Every country has its fair share of misogynist politicians telling women not to drive or have abortions and to wear or not to wear a burqa or contest elections. However, Pakistan beats them all with the likes of Sheikh Alauddin, Member of the Punjab Assembly, who is not only openly misogynist, but is also ill-mannered enough to call his colleagues — female members of the Punjab Assembly — all kinds of offensive names. The names are so impolite that not only did some of the TV channels refuse to air his tirade against women MPAs uncensored, but the Speaker of the Punjab Assembly, Rana Muhammad Iqbal, even had to request that those nasty bits be removed from the records.
Female MPAs protested against his spiel about the non-virtuous nature of his female colleagues but when he refused to stop, Seemal Kamran, an MPA from the Pakistan Muslim League-Q, threw a shoe at Alauddin and all hell broke loose. Ms Kamran was barred from entering the assembly premises by the speaker the following day and was involved in a skirmish with the security guards. Later, when she tried to file an FIR against Sheikh Alauddin for harassment and misconduct at the workplace, she was told that an FIR can only be filed against an MPA after directions from the Speaker of the Assembly.
It is sad to realise that misogyny has seeped so deep in our society that a woman as powerful as one sitting in a provincial assembly cannot file a report against a co-worker for workplace misconduct and harassment, despite video evidence. It is ironic that an institution that is supposed to make laws for workplace harassment houses some of its worst offenders who have no qualms in calling their colleagues, among other things, “maut ke kuwo-on mein nachnay wali aurtain”.
While some TV channels practised restraint and did not air the abusive language of Shaikh Alauddin, other TV channels aired selective footage — that of Seemal Kamran throwing a shoe at Alauddin — but did so with sensational copy. They did not show the abusive and misogynist behaviour and the speaker’s lack of response, which prompted the incident. People who have witnessed the assembly’s proceedings say that Kamran’s response may seem a little over the top but the women in the Punjab Assembly are only returning the favour after putting up with four years of verbal and physical abuse during assembly sessions. No wonder legislation against misogynist practices and domestic violence runs into snags repeatedly; it is because our assemblies are full of people who consider misogyny a way of life.
It is also to be noted that Shiekh Alauddin’s rant against female MPAs has openly mocked the constitutional provision of reserved seats for women by calling them the group that violates the sanctity of the House. The Election Commission of Pakistan should promptly take notice of this if it wants its authority as the supreme body of the electoral process to be respected.
Women’s rights groups demanded action against Sheikh Allauddin for using abusive language against female members of the House on June 20. This is an appropriate demand but it is not just limited to the actions of one man; the incident represents a deeper-rooted mindset that cannot accept women in public spaces or in positions of power. We must condemn people like Alauddin for their reprehensible behaviour. Women’s rights groups, in particular, need to look for ways to redress the way we view women in public spaces and in positions of power and deal with this pervasive misogyny.
Published In The Express Tribune, June 23rd, 2012.