The party of Pakistan’s cricket hero-turned-politician Imran Khan, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), won the general election in July claiming to represent youth and women, but in the aftermath of the polls, it is struggling to address allegations of promoting misogynist ideology.
One of PTI’s main leaders, Amir Liaqat Hussain, who is no stranger to controversy due to his past political and media career, has stirred yet another scandal earlier this month by tweeting a sexist image of a female politician, Sherry Rehman.
Facing a barrage of criticism, Hussain later removed the tweet, without offering an apology, however, casting doubts over the PTI’s manifesto and slogans for women rights and empowerment.
For all tastelesstweeters who post salaciously cropped photos or make inappropriate remarks about women in politics,I feel your pain when u are asked to delete.But,none of these dirty tricks deterred SMBenazirBhutto. She taught me to make my words count,not the state of my veil.
— SenatorSherryRehman (@sherryrehman) August 1, 2018
Last month, millions in Pakistanis cast their votes in the highly contested general election, and for the first time ever, the Election Commission of Pakistan issued a notice warning that low female voter turnout – less than 10 percent of the overall votes – would lead to cancellation of polling station’s vote count.
For the first time in more than 70 years of the country’s history, women were seen voting in places like the restive tribal areas bordering Afghanistan and in many other remote and conservative areas such as Dir and Chitral.
Pakistan’s famous Nobel Peace Prize winner, Malala Yousafzai, banked on the opportunity to urge women around the country to exercise their voting rights, as she tweeted: “The people of Pakistan – especially women – the power is in your hands. Get up, go and vote! Democracy shall win!”
There were, however, some reports that in a number of far-away remote districts women were not encouraged – or in some cases not allowed – to vote. When it comes to the urban areas, local media reported that some men tried to stop women from voting in Peshawar, the country’s sixth biggest city.
Marvi Sirmed, a member executive council of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), told The Globe Post the requirement of a minimum 10 percent female vote was significant in the backdrop of the continuous consensus among local political parties’ leadership to bar women from voting. However, it may take a while to ensure that the practice of barring women from voting is finally over.
Marvi said both Imran Khan, who will take over as prime minister on August 18, and his party have attacked women.
“He and his party-men and women have in the past been engaged in vicious attacks on the dissenting women with sexist and misogynist diatribes. Even the women of his party were seen hounding Ayesha Gulalai, the woman from their party who accused Khan of sexual harassment,” she noted.
— ARY News (@ARYNEWSOFFICIAL) August 29, 2017
Observers believe that instead of proposing and encouraging an inquiry, all the PTI members were seen attacking Gulalai with counter-allegations of being “promiscuous.” More recently, Reham Khan, Imran Kahn’s ex-wife, has become a target of ridicule and abuse by PTI leaders and members.
London-based author of Pakistani origin, Annie Zaman, argued that the act to choose and power to have a choice itself is empowering for women. She acknowledged that the PTI’s win certainly raised concerns in some progressive and feminist groups in the country.
“Their concern is legitimate. Imran Khan has previously denounced the ‘Western concept of feminism’ and opposed legislation making it easier for rape victims to report their assaults,” she said. “In 2006, he voted against the women protection bill. His life choices also raise many eyebrows. His second wife accused him of domestic abuse when the two divorced. Her book is full of stories about Khan’s misogynist attitude.”
Vowing to defend women’s rights at all levels, Saima Nadeem, the president of PTI’s Women Wing in the country’s biggest city Karachi, told The Globe Post the new government would pay special attention to women empowerment.
“Our top priority would be on four points in regard to women. Education of women, health services for them — both for mother and child — security of women and job opportunities for them. Our government is for the youth and women. And, as chairman Imran Khan has said, we would make Pakistan a ‘welfare state’ very soon.”