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Can women pursue a violence-free political career?

Updated May 06, 2014

There is strength in numbers. The statement holds particularly true when analysing the number of seats occupied by women in the National Assembly.

Of the 272 contested seats a mere eight were secured by women (three from the Nawaz league and five from the Pakistan Peoples Party.)

The number of women elected into the National Assembly drastically declined from 12.8 per cent in 2008 general elections to 3.75 per cent in 2013, according to a study conducted by the UN Women and Centre for Social Research.

The study titled ‘Violence against women in politics’ conducted in India, Nepal and Pakistan, shares some unsettling findings for a country that was the first among Muslim countries to elect a woman prime minister.

Dawn.com contacted women leaders from some of the main political parties for their response to the study.


1. According to the study, 80 per cent of respondents in Pakistan feel that a supportive husband is needed to prevent violence against women in politics [VAWIP]. Do you agree or disagree?


Nafeesa Inayatullah Khan Khattak
Member of National Assembly – Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf


  Nafeesa Inayatullah Khan Khattak
Nafeesa Inayatullah Khan Khattak

I disagree. I am a single woman and work on my own. I don’t have a husband to support or finance me. It is the manner in which I conduct and carry myself that nobody has tried anything negative with me. I think it depends a lot on the person as well. How you dress up and mingle with the parliamentarians. How you speak to them.

A lot of women who have husbands, do not have their support. So you do not necessarily need their support. Of course, this depends from woman to woman.


Sharmila Faruqui
Provincial Minister for Tourism and Culture – Pakistan Peoples Party


  Sharmila Faruqui
Sharmila Faruqui

To a certain extent I agree, it always helps to have a supportive family. Not only should the husband be supportive but also the in-laws. As in cases where the husband is not (supportive) then other family members take liberties (to mistreat the woman) as well.

A career in politics has no timings; you are at work 24/7. To be able to do that you need a supportive family structure.


Nasreen Jalil
Senator, Muttahida Qaumi Movement


  Nasreen Jalil
Nasreen Jalil

I agree to a certain extent that a supportive partner is needed for married women to be in politics but how far such a husband can prevent VAWIP is questionable. When in the field, women have to face the problems themselves.

Personally, I have not had any such experience.


Bushra Gohar
Central Election Commission member and Leader, Awami National Party


  Bushra Gohar
Bushra Gohar

I disagree. Women in politics should not be dependent on male family members support to prevent VAWIP. That said, family and the party's support is important for both men and women in politics.

In my opinion, one needs ideological clarity, a strong and credible track record in politics and social service, pro-women party constitution, policies and platform ensuring equal representation for women at all levels of party decision making, stringent anti-VAW legislation, zero tolerance for violence and discrimination against women.

I also believe women politicians must not be restricted to women wings by political parties and must actively participate in mainstream party politics.


2. The study states that 78 per cent of people in Pakistan feel that women should not ignore their domestic responsibilities even after being elected. And 56 per cent say women have no political education/skills therefore their husband/father should take up proxy positions on their behalf. Your comments?


Nafeesa Inayatullah Khan Khattak
Member of National Assembly – Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf


  Nafeesa Inayatullah Khan Khattak
Nafeesa Inayatullah Khan Khattak

I agree with the 78 per cent. The first responsibility is to your children and you should not be neglecting them. I know parliamentarians who have families, who choose to drive back from Islamabad to Jhelum and Taxila or wherever they come from, to attend parliament sessions or other meetings and then return home.

Women are performing their duties, as well meeting political needs.

The 56 per cent is a joke. If you look towards nature, a woman is a homemaker and the country is a bigger home. A woman is a better manager; she knows how to handle her kids, her in-laws, her family and her budget. No matter what the budget is she will manage within it. It is inherent and on top of that, if they are educated and have the skills no one can compete with them and this is why I believe women should be given important positions in the government.


Sharmila Faruqui
Provincial Minister for Tourism and Culture – Pakistan Peoples Party


  Sharmila Faruqui
Sharmila Faruqui

Absolutely. We all have our share of responsibilities, both domestic and personal. There is always something called time management. The same applies for women in other professions; only thing is that we (politicians) do not get time off.

This is not a 9am to 5pm job, it is 24/7 round-the-clock profession. It is therefore very important to have serious time management discipline.


Nasreen Jalil
Senator, Muttahida Qaumi Movement


  Nasreen Jalil
Nasreen Jalil

I agree that female politicians should not ignore their domestic responsibilities. In my experience, it is not impossible for women to multitask, something at which men are hopeless. I can only speak about the MQM, and the women of this party, who are a part of the assemblies and are educated and have the right skills belonging to middle or lower-middle class backgrounds.

They have worked very hard to get where they are.


Bushra Gohar
Central Election Commission member and Leader, Awami National Party


  Bushra Gohar
Bushra Gohar

Women in politics have multiple complex personal, social, economic and political responsibilities and have to maintain a delicate balance. In my experience both men and women in Pakistan have little or no political education and learn by experience or through trial and error. Political parties don't provide forums for political education to party workers.

