The naya Pakistan, or new Pakistan, that Imran Khan, the prime minister-designate, has been promising for more than five years has for long been a butt of jokes and unsavoury taunts from his political opponents. The apparently liberal elite, including many opinion makers who loved the arch-rival Nawaz Sharif despite his right-wing tendencies, also subjected Khan to numerous memes that continue to generate laughter and ridicule. Some of Imran Khan's supporters are now claiming that there is a new anti-Khan narrative being supplied by western mainstream media and supported by “the so-called progressives” within Pakistan, seeking to cast him as anti-women. A banker, who is an old supporter of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) that Khan heads, told me that the new campaign is being advanced to discredit their leader even before he takes over as the new prime minister. The censure is apparently provoked by Khan’s pre-election criticism of the “western feminism as an impediment to motherhood”.
There is overwhelming evidence that Pakistani women feel buoyed by Imran Khan’s politics. The PTI’s combative brand of street politics and highly charged sloganeering about ending corruption and extremism has attracted millions of young Pakistani women to the streets of Pakistan, adding a new and vibrant dimension to the politics. In 2014-15 when Imran Khan launched the Azadi March against the rampant corruption by then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, tens of thousands of women joined him during his several weeks-long sit-in and the nocturnal demonstrations. The extremists within the then ruling party, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) denounced him for the ‘un-Islamic character and composition’ of these gatherings. Rana Sanaullah, the law minister of the PML-N government in Punjab used filthy language against these women and even likened them to escorts. This trolling had an opposite effect: more and more women joined the PTI and became the party's ardent supporters.
The PML-N government’s law minister used filthy language against women who had joined PTI’s sit-in protests, likening them to escorts. This trolling had an opposite effect: more and more women joined the PTI and became the party’s ardent supporters
Prior to the elections, there was a surge among women to register themselves as voters for it is mandatory by law. In some areas, women even created history by voting for the first time since independence (in 1947). Women in Khuhab, a village in Punjab, voted for the first time in the country's history. Similarly, women in Dir, a district in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, an area once controlled by the Tehreek Taliban Pakistan (TTP), voted for the first time since 1970. During the TTP's reign, women were banned and threatened with violence for public participation, including for casting their vote. In several other tribal areas, women voted for the first time, and according to some newspaper reports, they overwhelmingly voted for the PTI. According to a news report in the leading daily, The News, “Women voters played an important role in the victory of PTI candidates in Lower Dir and Upper Dir”. Their voter turnout in these constituencies was registered at 37.92 per cent, which is comparatively higher than the turnout in many other constituencies of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
According to the latest data issued by the Pakistan Election Commission, women polled more votes than men in more than 125 constituencies across the country. By increasingly participating in the electoral process, women have been able to challenge the stranglehold of feudal men in several constituencies. This is one of the reasons that dozens of candidates from old and traditional political families suffered humiliating defeat. The women in Thar registered the highest voter turnout at more than 70 per cent. This resulted in the victory of the Pakistan People’s Party candidates against a conglomerate of religious and landed elite – the Arbabs and the Qureshis. Earlier, more than 2,000 women had contested the election both for national and provincial assembly elections to mount a challenge against the male domination.
(Murtaza Shibli tweets @murtaza_shibli)
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