Khawaja Asif shouldn’t get away with it

Published: June 9, 2016
The writer is a freelance writer based in Islamabad. She blogs at She can be followed on Twitter @AishaFsarwari

The writer is a freelance writer based in Islamabad. She blogs at She can be followed on Twitter @AishaFsarwari

Everyday sexism is much tougher to decipher. It’s difficult to call it out because it is cloaked under the cultural subtext of humour, satire or plain smart-Alec talk. While women the world over are trying to be nuanced about how to put an end to it, here in Pakistan, it is being institutionalised on the floor of our house, blatant and for everyone’s viewing.  The sitting government’s senior parliamentarian Khawaja Asif addressed an opposition party’s (PTI) peer as a “tractor trolley” and said she should work on making her voice more feminine. Sadly, this uncalled for sexist attack on Shireen Mazari was marked by not even a slap on the wrist by the speaker of the house.

Rather than evaluate the lame responses in its aftermath, let us talk about why this happened in the first place. It happened because when Khwaja Asif first insulted a woman of esteem, it was forgiven as soon as that instance was forgotten. We have very large, forgiving hearts as a society when it comes to offending women. We let it go instantly. Everything is palatable. During 2002-07 when Mr Asif was in the opposition, he insulted Mehnaz Rafiq of the treasury benches, calling her a “penguin” because she walked with a slight limp. Mr Asif’s fascination with defining women’s bodies to animate or inanimate objects is better left to personal fetishes. It has no place in a parliament where there is supposed to be a sacredness about moral standards to protect the weak.

Even Benazir Bhutto in her heyday was not spared the sexist comments by none other than the overused prime time TV guest Sheikh Rashid who is known to have made inappropriate comments on the colour of her clothes. The problem is that women don’t go by the male code: you are as powerful as the extent to which you can hurt me. Women reject the power derived from might, but this is not to be confused by the moral authority they can have over a schoolyard bully. Therefore, just because you can get away with a takedown of a woman more often than not, doesn’t necessarily mean that you will each time.

Increasingly people want to see leaders with girth of character, not those with shoddy shot-fused temperaments. Mr Asif may be at the top of his political game now, but when he exits, he will be remembered for the names he called women. He dared to go down the path of putting women in a place he deems below him, all over again because when it happened before, there was no outrage from women themselves. Even now, a unified voice across all party lines against this verbal assault is missing. By asking all women to come out and side with Mazari, I am not advocating female tribalism of any sort. We can disagree with her politics and also go to the extent of disapproving her actions but under no circumstances is it acceptable for any woman to take an attack on her country’s woman parliamentarian lying down. With honour killings as rampant as they are, with girl children not having access to education in many parts of the country and with astounding maternal mortality figures, women cannot expect any protections if the women representing them are being degraded publicly — and the violators get away with it every time.

As a truly Pakistani gimmick, Mr Asif came out with an apology yesterday. The seriousness of it, or the lack thereof is evident that the apology was very half-hearted and that too not offered to Mazari directly. She has rightfully rejected it. There is no such thing as un-stabbing, no such thing as un-insulting and no such thing as unlearning your place in the pecking order. The food chain defining the VIP culture that Mr Asif enjoys is a fast-changing one. He’ll do well to go back to the shore and adjust his misogynist sails before setting off into the sunset.

Published in The Express Tribune, June 10th, 2016.

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Reader Comments (16)

  • Shabana Baloch
    Jun 10, 2016 - 1:55AM

    Now why Civil Societies and NGOs are silent on this shame full act because the law breaker is the sitting minister and he can cancel their NOCs stop their findings. Shame on those NGOs who from the very first day portrayed the Liberty Champions for Women are now silent. These are the double standards of these so called Liberty Champions. Apart from these the Mullahs who were so outrageous while saving women honor and dignity are also silent Now their jehad evaporated like a steamRecommend

  • Parvez
    Jun 10, 2016 - 3:28AM

    Of course he shouldn’t ……BUT HE WILL.
    He will because we pride ourselves on our macho image, our patriarchal mind set, our clergy believe they are furthering Gods will by denigrating women, our judiciary at best remain neutral when tested on this score and our law makers ……. well, they are shameless. Recommend

  • Ali
    Jun 10, 2016 - 3:39AM

    The learned minister Kh.Asif under unprecedented media pressure finally succumbed when he tendered unconditional apology for his exceptionally sexist remarks which he still calls were.directed against none.The day he made the remarks he came out of the Assembly session with his expanded chest that he would not apologise to any one .its height of hypocracy whils he claims that he did nor name any specific person .His cabinet colleague ishaq Dae knew too well that against whom these pedestrian remarks were aimed at . He whispered time and again in the midst of his so called apology to tender apology to Shireen Mazari but audacious khawaja is made of different mettle . To belie him all one needs to do is to replay the clip and see who was the target of these cheap remarks. The gentleman was encouraged by the speaker the manner he was carrying out the proceedings.As Nafeesa shah rightly pointed out he should have been thrown out of the house. But could the ruling party afford that’! Certainly not . Asif has an irresistible streak to demean Punjabi language as during the course of his speech in Urdu he has a tendency to turn to Punjabi jugat as if language of Baba Bulleh shah and Madhu lal Hussain is meant alone for clowns parading the corridors of power from where they need to be thrown out .Recommend

