Shouting slogans on mute

The politics of protest orchestrated by Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri have defined many chasms between the well-governed society of our dreams and that of the real facts on the ground. The worst thing about it is that it has disclosed this chilling absence of women in the consultative process between the government, the opposition and the rebels. All three groups put forward a men’s club to negotiate with another men’s club. There is no woman whose opinion is being sought on the matter by either of the parties involved. There are meetings and opinions, speeches and statements, features and defined moments of the saga as it unfolds and none of it has been focused on any woman of substance. Pakistan has an army of them. All have matured in the past few years to lead and steer an impasse such as this. Clearly the men have failed. The only thing they have passed at is graduating a grievance into a gargantuan national crisis that is an international fiasco.
I once visited an Arab country and the women were so evasive, from the billboards to the streets, that it seemed like there had been a mass genocide that had tucked them securely six feet below the earth. That eerie feeling returns when one lets the media in Pakistan unfold the stakeholders and reveal no woman after no woman. They may as well have been tucked six feet under. Sound bites do not count. There is absolutely no excuse for not giving women the centre-stage they deserve in abating this crisis.
Even more disconcerting than the fact that there are no key women players is the fact that there is this tragic discourse taking place about the ones that have emerged from underneath the sky to make their opinions count. More than a discourse, it is a judgement on them and their choice method of participating politically. Women have come out in hoards for the sit-ins in Islamabad’s Red Zone. Regardless of what one feels about creating mass unrest in the country, costing millions of dollars to the economy, it is their right to participate in the process their political leaders dictate to them. It is also their right to chant. Be jubilant. Cry out. Dress up. Adorn themselves with party emblems. Above all, it is their right to dance. Last I checked, slavery was abolished in the modern world.
But we are enslavers of another kind: we have bolted the wrists and ankles of women through conservatism and judgemental decrees. We have shamed them for their exposure. We have called them incendiary names and hurled them as if their mere presence was an insult for parties one opposed. Using women as some kind of honour of political parties is just as archaic and preposterous as using women as some kind of honour in a family. Just as she does not give her ownership rights to the male members of her family, she does not give them to male members of her party.
Women make parties come alive, not just because women are beautiful but because without them there is no future, no soul and no heart. Any political movement is lame without the able-bodied foot of a woman. Parties may as well be mouthing slogans in the mute. The question of women being present in the public space is one that is of supreme importance because we may be claiming a piece of this country by raising the voice of the citizen but no one wants a country where half of its population is enslaved within the four walls of their houses. To see a woman on the streets, occupying public space unaccompanied by a male guardian is to see Pakistan progress into a world of civility. What freedoms can we demand when half of our country is behind invisible bars? It is a shame that many of the parties asking for justice will not allow women on the containers they have staged the dissent from, nor tolerate them in top positions. That pretty much reduces the party to a container itself: a hard shell and a hollow inside.
The very few that have emerged in the media for their point of view have been harassed and trolled endlessly. Marvi Memon is among those who have come out in the dearth of female viewpoints and she has hoards of men trying to discredit her through a critique on her various party affiliations. Men, apparently, have all the right to change party affiliations and no one hounds them. One can only bring about true change when one has a party followership where unsegregated sit-ins are staged without women having to go through harassment and eve teasing. It is tragic that no fervour, like the one found a dime a dozen now, is found to free the women first.

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