Shireen Mazari may be a divisive figure, but she was a force to be reckoned with and her exit from the political arena has left us with fewer fierce women in politics.
She is not the only politician to leave the PTI in the past few days after being incarcerated over the riots following Imran Khan’s arrest, but she is the one whose exit shook us the most.
Mazari, the former human rights minister, is known for being bold, brash and not caring what anyone thinks. From her colourful hair to her feisty personality, the politician is someone who says and does what she wants.
Though her comments on Twitter in the past year or so had grown increasingly angry and conspiratorial, she remained a woman undeterred. She has faced sexist attacks from her parliamentary colleagues, abuse for upholding the basic principles of democracy and not forcing her daughter to vote for her own party and just being a woman who isn’t cowed by anyone. She worked on the extremely sensitive issue of ‘missing persons’ as well as several other laws, and at one time was known for being the loudest voice against human rights abuses. That she is exiting politics at such a tumultuous time is something for all of us to ponder on and lament.
Whether you support the PTI or not, the treatment of its leaders and supporters right now should alarm you. That Mazari, who has been such a staunch supporter of her party and thought to be ‘unbreakable’ in the face of adversity, is choosing to leave is troubling for women in politics in Pakistan and narrows the already miniscule space for female representation at the top.
Her exit came after five arrests and much turmoil for her family, particularly her daughter, lawyer Imaan Mazari-Hazir. There were also several attacks against Imaan on social media for being one of the reasons for her mother’s political exit. People seem to forget that for all her legal prowess, Imaan was very much a daughter fighting for her mother’s release and for that she should not be criticised.
We have also seen many unfavourable comparisons of PTI women leaders to Benazir Bhutto and her time in jail. Benazir suffered in jail. So did PTI leaders. Struggle should not be glorified, nor should pain and hardship, regardless of the time spent behind bars. No one should have to go through what Benazir did — not her nor any PTI leaders today. Accountability is one thing, cruelty is another.
We may not have always agreed with her politics, but we admired Mazari for her courage of conviction and that she chose to be a warrior rather than a damsel in distress.
And that this warrior’s swan song could be a ‘press conference’ that has since become all too regular is disheartening and discouraging for all women in politics.