PTI rallies — hazardous for women

Published: May 8, 2016
The writer is a freelance journalist and an editorial consultant for The Express Tribune

The writer is a freelance journalist and an editorial consultant for The Express Tribune

There is a method to the madness associated with PTI activists whose behaviour is starkly worse than that of the workers of other political parties. The PTI members appear abusive to one and all, especially to people who dare to point out their political shortcomings.

Last week, a PTI rally culminated in another unfortunate episode of harassment towards women at the hands of unruly activists. The videos making rounds on social media show a woman nearly beaten down to the ground as men around her appear to be scavenging on an easy prey, while two other women are seen thrown onto barbed wire as they are trying to protect themselves. A video from another rally shows a woman hysterically crying as she tries to protect herself from men around her. These clips leave one with a feeling of absolute helplessness and humiliation.

In ensuring its workers the basic right to human dignity, the PTI has clearly, and frequently, failed. While the party chief has apologised for the harassment suffered by “our women,” his language is both damaging as it is degrading. It points to a sense of presumed ownership of women. They are someone’s maa, behen and beti at home, and in the public realm they are ‘his’ or, collectively, the PTI’s, with their dignity claimed.

Unfortunately, this harassment and abuse is not a first or new occurrence for a PTI event. Recount the brutal treatment of a female reporter working for a leading news channel at a rally in Lahore in 2014, where she was verbally abused by a crowd while plastic bottles were thrown at her as she was doing her job. At that time, there was so much hate being spewed against that particular channel by Imran Khan himself that it became kosher for PTI activists to subject a journalist to such abuse. Treatment towards the reporter was conveniently termed a “reaction” by some senior party members to the ongoing dispute with the channel.

Prior to this incident, in 2013, Quatrina Hosain, a well-known journalist, had an unpleasant experience at the hands of PTI activists in Wah and her team was attacked, leaving one person injured, while cameras were snatched away by the party’s members. Incidents of harassment at PTI rallies have also been cited by reporters of this paper during the time of the party’s dharna in the capital.

These frequent instances of molestation and abuse not only leave the direct victims and their families with long-term emotional scars, but affect all women in public spaces. It ensures that political participation is made more exclusionary for women than it already is. Next time a young girl wants to go to a political rally or event, she will be reminded of this barbarity from her family members. In fact, it is a cost that each one of us will bear in some way — even if it means the mere recollection of these events in our minds.

It may be a fair point that Imran Khan himself cannot be personally held responsible for all these incidents, but it does bear questioning as to why is it that the PTI’s rallies in particular are so unsafe for women. It also brings to notice the party’s previous conduct in politicising the queation of women’s rights.

In 2006, Khan opposed the landmark Protection of Women Act. He fumed against the Act calling it a ‘made-in-Washington Islamic system in the country’ and demanded why a law related to women could not have continued for one more year when it had been in place for the last 26 years. These were his comments on a bill that finally made a distinction between rape and adultery.

Little has changed since then. More recently, the PTI chief insisted that the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa domestic violence bill would first have to be approved by the Council of Islamic Ideology — a body that attempts to make itself relevant through its misogyny — before being presented in the provincial assembly. It would be fair to assume that child marriages and wife-beatings would also be acceptable to him since its only CII approval that appears to be his goal.

Harassment and abuse of women at PTI rallies, then, are not isolated events. They come from somewhere; they come from the leadership level and trickle down to the bottom. The PTI needs to own the problem, not women. Dupattas thrown on the floor and women on barbed wire is an ugly response to the ‘change’ that so many people had so devotedly believed in and hoped for.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 8th, 2016.

