The ‘One size fits all’ model doesn’t always lead to happiness, success, economic progress or even environmental sustainability. Yet it is proposed, enforced and demanded over and over. Lately, this has been a focus on the defense of the good old values and our culture. This means traditional marriage, the harbinger of patriarchy, followed by obvious motherhood. This means there is only one way for a woman to be fit to be a woman – To birth a man his heir.
Yet we know that when women obey and take the above route she cannot be the celebrated “real mother.” The Prime Ministerial candidate Imran Khan defined this term in his interview to veteran Amber Rahim Shamsi on TV. He said this to one of the countries most successful women media professional. He manspained to her and half of this 190-million country how to be a “real mother.” In a very prescriptive way he went on to lay out exactly his model of perfection in his once-charming voice and once-electrifying charm. He also said he disagrees with “western feminism that has degraded motherhood.”
There was a banner one of the feminists at the Karachi Aurat March this year held up: No Uterus. No Talk. That didn’t stop him from elaborating on the premise that his version of a mother is better than a mother’s own vision.
It was such a cringe-worthy interview, right at number two after the BBC Zaibub Badawi one only a few weeks ago where he struggled to define exactly how many jobs he delivered to his governed Khyber Pukhtunkhwa province. This professional woman interviewer at BBC, clenched jaw, asked him several times to come to the point and answer if he failed to make good on his campaign promises, or not. He embarrassingly couldn’t. Details come far easier when you can be preachy on a value system rather than a results-based economic system you got voted in to change. Also, just like Friday sermons in this country, women are such an easy topic.
So the values Imran Khan propagates for women’s wombs frankly neither guarantee happiness, nor stability nor create security for the family unit. In fact, these “real mother” values that demand domesticity and static feet from women only reinforce oppression. Only one in ten women will escape domestic violence in Pakistan, and the likelihood of violence increases, not decreases, when a woman falls pregnant. I urge him and his party to look this up.
His party trolls, women and men alike are defending his comments as non-chauvinistic and non-misogynistic but that’s not the fight. If this came from a head of state, in my personal opinion, it is also borderline criminal – given what he is advocating for keeps Pakistan’s poor well below the poverty line. We have always been among the worst 5 countries in terms of women’s economic integration in the country, which stunts development objectives. Research after research proves when women earn, they are more likely to spend money on children’s nutrition and education. Not all women have access to wealthy husbands. Many women’s husbands are drug addicts, religious fundamentalists, emotional abusers, mentally unstable and often love to beat them black and blue.
This is the norm among the non-Bani Gala-esque dwellers, therefore, staying home is not an option. Unless of course, women have a death wish for themselves and their kids. Men are tragically violent in this region. Imran’s language of the callous disregard of women’s feminist narratives defines and encapsulates that exact violence. He thrusts silence upon women, and that too is a form of violence. He speaks on behalf of women, and that too is a type of erasure. When women are home caregiving then they will not need to be heard publicly anyway of their woes and pains.
This party had filled itself with masculine men snatched from the status quo parties that have looted and for the women candidates, there are the breadcrumbs. The vocal women have already been pushed out – The Fawzia Kasuris and the lot. The 6 women out of 173 National Assembly seats that PTI gave out the need to be first named: Zartaj Gul, Khadeeja Aamir, Fatima Bashir Cheema, Ayesha Nazir, Dr Yasmine Rashid and Ghulam Bibi. Then they need to be applauded. After the thunderous applause ends, they ought to be requested to ask the man that they stand behind two questions: Why are you calling only some mothers “real mothers?” and also, “Would you ever call out a man for not being a “real father?”
The third one I will ask of him because these candidates will probably be Gulalaied if they ask: Is a “real father” someone who lets a “western woman feminist” raise his sons while he fights for a voice in a public sphere and is an absent father? Fatherhood is also parenting. Mothers who work are also real mothers. Many stay at home mothers raise boys to believe in gender binaries. There is no saying what model is better. Only women themselves get to decide. Certainly, not a jock turned evangelist who thinks reproductive rights are men’s rights.