Why the PTI should learn how to treat women at rallies from the PTM

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There were thousands at the PTM’s rally in Lahore last Sunday, and that too against all odds. Reuters and Al Jazeera estimated the numbers to range between 6 and 8 thousand. More conservative estimates figured somewhere around 2 to 4 thousand. Figuring out exact numbers on such occasions is, of course, always difficult. However, while people had different estimations, everyone agreed that the PTM had managed to pull the numbers.

Just a week after that, however, another rally is being held in Lahore which is surely going to be a much larger affair. But as Imran Khan prepares to speak at the Minar e Pakistan to flex his political muscle, there is much him and his party can learn from the PTM’s efforts.

In the midst of the mass at Mochi Gate last week, the few media observers present could see that this was a different kind of rally. Enthusiastic followers could be seen trying to cross the barbed wires and sneak towards the front; they were reprimanded lightly. Volunteers were busy distributing water amongst the crowds and despite the prickling heat, the atmosphere was one of unity and camaraderie.

After the rally finally concluded, one of the most fascinating results were the almost surprised admissions of women attending the rally, regarding how safe they felt throughout the event.

“Bear with me, but this is something I always find of utmost importance so I will start with it: my female colleagues and I felt zero amount of harassment in a huge crowd composed largely of men” tweeted journalist Sabahat Zakariya.

Although the PTI has some experience with rallies until now, if precedent sets the standard, the rally won’t be nearly as safe for the women attending as the PTM’s was.

From female journalists being harangued by crowds to the point of tears, to FIRs being registered against men for quite literally breaking and entering into the female side of the rally, and women actually being discouraged to attend rallies in Peshawar – the PTI has a serious problem.

Sabahat Zakariya also alluded to this problem, mentioning that harassment takes place where there are “rent-a-crowd” gatherings with no real political convictions.

“My experience of jalsas says the safest ones for women are those where jazba runs high. The rent-a-crowd or highly politicized type rallies with little to no substance are where sexual harassment occurs most. When people are consumed by the cause they respect everyone present.”

The comments triggered a number of responses from different women, all expressing the same sentiments.

“Agreed. Didn’t feel unsafe or uncomfortable for one second. A movement that respects women respects humanity,” tweeted Nida Kirmani.

Another user, journalist Benazir Shah said “Men and women comfortably sitting next to each other at a PTM rally. This must have been Hamza Ali Abbasi’s worst nightmare.”

Similar statuses followed. The number of women at the Mochi Gate rally was thin. They were largely restricted to the front right corner of the rally ground, and made up a small percentage of attendance, and easy targets. Despite this, not a single complaint has been put forth by any woman, claiming mistreatment or harassment.

The scenes at the PTM’s rally at Mochi Gate were indeed ones of respect, and not just for women, but for people in general. The PTM seemed unconcerned with numbers, albeit they have a significant amount of them. What they do seem to care about, however, is their central goal; to treat people with humanity. It is only natural that they would do so themselves.

The PTI should take notes at this point, because while women are going out of their way to praise the atmosphere of the PTM rally, the PTI continues to fail to provide women with a safe space to take part in politics.

And as Nida Kirmani points out, “a movement that respects women respects humanity.” And basic humanity is what the PTM is so vigorously fighting for.