2. Participation of women in Pakistan’s politics since 1947
3. Present situation
4. Diabolical proponent that has created anathema
5. Pragmatic Reforms
In a patriarchal society like Pakistan, women are considered merely a kind and most of them are bound within the societal confines. Unfortunately, they are considered inferior even by their own families in almost every affair of life. Pakistan is a country whose 51% of population consists of women, but this dominant chunk of populace has been denied due rights and has been ignored since the inception of Pakistan. Admittedly, in our society, women are revered in their roles as mothers, sisters, wives and daughters, but the fact that they are a sublime creation of Almighty Allah equal in status to males, is totally unheeded.
It is indubitably true that women aren’t inferior to men in their thoughts and capabilities. In some cases, they prove themselves even more capable of their male counterparts. For instance, they can manage the affairs and can do administrative work more efficiently than the men. It is so unfortunate that in Pakistan, barring a few examples, women are discouraged from participating in country’s national affairs. Although Article 34 of the Constitution of Pakistan 1973 guarantees that “Steps shall be taken to ensure full participation of women in all spheres of national life,” and that dignity, freedom and equality of all citizens irrespective of colour, caste, creed and sex shall be protected, yet in many parts of Pakistan women are still disenfranchised and they are unable to hold any public office. This delineates the true mindset that prevails in our male-dominated society.
When it comes to performing a task or a duty, women always remain highly committed. They can prove to be immensely effective particularly in promoting good governance and sustainable government. It is an undeniable fact that in countries where there are higher rates of gender development and women empowerment, human development and standards of living are also better than those where those are not.
In Pakistan, women have actively participated in political activities and left their indelible imprints on country’s politics, yet they have not been able to do anything solid for the women of the country. It is pertinent to mention here about some historical background about political participation of women in Pakistan.
The sister of Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, and a women blessed with great acumen, Ms Fatima Jinnah, was the first women presidential candidate in Pakistan’s history. However, despite massive support from Combined Opposition Parties — an alliance of five major opposition parties — she couldn’t win the election due to massive rigging by the Ayub regime. From 1970s to 1977, a somewhat liberal period in Pakistan, was seen the first initiative for enhancing women’s participation in political affairs. During this period, the 1973 Constitution provided for 10 seats for women for 10 years or three elections, whichever occurred later. These seats were increased to 20 in 1985. Reservations lapsed in 1988 after three general elections (1977, 1985 and 1988) as provided for in the Constitution.
Susan B. Anthony says, “There never will be complete equality until women themselves help to make laws and elect lawmakers.”
In 1988, Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto became the first female Prime Minister of Pakistan, and the first woman elected to head a Muslim country. She was the first prime minister of Pakistan who created a separate ministry for women under the name “Ministry of Women Development”. Many universities were also established for women during her rule. Thus an era of women development started in its true meaning.
From 1999 to 2008, under General Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan’s Majlis-e-Shoora passed the Women’s Protection Bill while the cabinet also approved reservation of 10% quota for women in Central Superior Services and 5% quota for women across the board in all government departments. Besides this, women’s quota in local governments was also enhanced to 30% but it was later reduced to 17.5% under the Legal Framework Order (LFO) 2002.
From 2008 to 2013, there were landmark developments on the front of legislation for women rights and their empowerment in Pakistan. After the 2008 general elections, Dr Fehmida Mirza became the first female speaker of National Assembly. Moreover, many women politicians like Ms Hina Rabbani Khar, Ms Sherry Rehman, etc. occupied key positions in the cabinet. However, it is an irony of the fate that they didn’t ever raise voice to legislate in order to stop violence against women. In 2013 elections, only 36 women candidates were awarded party tickets on 272 general NA seats. There were 34 women candidates for these seats in 2008 while the number in 2002 election was 38. Moreover, women’s representation in lower and upper houses of Pakistan’s parliament stands at a mere 20.7 percent and 16.3 percent of the total female population respectively.
After a keen look at these facts, it is apt to discuss here the barriers which women find in their way to participation in national affairs of the country. Some of these factors are as under:
1. First impediment to women’s emancipation is the deep-rooted wrong perceptions about women that prevail in our society. It is due to these flawed ideals that people still think that right place for women is not politics but the house and they are only meant to cook food, give births to children and rear up them.
2. Second barrier in this regard is social and cultural in nature. The constraints on mobility and free interaction with males are major hurdles that the women candidates face. Besides this, patriarchal values and customary practices in some parts of Pakistan prohibit or ignore the registration of women as voters.
3. Women are excluded from the decision-making in family issues. Same is the case with the country’s political system. They are not free to make decisions on their own.
4. Another factor in creating this anathema is the non-availability of economic resources for the women.
5. Aggressive electioneering campaigns and violence as well as fear of harassment and character assassination are extremely discouraging factors for women, particularly in the absence of adequate security arrangements.
6. The performance of women legislators, over the years, has been extremely poor. This is caused by the absence of fair means of bringing the right, competent women in the political arena. The gender perspective and track record of nominees is not taken into consideration while selecting women for reserved seats in the federal and provincial legislatures. The whole selection process is marred with irregularities and nepotism.
7. Lack of education on political system and their basic civic human rights eat up prospects of women development. A vast majority of women, especially those living in southern Punjab, interior Sindh and Balochistan, don’t have even their Computerized National Identity Cards (CNICs).
8. Ever since its inception, Pakistan has been the victim of massive violence in political sphere. Notable women politicians have lost their lives in this cycle of violence, including former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and a former minister and an activist Ms Zille Huma Usman. Both were assassinated in full public view.
After discussing the factors which impede women’s participation in politics, here are some pragmatic reforms which may help in increasing political participation of women in Pakistan.
1. First of all, women’s share should be enhanced in legislation by reserving at least 33 percent of seats in the national and provincial assemblies. Same should be ensured for the Senate as well.
2. In final voter lists, 50% registered voters must be females for validity of an election in a constituency.
3. Moreover, to increase participation of female voters, transport must also be provided to them so that they may cast their votes easily. This must be done without any political interference and presiding officer must tackle these issues carefully.
4. The government shall also ensure that women parliamentarians, especially those on reserved seats, do get their due share of development funds as they should not be deprived merely because they are not directly elected.
5. Election Commission of Pakistan must order every political party to empower women and enhance their role and share in the decision-making bodies.
6. On the administrative side, the number of female officers in Election Commission of Pakistan is insignificant despite the fact that women can be good administrators and there is a lot of administration and human resource work in the ECP. So, the ECP must involve female officers especially from Pakistan Administrative Services (PAS).
7. Every political party must ensure the inclusion, in their manifestos, of programmes aimed at women’s development. They should also raise issues to protect women from domestic and cultural violence.
8. Female representation at ministry level must also be increased with dedicating 33% of cabinet position to women. What we need at present is to reform the political system and enhance women’s participation through the creation of awareness on their basic rights—an objective the media, NGOs, and opinion leaders etc., can achieve with their positive contributions.
In theory, our government has done everything, but when it comes to on-ground results, mum’s the word as we still lag in implementing policies of empowering women. As Susan B. Anthony says, “There never will be complete equality until women themselves help to make laws and elect lawmakers.”
Now it is the duty of every woman to realize her basic rights and come forward to participate actively in the political system of Pakistan. I believe the day will come when women will be treated equally in Pakistan. Then justice and other basic rights of theirs will be within their reach.
It is not impossible at all; it only needs courage from every Pakistani woman to make it possible not for herself but also for the coming generations.