women members of these leading lights’ families. That says a lot, no?

    P.S. Politics in my country is err … how should I put it, “difficult” job. But I have never seen, read or heard this kind of low blows.

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