Pakistani party politics, by and large, remain a predominantly male-dominated club. It is an area of society which has been significantly tethered to the commands of chauvinistic men since the foundation of the country, some 70 years ago. Women are persistently under-represented in politics, whether that be on a local, provincial or national level. The fervently ardent gatekeeping which men go to great lengths to withhold are a cause for concern. Women have played an extremely important role in the moulding of Pakistan as it stands today—historically, female power has stood staunch in its support of a country to be aligned idyllically to Jinnah’s values. Many have spoken about this parallel of power, and more have been silenced. Some perish in their fight for equality, while others are imprisoned.
Pakistan’s feminine strongholds could be a force to be seen as poise mixed excellently with perseverance. This representation dates back to the battle for the country itself, with Miss Fatima Jinnah, co-founder of the All-Pakistan Women’s Association – an organisation created to aid in the settlement of women migrants into the newly-formed Dominion of Pakistan. A civil rights leader and keystone to the development of the Pakistan Movement, she was the closest confidant of her brother, the Quaid-e-Azam, right until his passing. However, after this death, Fatima Jinnah was heavily undermined in her attempts to reach the public. Her speeches were banned and her books were censored. Her attempts to enter back into the political arena were unsuccessful, only due to increasingly apparent political rigging by the military. She passed in 1967, an event still rooted in controversy as family members strived to find out the reasons behind her death, an incompetent government was there to deny the requests.
Benazir Bhutto can be seen as the next victrix in the endeavour for egalitarianism in Pakistan. The daughter of socialist trailblazer Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, Benazir Bhutto was a proponent of Thatcherite economics, which led her to transform the PPP’s infrastructure into a more liberal platform. She was a widely revered figurehead in the Pakistani political scene, and her accolades were plenty—most notably, she was the first female to lead an Islamic nation as head of her democratically-elected government. However, she, too, was a victim of political violence, being assassinated at the end of 2007.
The PML(N) was never a haven for women in politics. It, too, was a group of politicians spearheaded by men. However, in the last few years, the direction in which the party has set itself on has been steered in a vastly different, refreshing way.
Maryam Nawaz is a relatively novel figure in the Pakistani political scene. She entered politics in 2012 and managed the election campaign of her father, Muhammad Nawaz Sharif. After the success of the campaign, she was put in charge of the Prime Minister’s Youth Programme. Today, however, after the disqualification of her father as Prime Minister on various grounds, she has established herself as an independent figure, ready to lead the country towards becoming a more tolerant, progressive nation. She is outspoken and fiery in her way of speech; one which reminds an individual of Benazir Bhutto and her powerful deliveries. She has the support of the Sharif dynasty: she’s the eldest of her siblings. Maryam Nawaz has become an unexpected figurehead for the party in a time where the nation is at crisis. A student of Literature, Maryam has proven herself to be a competent and capable leader during periods of high-intensity. She is currently the Vice President of her father’s namesake party, but is the force behind most of the party’s headline events. People flock in hundreds to witness her speeches—a revelation which is reminiscent of Benazir Bhutto’s tenure.
Recently, she’s been faced with threats against her life. As the Vice President of the PML(N), she’s had to endure brute force being applied so as to her enter her hotel rooms by police, threats to be ‘destroyed’ and abusive language by the security establishment.
Ultimately, through Maryam Nawaz’s clever use of social media to lead the masses towards peaceful rebellion and protests, her cause may pull through. Her biggest challenge, however, will be to get to grips with tackling the military head-on. Only time will tell of her skills to deal with forces beyond reach, or, indeed, sight. A simple value has been employed in her struggle for justice: stay put and watch a nation crumble, or stand for a just means of going about the handling of a democracy. If this is to mean anything for the future of Pakistani politics, one thing is for sure: a reformed sense of political activism is rapidly swaying public opinion, and the military must react even quicker.