ISLAMABAD: “No nation can be worthy of its existence that cannot take its women along with men. No struggle can ever succeed without women participating side by side with men,” former National Assembly speaker Fehmida Mirza quoted Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah as saying.
She was addressing an audience of women parliamentarians at the ‘National Networking Summit on Women’s Leadership’ on Wednesday.
The summit was organised by Search for Common Ground and PAIMAN to strengthen women’s role in the governance process.
Despite this vision set by the Quaid, the dominant perception is that a woman is the extension of her man, said Salman Asif, gender adviser at the UN. It is her responsibility to protect his honour and respect, he added.
Echoing this notion, Jamaat-i-Islami’s Raheela Qazi argued that women in her party were allowed by her father, Qazi Hussain Ahmed, to campaign in the electoral process, in many contentious areas for democratic female participation, such as Lower and Upper Dir.
However, many parliamentarians said that it was this very language of submission to patriarchal demands that subverted an equal voice and agency.
“Whether it is the liberal parties or the conservative ones, there is still reluctance to award tickets to female members,” said Farzana Bari, professor at Quaid-i-Azam University.
In the current election, only 16 women were elected on general seats. Further research indicates, particularly at provincial levels, women politicians felt that they lacked networks and linkages with key stakeholders to be able to influence any process of change. Yet, there are many stories of resilience. Rukkaya Hashmi of the Balochistan National Party remembers witnessing the massacre in Hazara Town of Quetta where hundreds of people were killed in bomb blasts.
“I was shaken but my courage emerged, and I started talking. Suddenly I was getting heard; I was the most prominent person in the crowd. That was shocking for me, but next I knew I was leading the delegation to discuss the situation with the President of Pakistan.”Women are not so different from men, contended Afiya Zia, a Karachi-based activist.
“We need to ensure our role in the mainstream, and ensure that we are not marginalising ourselves. The question often arises if women in parliament have made contributions to earn the appreciation they often demand?”
Ms Zia maintained that the popular mode of empowerment was through donor-driven programmes, which are often critiqued for being depolitised.
This is an interesting point, since this particular programme organised by Search for Common Ground and PAIMAN was funded by the US State Department.
So while the conversation may be important in addressing the gaps that challenge female participation, the mode and structure of this dialogue may also need to be re-organised.