Over at Comment is Free, Pickled Politics commentator and occasional guest blogger Rupa Huq writes about the political prominence which some women have achieved in South Asia, and contrasts that with the relative lack of success enjoyed by British Asian women:
“UK public opinion often perceives Asian women as passive and submissive. The first ethnic minority MPs of recent times were elected in 1987. They included an Asian man (Keith Vaz) and a black woman (Diane Abbot), but no Asian women. Ten years on and this is still the case. Common opinion has it that Asians “in Asia” are more backward than British-based ones. However Pakistan, Bangladesh and India have all had women at the helm in recent history. In India Indira Ghandi presided over the world’s largest democracy. Bhutto’s election in 1988 made her the first ever woman premier of a Muslim country.
The politics of Bangladesh, the world’s largest Muslim democracy, have been dominated for two decades by two women: Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia, who have alternated in office. Ideological differences between their parties, the Awami League (AL) and Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) respectively, are minimal; their duopoly stems from the enmity between the two individuals. Many Bangladeshis think in the same way as an uncle of mine who said sagely, “These two women are ruining our country.” The country is, like Pakistan, currently in the hands of a caretaker government pending fresh elections amid claims of corruption on all sides.
It is also sad that, unlike their sisters in their homelands, British Asian women have hitherto been stubbornly absent from UK politics. When I visited the national Norwegian parliament in 2003 with the Council of Europe, we met a women’s delegation who included a newly elected Conservative party MP of Pakistani origin. We spoke via an interpreter and she expressed surprise that no Asian woman had broken through into British politics. Since then the ennobling of Sayeeda Warsi, of teddygate fame, has taken place after her failure to be nominated for a safe Conservative seat.
There are reasons to be cheerful though. More recently Asian women have been selected as parliamentary candidates in winnable seats for both the Conservatives and Labour – Priti Patel in Witham, Essex, Rushanara Ali in Bethnal Green and Bow and Yasmin Qureshi in Bolton South. The status of the House of Commons as an Asian woman-free zone will change at the next general election. After all, combining the best of Britain’s tradition of peaceful democracy with a strong role for women in the political process must be progress; after all, the “backward” subcontinent has managed the latter for decades.”
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Filed in: Culture,Current affairs,South Asia