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Does being a parliamentarian protect female politicians from online and offline harassment?

The ratio of women representation in the parliament of Pakistan is less than 25%. Women parliamentarians are often subjected to various forms of harassment. They have been targeted by their fellow politicians with comments on their clothing, body and stereotypical gender roles. Whether it be Sheikh Rashid calling Benazir Bhutto a parrot or Khawaja M. Asif calling Shirin Mazari tractor trolley; female politicians have been subjected to such horrific comments for ages.


Most recently, a video went viral on social media which recorded the shocked reaction of Maryam Aurangzeb on the disqualification of Talal Chaudry. With romantic music playing in the background, clips of the two together were compiled and spread all over social media. A reaction by Maryam Aurangzeb was instantly sexualized over mere self created rumours.


Supporters of certain political parties tend to target women as they find them an easy bait. Reham Khan, ex wife of Imran Khan was trolled online and offline for her critical views on Khan and his lifestyle. She was questioned for her dupatta and her divorce with Khan.


In political differences, women have become a constant target of political satire and comments;


Even Asma Jehangir was made fun of for her statement that she would not let Khan become Prime Minister till she’s alive. Many failed to respect the powerful woman, even after her death.


Political parties have failed to provide 5% of reserved seats to female candidates and also have been unable to spread awareness among their supporters who target women of opposing parties on the basis of gender. Posts on social media have been awful examples of insecurity and harassment.


These incidents show how patriarchy has penetrated in the political and social system of the country. How can we expect anything else when our newly elected Prime Minister has stated that feminism and gender equality movements have degraded the role of mothers? A country where the leader of the parliament believes in gender roles, having gender equality seems a distant dream.


The question in hand is that despite being elected as representatives of the country, are women politicians safe online and offline? Does online trolling and targeting lead to offline threats and how are they overcoming them?


It is needed that political parties rather than just proposing gender equality laws, work for it by increasing female representation in their parties and work for their protection as well. Women in the political scenario need to feel safe in order to exercise their political and fundamental rights. They need to feel safe to present their ideas in the Parliament and work for the law making policies of the country. Where women form 51% of the population, it is needed that they represent 51% of the government as well.



This blog has been written by Anushe Noor Faheem, Member of  DRF’s Network of Women Journalists for Digital Rights.

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