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Reader Comments (11)

  • May 8, 2016 - 12:12PM

    Good try at whitewashing. but you failed miserably. Those were
    hired thugs and hoodlums of PML-N. It’s so obvious even a blind
    man can see that. PML-N has done this before. During Nawaz’s
    two other failed premierships.
    Why would PTI gives itself a black eye? Nothing like this happened
    during the months long Dharna. Yes, everyone remembers Punjab
    Police shooting and killing unarmed men and women AND children
    during the Model Town Massacre.Recommend

  • Sceptic
    May 8, 2016 - 1:07PM

    Zehra Abid now run for the cover. You have not only spoken the truth about the PTI leadership’s attitude towards women but also talked about the abuses PTI workers and sympathizers are known by. Get ready for more abuses and never dare to be seen in a PTI rally. Recommend

  • Lolz
    May 8, 2016 - 2:51PM

    Having read it, I feel as if the whole Pakistani society is the most developed and civilized than the rest of the world in terms of gender discrimination and harassment and out of nowhere suddenly women got harassed in a PTI rally! The writer has probably forgotten Kasur incident, killing of a young girl recently by setting her on fire, rapes by feudal lords, jirga judgments, acid throwing and tortures, Sharmeen Obaid Chinoi’s two times Oscar for the same cause and the dismal proportion of women in all the political parties! I don’t understand why this incident is being presented separately in contrast to rest of society!Recommend

  • Azzythehillbilly
    May 8, 2016 - 4:26PM

    You can not You can not challange a single point made by Zehra Abid instead you deny the culpability of PTI by falsely blaming PMLN.
    Yours is a loser leader. he will for ever shout on the streets and eventually fade away. Your rude, ill spoken group will achieve nothing because the people can see past the facade of your lies. a single point made by Zehra Abid instead you deny the culpability of PTI by falsely blaming PMLN.
    Yours is a loser leader. he will for ever shout on the streets and eventually fade away. Your rude, ill spoken group will achieve nothing because the people can see past the facade of your lies.Recommend

  • shankar
    May 8, 2016 - 5:05PM

    Very good article. PTI represents misogyny.Recommend

  • S
    May 8, 2016 - 10:57PM

    Rightly said. I totally agree with you. It is the party’s responsibility to give cover to women and it has totally failed to do that. What I believe that Imran Khan is a good man by heart but this is not enough. To become a good leader, in fact decision making is more crucial and he seems to be lacking in this skill. He always shows aggressive attitude and the same has become the essence of his party and party workers. I think PTI should provide its organizers & workers with training related to event management.
    You have spoken the truth and I have supported you. They hate criticism on them and loves to criticize others. Now, be ready with me to be abused and molested by them online. But, don’t worry, I am also with you…..:-)Recommend

  • MJay
    May 9, 2016 - 5:14AM

    Uh-oh. You’ve poked the hornet’s nest. Now wait and watch the Insafians descend on you to try and prove you allegations wrong by doing exactly what you are criticizing them for.Recommend

  • Humza
    May 9, 2016 - 6:54PM

    @Motiwala: You have failed miserably at hiding your own bias. During the months long dharnsa there were also incidents of women being mistreated. You want to pin the bad behaviour of some men towards women on Nawaz Sharif only shows how desperate and hate filled you are. Why not complain about his economic and political policies – wait the economy is better, security has improved and international financial institutions have upped Pakistan’s rankings. I guess that leaves you with having to make up reasons to complain or dregging up Model Town incident. I afraid you will have more frustration as you see the economy, energy crisis and infrastructure continue to improve !Recommend

  • Parvez
    May 10, 2016 - 2:46PM

    Credibility once lost….is lost forever. When the PML-N gunned down innocent people including women at the Lahore Model Town incident and Justice Baqir’s Report clearly stated that senior PML-N gave the orders, they lost all credibility…….do you still think they are not capable of such acts. Recommend

  • Humza
    May 10, 2016 - 6:42PM

    @Parvez: The only credibility lost in Model Town incident was that of Tahirul Qadri and his political party. When you have a religious leader urging his brainwashed followers to throw rocks and shoot at police, this is nothing short of anarchy. This is what happened in the Model Town incident and what did the leader of that religious group do? He just ran off again to Canada where he supposedly does not work but lives on social assistance. If you want to pin bad behaviour of men on a political party, it shows who desperate you are. Why did even Imran Khan apologize for the bad behavior of his PTI members?Recommend

  • Lolz
    May 11, 2016 - 3:07AM

    @Humza: When you throw stones on police, the police should fire bullets in your face, very civilized of you janaab! You seem one of those people who tortured two brothers to death on the roads of Sialkot during Ramadan, you seem the same man who appreciates the verdict of a jirga to set women on fire, you seem the same man who defends the culprits of Kasur incident! Recommend

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