July 26, 2023
ISLAMABAD – Women from the opposition PTI protested in a joint session of Parliament on Tuesday after Defence Minister Khawaja Asif used sexist and derogatory remarks while referring to them — in yet another instance of using offensive language for women politicians.
He made the remarks in response to criticism by parliamentarians — including PTI Senator Ali Zafar — of the manner of legislation in Parliament and the “bulldozing” of bills.
In his address, Asif made a reference to former prime minister Imran Khan, recalling the bulldozing of legislation and the dissolution of the National Assembly during his tenure.
“Depraved women should not lecture on chastity,” he said, following which a woman was heard responding to him in the live broadcast on the session.
Read more: Sexism at the sovereign
To that, Asif said if he says anything else, they would use the “woman card”. “They will say, ’We are women and how he is talking about us.”
At this point, laughter was heard in the House.
Asif then went on to call the women parliamentarians the “remains” and “ruins” of Imran, pointing towards the benches where PTI members were seated, including Senators Zarqa Suharwardy Taimur, Sania Nishtar, Falak Naz Chitrali and Fawzia Arshad.
“This is the garbage left behind” by the PTI chief, “which has to be cleaned”, he added.
This drew a strong reaction from the PTI women parliamentarians who stood up from their seats and demanded that Asif take his words back.
Amid loud protest from them, the defence minister continued with his address, saying, “He (Imran) doesn’t have the courage to appear in courts today … And they defend him. How brave and courageous will be a person who is defended by women?”
Speaking after Asif, Senator Taimur said only one’s moral character and conduct differentiated people.
“I was worried at the language being used by such senior political figures, I’ve never heard such words in my house.”
She said it was “sad” that fellow MNAs had used words such as “garbage” and “barking”.
“We don’t respect someone else when we don’t consider our own self to be respectable,” Taimur added.
For his part, the NA speaker called for order in the House and the word “garbage” was expunged from Asif’s speech.
There was no strong condemnation of the remarks during the session from any of the members apart from those belonging to the PTI.
Notably, PPP’s Sherry Rehman, who was sitting just a row behind Asif and remained busy conversing with Commerce Minister Naveed Qamar for the most part during this episode, too, did not issue a strong condemnation.
Making this observation, PTI’s Farrukh Habib questioned why Rehman and other women MNAs from the treasury benches stayed silent at Asif’s remarks.
He also called out Asif for repeatedly being offensive towards women.
Meanwhile, the PTI termed the remarks “absolutely shameful”.
The party said in a statement that the defence minister’s remarks were a a clear attempt to “depoliticise women”.
PTI leader Asad Umar also severely criticised the defence minister.
Dawn News anchor Absa Komal also pointed out that this was not the first instance of Asif using insulting terms for women and said PTI Senator Taimur “rightfully expressed shock at hearing such language from someone with decades of political experience”.
Previously in 2016, he came under fire from opposition lawmakers for making offensive remarks against then-PTI MNA Shireen Mazari during an NA session.
Using derogatory language specifically targeting Mazari, Asif had pointed towards her and said, “Someone make this tractor trolley keep quiet” when she and some other lawmakers protested to his speech on loadshedding during Ramazan.
“Make her voice more feminine,” he had said, according to eyewitnesses. Another lawmaker had chimed in from the government benches to say “Keep quiet, aunty.”
In 2017, he had sparked an outcry after referring to Firdous Ashiq Awan as the PTI’s “newly acquired dumper”.