Regressive?

Pakistani women on their hopes and concerns following election of ‘anti-feminist’ leader Imran Khan

Pakistani cricket star-turned-politician Imran Khan is set to be named Pakistan's Prime Minister this month. (FAROOQ NAEEM/AFP/Getty Images)

After a contentious election tainted by allegations of fraud at the polls and interference from Pakistan’s powerful military, former Pakistan cricket superstar Imran Khan is set to become the country’s next prime minister, but his victory has left many women’s rights activists uneasy. During his campaign, Khan pledged to make Pakistan a truly Islamic state — a promise that some worry could lead to greater enforcement of religion-inspired laws such as the Zina and Hudood Ordinances of 1979, which allow women to be imprisoned, lashed, and even stoned to death over accusations of adultery or fornication.

His harsh criticism of feminism, which he claims “[degrades] the role of the mother,” has further cemented concerns that his election could lead to pushback against women’s rights and empowerment. Some in Pakistan are still contesting his victory. BBC News asked four young women professionals what they thought of Khan and his anti-feminist comments, finding that most of them were willing to give him some benefit of doubt — at least for now.

“Maybe those comments were taken out of context, maybe he did not mean to say that.” said one woman.

Activists of Pakistan opposition parties shout slogans outside the election commission office against the alleged election rigging in Islamabad on August 8, 2018. – Pakistani opposition parties rejecting election results on August 2 have agreed to participate in the parliamentary process, take oaths and protest inside and outside the parliament. Imran Khan’s party announced it has acquired enough seats in Pakistan’s lower house through coalition talks to form a majority government. (FAROOQ NAEEM/AFP/Getty Images)

“I want to assume that he was trying to play to the right, which is something that a lot of politicians in Pakistan have to do,” added another, noting that there was “no proven” collusion between him and Pakistan’s military, which critics allege supported him out of hope that his Pashtun tribal connections could help quell insurrections from the Pakistani Taliban.

A common theme that emerged among the women was a desire “to see 50 percent women’s representation in the cabinet,” although one of the women interviewed was quick to observe that Khan had a “history of blocking [bills that mandate] women’s representation.”

On the whole, the women concluded, “He probably needs to look more deeply into women’s empowerment.”

Watch BBC News’ interviews with the women below.

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