By Syeda Iqraa Bukhari
One can be spotted wearing a dupatta styled on her head in a manner reminiscent of Benazir Bhutto’s original, iconic look, accessorised with a casual Chanel brooch while the other can be seen emulating the Western runway with outfits fit for a modern, aristocratic, boss lady who might also happen to be a spoilt princess and heiress to a grand fortune. One is a self-appointed, uncertified cover girl for Habib Jalib’s “Nihati Larki” (another attempt at morphing into Benazir), whose henchmen shower her Mercedes with rose petals; a peculiar ritual solely reserved for shrines of dead Sufis and vehicles of living politicians in South Asia. The other, the daughter of a billionaire, insists that her father is anything but racist, has plenty of advice for unpaid workers and women who she thinks need empowerment like hers.
Maryam Nawaz, who has her eyes set on the desirable throne vacated by Benazir Bhutto due to her untimely murder, is seen by many as a stentorian matron ready to take on the reins of her family’s clientelist, disreputable political empire. Her Western equivalent Ivanka Trump, who has an unspoken taste for the highest political offices and admittedly for champagne popsicles, is training to supposedly fill the void of a female American President through her role as Senior Advisor to her father.
Nawaz and Trump have tried to imprint their impression on the general public as the only truly capable women leaders - by leaving no room for contemporaries to rise - and talk about how they have toiled and earned the right to carry on the family legacy. For those who see them as self made women, they are both actually champions of nepotism rather than feminism. Moreover, they have some characteristics uncannily in common.
In addition to belonging to families that have questionable personal and professional integrity, the most evident factor the two primadonnas have in common is that they are where they are simply because of their fathers. The idea of dynastic politics is often dismissed as a populist, sidetracking issue but it is all there is to Nawaz and Trump.
They have never missed the chance of using the woman card to get away with felonies any male counterpart would be held legally accountable for. In Nawaz’s case, she carefully identifies herself a daughter and a mother before calling herself an individual or spearhead; labels that evoke unneeded commiseration and make her seem like a victim even when she is facing white collar criminal charges of the highest level. Sympathisers often feel that because she claims the unassuming roles of being a daughter, a mother - might as well add grandmother to the list - she should not be answerable to the courts or be sent to prison or perhaps be treated with leniency because of her gender.
Since she hails from a traditional, centre-right political party, one needs no reminder that Islam has mandated the same criminal punishment for a woman as a man for any committed offence. There is no scope for the woman card being played in Islamic criminal law although it manifestly is a disgraceful, manipulative public tendency in Nawaz’s Islamic Republic. What is ironic is that Pakistani prisons have countless women convicts, many of whom are falsely accused but do not have the right connections or commiseration for their solace; these nameless, faceless women do not get an ounce of sympathy for being mothers, daughters or wives.
Similarly, Trump uses the daughter card to avoid being inquired about her father’s many infamous instances of misconduct towards women as well as business labour exploitation by her father and herself. She says she wants to give women opportunity and independence when companies run under her banner do not even follow basic labour laws and as a consequence, women who manufacture shoes, jewellery and bags for her product lines, work in savage, crooked conditions that violate even the most basic human rights. Women labourers under her label in Asian countries are forced to work overtime, do not get any basic amenities, are abused and then blackmailed and terrorised to be kept from reporting to labour unions. Meantime, Trump has easy access to world leaders through her involvement in the White House amidst favouritism; another instance of her playing the daughter card to get away with power and supremacy.
Nawaz being appointed the Vice Chairman of the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz and Ivanka being granted the status of Senior Advisor to the American president - both the appointments are undemocratic in nature because they were made through consultation but not at all through an enfranchised method. Both women are ambitious and clearly ready to do anything for the sake of close to unlimited puissance. Both of them recount tear-evoking tales of the time they diligently persevered towards their objectives against all odds but most of the time what they categorise as effort is birth privilege and what they think are achievements are actually gifts graciously handed to them on golden platters by their paterfamilias.
For women like them, power and success are only a matter of time, not exertion. And for fathers like theirs, they are handy in times of trouble and utilised like shields when the elders cannot defend themselves.
In regards to Donald Trump, who seemed to be at an advantage compared to his presidential (candidate) rival Hillary Clinton for being a newcomer and outsider, the cards have indeed turned. He might have seemed like a fresh replacement for Washington’s brewing Clinton dynasty in 2016, but as of now, the White House is embezzling official posts, that would have otherwise been effectuated by a system comprising of meritocracy, through patronage. Likewise, Nawaz Sharif who started his government career through bootlicking and being handpicked by General Zia (always a bad omen) - who happens to be one of the most subversive and totalitarian military dictators in Pakistani history - has helped Zia’s descendant(s) stay in power. At the same time, Zia’s offspring have assisted and even campaigned for Nawaz so that he can retain control in the diplomatic arena; a symbiotic partnership of mutual assistance.
Maryam Nawaz, who constantly vilifies the current Prime Minister for being ‘selected’ by the Pakistani army, is in fact a leader of one of the largest political parties in Pakistan due to the very same military establishment obliging and financing her family not so long ago. Her current strategem of distancing herself from the army and antagonising it due to newfound disagreements does not erase a thirty year long alliance that her entire family has had with the very same state institution. This tactic might have served as her excuse to create a false legacy and to highlight the rogue activities of the armed sector but it will never make her appear in the same glorious light as Bhutto was viewed in, against Zia. Not to mention, the Sharif family has always had a clandestine way of negotiating with the same governing syndicates whom/that they admonish in public.
Ivanka Trump, who from the holds of the presidential abode, has audaciously taken it upon herself to equip women with equality, will never be able to justify her father’s unapologetic, objectification and harassment of many women who have come forward with proven accusations. She might evade these questions for now but her father’s grandiosity, as much as it has benefited her, will continue to taint her image. This is another striking commonality: both the ladies carry family names that might prove to be more burdensome than convenient, in the long run.
To back Maryam Nawaz or Ivanka Trump’s argument that they worked their way up and are warranted for their journeys is to refer back to a past that does not even exist; the kind that is often part of mass propaganda to gain sympathy for women like them. It would be a shame to even remotely consider them to be for gender equality because they flagrantly subvert traditional sentiments to make themselves seem like pitiful, innocent women when interrogated about serious transgressions.
Pakistan and America have many great, bold, genuinely hard working women who deserve to be applauded for their sacrifice and contributions for their respective countries but neither Maryam nor Ivanka belong in that league. They are their fathers’ daughters, above all and before all.