A puff or two off the pretence of patriotism is not a bad thing; it only becomes a nuisance after centuries of such comes with the adverse side-effect of propaganda. It is unfortunate to assume that such has become a regular tenet of everyday life, where our blood has been maliciously laced with patriarchal sentiment, and we have been none the wiser. In spite of endless bills and motions to relegate this to a relic of the past, we can’t seem to overcome the deeply-enshrined misogynist culture which overbears our country—and especially our political institutions.
Jinnah envisioned the strength which women could provide to Pakistan decades ago, proclaiming that “no nation” could rise to the “height of glory” unless the country’s women were stood “side by side” with their male counterparts. In spite of being a visionary even in retrogressive colonial times, it is impossible to envision the lengths to which those escaping “a denial of human rights in the subcontinent”, in Jinnah’s words, would venture to morph our political structures into an ocean of drivel, seas away from the original vision for the nation.
The advent of social media has further perpetuated this mendacious ideology, as well as the public’s perception of women in politics. Misogynistic sentiments encompass the discomfort of numerous factions, introducing women to a patriarchal mania under the façade of dual contention. The objectification of women politicians to the double standards that exist in the coverage of male and female politicians is yet another pressing challenge, but this does not negate the inspiring stories of women who have defied the odds and emerged as leaders in Pakistan’s political landscape. Despite the challenges they face, women politicians in Pakistan continue to make strides towards gender equality, and their efforts must be acknowledged and celebrated.
Benazir Bhutto is one of the last few prime examples we had of this. A landmark leader dropped into a niche environment, she became an unapologetic voice of reason in the thick of a plethora of exclusionary politics. She was a monumental figurehead for unapologetically parading her beliefs, ultimately becoming a beacon of hope for millions of women across the country, who now accredit their pursuance of careers in the public service to her name. It is unfortunate to state that her roars were brought to become mere whispers in 2007, when she was assassinated at the feeble hands of stone-aged ideologues. Since her death, we have scoured our shores far and wide in order to replace the gaping hole she left in Pakistani society—a drastic shift from what had been a patriarchal paradise right into the realm of pseudo-egalitarianism.
In our more recent history, yet another wave of polarisation has caused division within the region, and one man in particular seems to be hellbent on not letting such a barrier to progress break down—Imran Khan, once a champion of the feminist struggle, is perhaps the sole advocate of a policy of working backwards in order to achieve prosperity. It was, of course, in an interview with Axios’ Jonathan Swan when Khan had finally spewed out what had been bothering his conscience for so long. “The women of the country are at fault. If they dress immorally, then what is a man to do in order to control his urges? Men are not robots.” This had undoubtedly been a dismayed middle finger to his female supports, decades—if not centuries—behind Jinnah’s initial vision for the Pakistani nation.
The treatment of women from opposing parties by young men has been a catastrophe, a direct result of decades of societal neglect: many are catcalled in public or outright heckled for indulging in the same activities their male political counterparts do. And now, with his direct competitor, Maryam Nawaz, in the PML(N)’s hot seat, there are patriarchal flairs of discomfort around PTI crowds, introducing her to a mania of misogyny thinly coated in the veil of political rivalry. Women leaders within the PML(N) deal with such everywhere they go; it is a bittersweet victory for the likes of the ex-premier Khan, who undoubtedly rubs his hands behind closed doors at the sheer chaos he has crafted into formation. With Maryam, there is no end to the discomfort she may face in the real world: she opens her phone, and her mentions are flooded with threats to her and her family members. Demeaning chants engulf her everyday life; is this what deference is supposed to look like in spite of our differences?
While the rest of her party is enshrouded in endless bedlam, she is perhaps the only saving grace for the PML(N)—the only woman, and indeed the only person—who could singlehandedly breathe life into the ruins of the party’s currently tarnished legacy. She has the ambition needed in order to push the ailing party into the right direction. Resilience in the face of peril is paramount when considering the characteristics needed of a leader in order to orchestrate the Pakistani masses into prosperity, and for that, hitches along this road will come and go with time. She is the only candidate around in the latter-day who could feasibly fill the gaping hole left for a female leader’s voice amidst yet another battle of brutality Khan has borne today.
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