  • NDA
    Jun 10, 2016 - 3:40AM

    Hey, make some contribution to society. Mere repeating ‘ women rights’ mantra does not help much and take society any further than where it is stuck. Copying the West and taking clues from there for making statements on situation here is nothing but gimmickry. Recommend

  • Parvez
    Jun 10, 2016 - 3:53AM

    As an after thought I just remembered that Donald Trump the Republican candidate for President of the United States of America has called women pigs, amongst other things and seems not only to have got away with it but he seems to have thrived after doing so……possibly Khawaje Asif is a Republican at heart. Recommend

  • Jun 10, 2016 - 8:09AM

    @Shabana Baloch:
    Great comment. Hitting it on the head. Because the minister
    belongs to the ruling cabal. So he can do anything to NGO’s
    and any civil society member. Put up false cases or make life
    miserable for them. Because HE CAN DO THAT.Recommend

  • Really?
    Jun 10, 2016 - 6:54PM

    This is coming from a woman whose husband regularly abuses women. Wow. Shameful.Recommend

  • kpk
    Jun 10, 2016 - 7:15PM

    Welll the same should be said for imran.he always gets away with it.but our media never questions him and portrays him as a leader.its time pti reaps what they have been sowing from the last 3 years.Recommend

  • NDA
    Jun 11, 2016 - 12:54AM

    @kpk: It is civil society which is omnipotent. It can change preferences, overcome bigotry, address hypocrisy and be the conscience of the people. It must react unhealthy attitudes. Imran Khan is no exception. All his life he has abused and used women. Must be condemned. Recommend

  • Hasan
    Jun 11, 2016 - 11:56AM

    While what Khawaja Asif did was pathetic but PTI got back what they started atop those containers. Maulana Diesel, Geeli Shalwarain, Oye this Oye that so why complain now. That pathetic excuse of a politician, IK, has turned his followers into opponent bashers.Recommend

  • The full story
    Jun 11, 2016 - 8:42PM

    @ET: please print, this is relevant and is non-abusive. Thanks.
    “…let us talk about why this happened in the first place.”
    It happened in the first place because Shireen Mazari along with other PTI parliamentarians repeated interrupted Khawaja Asif and did not stop despite being asked too. Further, there were unpleasant remarks that the lady made about Mr. Asif which were heard by Abid Sher Ali, as he pointed out at a TV talk show. To preserve her own dignity, SM should have desisted from further aggravating the situation but she continued, joined in by Arif Alvi.
    Asif was speaking on his own turn. He should have been head through. Subsequently, SM could have criticized Asif on matters of policy and performance.
    Even then to preserve his own dignity he should have been careful with his choice of words. And, in the first place, though outside of the Parliament, IK should not have created a background for such talk.
    Asif’s apology should be accepted and things should move on, with more care being exercised by all.Recommend

  • Parvez
    Jun 12, 2016 - 12:10AM

    @The full story: …….’ which were heard by Adid Sher Ali ‘………REALLY ?Recommend

  • Let go
    Jun 12, 2016 - 12:15AM

    Shireen Mazari wanting to go to international forms for women could get frustrated if she does not receive a favorable response. She already has received an apology and she should quit while she is ahead. Rigidification might result in prolonged frustration.Recommend

  • NO
    Jun 12, 2016 - 5:08AM

    No, as also seen in TV footage.Recommend

  • The full story
    Jun 12, 2016 - 5:15AM

    Do not take sides. Watch video clips.
    PTI abused Shireen Mazari to cause disruption in the National Assembly. Using a women as a shield for disruption is condemnable.
    You do not consider PMLN sources to be creditable but consider the following for a change:
    Asyia Naz Tanoli from the PML-N held Dr Mazari responsible for the insult she was subjected to. “I am responsible for the respect I earn,” Tanoli said and added ‘If a woman indulges in hooting at men, then no one would give her respect.” See:

  • The full story
    Jun 12, 2016 - 6:02AM

    The only part contributed by Abid Sher Ali is : … there were unpleasant remarks that the lady made about Mr. Asif which were heard by Abid Sher Ali, as he pointed out at a TV talk show. ” Additionally, Abid referred to Arif Alvi’s role and that is all.
    But it is commonly reported in the press and electronic media that Asif asked Shireen to stop interrupting and not succeeding he resorted to his infamous remarks. Recommend

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