Name-calling and fist fights are not uncommon when opposing politicians get together. But a fracas in the National Assembly on Thursday underscored a disturbing trend.
During the address of Leader of the Opposition Khursheed Shah, Speaker Ayaz Sadiq asked women lawmakers to be silent or go outside and continue their conversation during house proceedings.
Shah responded: "Do not ask these women to stop talking, Speaker, they will fall ill if they don't talk continuously."
Following Shah's remarks, PPP MNA Nafisa Shah said she would stage a protest, asking why the speaker was only silencing women if men are also talking. The speaker silenced her again, saying, "You cannot challenge the chair."
Last month, during a press conference after an argument in another National Assembly session, PML-N's Javed Latif is reported to have passed distasteful remarks about PTI lawmaker Murad Saeed's sisters in connection with PTI Chairman Imran Khan.
His comments invited censure from all quarters, so much so that his name was soon trending on Twitter.
However, these haven't been the only time women were disrespected at National Assembly.
Here's a list:
1) The times Benazir Bhutto was called names for her bright clothes
According to veteran journalist Nusrat Javeed, Sheikh Rashid was one of the first politicians to be observed passing derogatory remarks to his female peers.
“Benazir Bhutto was wearing a Pakistani green shirt and white shalwar. When she walked in, he quipped ‘You look like a veritable parrot’, which did not go down well with Ms Bhutto at all and caused a ruckus in the house,” he recalled in a conversation with Dawn.
Sheikh Rashid commented on Bhutto's appearance a second time when she attended a NA session in a yellow suit, “She was on her way out just as Sheikh Rashid rose in his seat, and he protested her exit during his speech by calling her a name which is considered very derogatory on the streets of Rawalpindi.”
“The governor of Punjab was supposed to meet with Ms Bhutto later that day and legend has it that when she went to see him, her eyes were red. That was the same night Sheikh Rashid was booked in a terrorism case for possessing illegal weapons. The rest, as they say, is history.”
We wish we could disregard Sheikh Rashid as one bad egg, but that's not the case...
2) When an inappropriate comment was hurled at Begum Zahid Khaleequzaman
When Begum Zahid Khaleequzaman was minister for railways, Nusrat Javeed recalls her commenting on her work load thus: "I have so much work that I have one foot in Karachi and the other in Rawalpindi’."
"At this, someone from the backbenches had shouted ‘The people of Rahim Yar Khan must be enjoying themselves’."
3) When Khawaja Asif called Begum Mehnaz Rafi a "penguin"
Before he infamously referred to PTI whip Shireen Mazari as a "tractor trolley" (more on that below), Defence Minister Khawaja Asif is reported to have called PML-Q's Begum Mehnaz Rafi a "penguin" in reference to her limp.
4) When Khawaja Asif called Shireen Mazari a 'tractor trolley'
At a National Assembly session in June 2016, Khawaja Asif was giving a speech on loadshedding in Ramzan when PTI led by MNA Shireen Mazari protested against against some points he made.
Incensed by the interruption, Asif launched a tirade against Mazari, saying "Someone make this tractor trolley keep quiet."
"Make her voice more feminine," he said, according to eyewitnesses. Another lawmaker chimed in from the government benches to say "Keep quiet, aunty."
Talk about not being able to handle criticism.
5) When JUI-F senator Hafiz Hamdullah threatened Marvi Sirmed on TV
JUI-F Senator Hafiz Hamdullah hurled threats at analyst Marvi Sirmed during a TV talk show.
Although the threats were never televised, Sirmed revealed in a Facebook post that Hamdullah had swore at her and threatened to "take off her and her mother's shalwar". He also tried to beat her, she said in her Facebook post:
Although there was widespread condemnation for Hamdullah's attack, he suffered no real consequences for it — a reality that allows for such abuse to occur in the first place.
6) When Sheikh Aftab asked Shireen Mazari if she wanted strip searches at airports
When Shireen Mazari pressed State Minister for Parliamentary Affairs Sheikh Aftab on the security standards at the Islamabad airport, he said, "In airports abroad, they also strip-search you. Is that the international standard she wants,” he responded, to peals of approving laughter from the treasury benches.
The presence of vocal women with strong opinions tends to unsettle a lot of men, and from the six instances above, it's apparent that our male politicians are no exception. The fact that some are repeat offenders show that their misdemeanours in Parliament are going unchecked. While they are occasionally censured, they suffer no real consequences for it — a reality that allows for such abuse to occur in the first place.
Asma Jahangir, a former president of the Supreme Court Bar Association and noted human rights activist, expressed similar views. She termed the Javed Latif episode a “shameful” one and called for appropriate action against the lawmakers concerned. “Once they are penalised, no one will dare talk in that tone,” she said while talking to a private television channel.
“It’s shameful that they don’t know how to talk to a woman. Are they the elected representatives of people attending an assembly session or some goons?”