By Zainab Abbasi, WEEKLY PULSE MAGAZINE, November 11, 2013
The status of women in Pakistan diverges substantially across regions due to uneven socio-economic development, customs of different tribal and feudal system. This is the overall picture; however, if we dig a little deeper it is clear that today’s Pakistani women enjoy a better status than most Muslim women.
In Muslim countries mostly men are considered as systematic gender, and women are not given right to run state affairs. However, attempts have been made by the Pakistani government and enlightened groups to elevate the status of women in Pakistani politics. The founder of Pakistan Muhammad Ali Jinnah showed a positive attitude towards women and highlighted their importance in politics in his statement:
“No nation can rise to the height of glory unless your women are side by side with you”. Women are the important part of politics in Pakistan. In every era their participation in politics and in electoral process has been increased. Through politics women proved themselves as an important organ of politics and without having women in politics, no country can make significant progress. Many women groups and feminist organizations in Pakistan are working to eradicate socio-economic injustices against women in the country and to raise the status of women in Pakistani society. For the first time in Pakistan women were given the suffrage in 1947 under the Constitution. . Now due to a keen awareness among people, educational and working opportunities for the Pakistani women have been increased in the last few years.
The most prominent women leaders like Fatimah Jinnah, Benazir Bhutto and many others have done a lot for women empowerment in Pakistan. Benazir Bhutto after becoming the first Pakistani woman prime minister proved that even women can give their best in running the state affairs. The elections of 2013 have raised many questions about the casting the vote up until selections of parliamentary candidates.
The Islamic Republic of Pakistan is the sovereign democratic country which follows the bicameral political system and has parliamentary form of government. There are a total o 342 seats for the National Assembly out of which 60 are reserved for women and 10 for minorities. Reserved seats for women were given by General Pervez Musharraf under the Legal Framework Order 2002 and were incorporated into the Constitution through the 17th amendment. It is important to note here that there is no seat reserved for women in FATA and to Include FATA women into the mainstream of politics there is need for constitutional amendments and there is long way to go for it.
Reforms can be brought to parliament by the active NA members for inclusion of women representatives from FATA, but these long-awaited reforms can be seen as a historic first step towards politically mainstreaming FATA. Effective implementation and enforcement of the reforms will require awareness in local population and authorities, adequate resources and monitoring, and sustained efforts to address remaining deficiencies. Only then FATA women will b able to participate in the electoral process of country.
Reserved seats system for women is often criticized by many people; they oppose this system because due to this only elite class woman can make her way to parliament only and poor women can’t even think of it. But this is not true for all the women working in parliament; most of women activist MNAs have been working very well for the empowerment of women. This system is paving way for many other women to move forward and play their role in the state affairs. Due to this reserved seats system, women have been actively participating in it but here we need to have electoral reforms to include greater number of women in the mainstream politics. We need to introduce such system for their selection in the state legislative system where no one will question the eligibility of women legislators. Although women participation in politics is rising, the participation of women in the political parties and in the political structure at the local, provincial, and national levels remains insignificant due to cultural and structural problems.
It has been concluded that the electoral process provides women with the opportunity to be a key player in parliamentary decision making. Pakistan is no more a male-dominated society and women are given due representation; in 2008 for the first time in Pakistan a female speaker of the National Assembly was sworn in. However, bits of skepticism do arise keeping in view that women have their reserved seats in parliament. But over the past decade women parliamentarians have actively participated in democratic processes and they are no more silent spectators of the parliamentary proceedings. Many of women actively participate in the election campaigns etc. However, despite all this progress over the years, it is not feasible to recommend that the reserved seats system should end.
Such a policy will allow the modern urban women representative to make their way to parliament and the orthodox school of thought may not allow women to contest elections. In order to keep a balanced representation, it is recommended that we should still follow this system. However, there still exist people who do not encourage women to be part of the democratic process. Thus, few women parliamentarians turn out to be courageous and bold. Politics abolishes the concept of timid and shy women and in order to survive on this platform women need to stand against all odds.
In a country like Pakistan where half of women are barred from the voting right it becomes imperative to focus on the role of women participation in electoral process.
The writer is student of Defence and Diplomatic studies Fatima Jinnah Women University