KUDOS to our lawmakers for proving themselves to be truly representative of Pakistani society by exercising their male ‘privilege’ of making derogatory, sexist remarks against women who question or challenge them. The unedifying spectacle took place on Friday in the Sindh Assembly, when PPP MPA Imdad Pitafi made vulgar innuendos in response to PML-F MPA Nusrat Seher Abbasi’s queries during the question and answer session. Despite Deputy Speaker Shehla Raza making a futile attempt to rein in the minister and ordering his remarks expunged, he persisted in the same vein. Shamefully, several legislators belonging to the ostensibly progressive PPP found Mr Pitafi’s coarse humour a matter of much mirth despite Ms Abbasi’s obvious distress.
Such incidents are not a rare occurrence: consider for example, Khawaja Asif’s tirade against the PTI’s Shireen Mazari in the National Assembly last June which the speaker actually condoned rather than censured. Such boorish behaviour is something that millions of working women have to contend with every day; they are considered fair game for harassment, or worse, for having the temerity to step into the public sphere. However, what can be said of a party like the PPP whose recent history is studded with a slew of pro-women legislation, yet which cannot restrain its lawmakers from objectifying and disrespecting women colleagues in the assembly? Laws empowering women can only be truly effective when they are accompanied by a change in attitude towards them. Although parliament is a microcosm of society, it nevertheless has a duty to set an example, and party leaders themselves should make it very clear to their members that misogyny — howsoever disguised as clever riposte — is unacceptable. This leads to another point: solidarity between women legislators. While politics can be competitive and ugly, women lawmakers should consider themselves a sisterhood in a chauvinistic landscape. They must work across the aisle not only to enact pro-women legislation but also when one of them is singled out and bullied, simply for being a woman.