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Zero tolerance and double standards

A few weeks ago when a lawmaker of the ruling party threatened the judges and their families, there was unanimous outrage. The disciplinary machinery of the ruling party came into action, and there was broad agreement that a line had been crossed. A respectable nation cannot allow its lawmakers to threaten judges or their families. The outrage was justified, as we expect better from our legislators.

Another line was crossed, last week, when a serving minister and a very senior leader of the ruling party showed the world what he thinks of his women colleagues in parliament. His inner vile misogynistic core was there for everyone to see. Like an annual ritual, he once used disgusting and inappropriate language to disparage his female colleagues. Somehow he and his cronies thought that was funny. Unfortunately, this time no disciplinary committee took up action, no condemnation from the top leaders came through and nothing happened. No one from the ruling party distanced himself or herself from the minister, and it was business as usual for everyone. The fact that he did a similar thing on the floor of parliament last year, and issued a weak, insincere apology makes his behaviour even more problematic. It is easy to take cheap shots at women in our society, I wonder if the minister would ever consider doing the same for a member of the armed forces or the clergy?

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Our selective outrage and inconsistent morality is just as troubling as the behaviour of the minister. Just as we all are ready to say that those who threaten others have no place in our legislative bodies, we should also be ready to say that misogynists must go! It is not about partisan politics or disagreement with a policy, it is about human decency and respect. By staying quiet, those around him, including those who wear the mantle of equality and development, depicted their own weak moral fibre and hypocritical core.

I feel for the women who have to work in the ministries of water and power, and defence, and how it must affect them. We want our workplaces to be inclusive, welcoming and respectful, not led by men who revel in cheap jokes at the expense of women.

Responding to this incident, some called the weak outrage on social media a Western or a liberal value, or simply said that this is normal in Pakistan and happens all the time. Others, I am sure will ask, what was the big deal about it. I wonder since when did the East or the West started having a monopoly on human decency and respect? In the past, in many parts of the world, including in our own, young girls have been killed or buried alive, a practice that has been considered normal at that time and place. Just because something is normal does not make it right.

We have a long way to go before we can stand on the world stage and be proud of the status of women in our society. Maternal health, women’s rights or access to education for girls put us at the bottom of the global pack. The statistics are not just bad, they are abysmal. But it doesn’t take a development expert to realise that for as long as deep misogyny and disrespect of women remain a central component of our leaders’ actions, our status will fail to change. For as long as those who find taking cheap shots at their female colleagues acceptable (or even funny) remain amongst the policymakers, our ability to create a safe and equitable world for all our citizens will remain a distant and an impossible dream. Human dignity and decency is neither a partisan issue, nor should it be a polarising one. Our economic development will count for little if it is detached from our basic human decency.

Published in The Express Tribune, June 20th, 2017.

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