Today, I exercise my policy-wonk-wannabe side, so do forgive me if I am not as awesome as some of the pundits or bit time foreign policy analysts, but heck, here goes.
If you have kept up, there have been plenty reactions to the headlines regarding Ms. Khar’s visit to India about a month ago, but today I really do not want to react to that. As much as I agree that this is continued sexism towards women by highlighting their adornments rather than their policies and goals for improvement, it would be great to talk about something else.
Being a woman in the political sphere is obviously never easy, especially for someone as young as Ms. Khar. We have seen a lot of new stories around her fashion sense, asking the question of whether or not this is “too lavish”. I guess that may be all fine and dandy, but not when it comes to the inevitable associations people are making between Ms. Khar and the state of Pakistani women. Ms. Khar’s job may not necessarily be to worry about the well-being of Pakistan’s women, but whether she like it or not, that is the first question that will pop into people’s minds when her face is shown in the media.
As someone I follow off of Twitter said, I do not care what she wears or buys, as long as it is with her own money. I certainly agree. Now, onto the next matter of business. Where does she stand on issues and priorities as foreign minister of Pakistan? More importantly, what can she do to advance the status of Pakistani women? I understand, maybe she’s a “peaceful” face at a time when Pakistan faces a tarnished global image (i.e. religious-extremism-clad men, bombings, etc.) and a plummeting state of national and economic security. However, should lack of experience and a lack of platform be completely forgotten? I can put a supermodel into power and hope that all of the attention goes off of the country’s extremist images, but will the world ever take her seriously if she really has no qualifications to speak from?
When Ms. Khar came into power, I too felt the urge for a few weeks to join on the “Khar as a hope for Pakistan” bandwagon. I wanted to assure myself that she is an educated leader, hence a symbol of hope. Then, I realized, it is not so easy. Benazir Bhutto was well-educated too. So are many of the female politicians of South Asia. Does education guarantee success though? Ms. Khar has a degree in hospitality management. She is the co-owner of a restaurant. Now, what does that actually mean for the people of Pakistan? They have been failed too many times by “educated” leaders, and by this point, they too have figured out that education is only a part of the equation for improvement. Frankly, they want to see some courage and genuine political will, two things that I am not so sure I can confidently associate with Ms. Khar, at least right now.
As foreign minister, her face goes beyond just the borders of Pakistan which is why her position is not to be taken lightly. Unfortunately, at this point, it has been exactly taken that way – lightly – with a side of physical image spectacles – including parodies. I showcase one below as an example, in Telegu, with the “newswoman” imitating Ms. Khar’s designer bag and sunglasses. While I do not understand Telugu, the context clues are a give-away.
I actually find the point in the “news story”, at about 6:10, where they have a song called “Gore gore mukhre pe kaala kaala chashma” (Literally: black sunglasses on a light-skinned face) funny. At the same time, a beautiful reinforcement of emphasis on light skin hegemony. ANYWAYS.
While this may sound like a sidetrack, this brings me to my next point. President Asif Ali Zardari said Khar’s appointment was “a demonstration of the government’s commitment to bring women into the mainstream of national life”. Really? What women, President Zardari? If you believed in bringing women into the mainstream of national life, you would have done more to make sure all the men who gang raped Mukhtar Mai were brought to justice. You would not have slapped the face of human rights on a case with heavy international attention. You would actually work to look at the well-beyond failed family planning and reproductive justice initiatives (I will save this topic for another post). I can keep going, but I am not really sure who you are trying to fool.
While Pakistan is obviously notorious in keeping women heavily invisible from the public sphere, I am not sure how tactful it is to put Ms. Khar on the platform for such a revolutionary change. I guess one can say, “well it is a start”, and of course, all of these challenges cannot fall only on Ms. Khar’s shoulders, but for now I do hope many tread with caution. As Huma Imtiaz mentioned in her article on Foreign Policy, “let us reserve optimism for another day.” While I agree, I cannot help but try to keep idealism somewhat afloat. I hope to see Ms. Khar develop some rapport as a Foreign Minister with the Pakistani people, especially Pakistani women. I hope that she tries to use her position as a woman in politics with honorable intentions.
Regardless of whether Ms. Khar signed up for these responsibilities, she may either be a hope for Pakistani women — or another upholder of the patriarchy that continues to plunge Pakistan into further political, economic, and social turmoil.