It is true there have been cases where male relatives of women politicians work or control their constituencies and political decisions/position. In my opinion, where political parties have a strong ideological and political base, individuals or families don't control other members' decision making and constituencies. However, in some instances because of weak democratic and political process, feudal, tribal and patriarchal systems, elders/male family members have taken over as proxies.


3. In your opinion what is the reason behind the drastic decline in women being elected in 2013 (3.75 per cent) compared to 2008 (12.8 per cent)


Nafeesa Inayatullah Khan Khattak
Member of National Assembly – Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf


  Nafeesa Inayatullah Khan Khattak
Nafeesa Inayatullah Khan Khattak

There are two basic reasons for this. First, in the previous election, women who won seats were financially sound and very highly backed by their respective parties. This time, there were women who would have won but simply couldn’t afford to campaign, the cost of which goes into crores.

Then, if we look at the security situation, especially in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the unrest in the country was a cause of concern for the parties resulting in women opting out.


Sharmila Faruqui
Provincial Minister for Tourism and Culture – Pakistan Peoples Party


  Sharmila Faruqui
Sharmila Faruqui

Generally women do not contest on elected seats, they mostly rely on reserved seats. The highest number of tickets given to women by any party, if I am not mistaken, is the Pakistan Peoples Party.

And once women are in parliament they are not given very many positions. The PPP, though, had a female foreign minister, national assembly speaker and ambassador during their last tenure.

  • The PPP has five elected women in the NA after the 2013 elections.

Nasreen Jalil
Senator, Muttahida Qaumi Movement


  Nasreen Jalil
Nasreen Jalil

One of the reasons behind the drastic decline might be the spread of Talibanisation and the mindset it endorses.

The social and cultural background of the Pakistani society, which is tribal in nature, does not permit women to have equal status as men. Further, religion is also used to exploit women’s rights. Pakistan is regressing rather than progressing where women are concerned.


Bushra Gohar
Central Election Commission member and Leader, Awami National Party


  Bushra Gohar
Bushra Gohar

In 2013, a significant number of women contested as independent candidates especially in KP. It was heartening to have women from district Tank and Bajaur Agency also contest for the first time. However, there are several reasons for the decline. The most important being the reluctance of the majority of political parties, especially right-wing ones, to award women general seat tickets. Other reasons include the huge cost of contesting, security threats to the progressive political parties and massive elections engineering and rigging to bring pro-Taliban political parties into the parliament.

Additionally, reserved seats are also used by some political parties as an excuse to deny women general seat tickets. In the last National Assembly, the Women Parliamentary Caucus members submitted amendments to the Political Parties Act making it binding on political parties to give a minimum of 10 per cent general seats tickets. The bill could not be passed but a similar bill has been submitted in the current assembly.


4. Character assassination is considered a big threat in Pakistan according to the study; do you believe this to be true? Have you or any one you know personally in politics experienced something like this? Further, women are often threatened, how far do you find this to be accurate?


Nafeesa Inayatullah Khan Khattak
Member of National Assembly – Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf


  Nafeesa Inayatullah Khan Khattak
Nafeesa Inayatullah Khan Khattak

In my observation, there are women who have been in politics for years but no one has lifted a finger on them. Look at Benazir Bhutto and Fehmida Mirza, I think it largely depends on the woman herself.

There is no doubt that there's jealousy among women but they do not try to falsely malign others. Speaking of women parliamentarians, I have not received any threats nor have I met anybody who has.

One thing that disturbed me was when I was entering the parliament, there was an elderly woman walking ahead and a cameraman was filming her from top to bottom from the back. That is not right.


Sharmila Faruqui
Provincial Minister for Tourism and Culture – Pakistan Peoples Party


  Sharmila Faruqui
Sharmila Faruqui

We have all had our character assassinated and not just the women but the men as well.

Everyone thinks they have the right to pass any comment or any judgement on a politician. If you talk about the judiciary you get into contempt, if you talk about the army you are charged with treason but if you pass a comment without verifying the facts about a politician there is no law to protect them (politicians).

Rather, it is the poor politician who has to keep relentlessly answering questions and clear their name. No doubt we are public servants but people need to understand that we also have our own lives and sensitivities.

Unfortunately though, this is part of the package (of being a politician).


Nasreen Jalil
Senator, Muttahida Qaumi Movement


  Nasreen Jalil
Nasreen Jalil

I personally do not know of anyone who has faced character assassination and have had no experience of it myself. However, character assassination is something that makes no difference to the electable politicians in Pakistan.

The country has a sham democracy where hereditary politics reigns supreme. Politicians who have their own constituencies are not afraid of character assassination, neither are they compelled to resign.


Bushra Gohar
Central Election Commission member and Leader, Awami National Party


  Bushra Gohar
Bushra Gohar

Politics in Pakistan is extremely hazardous. Most politicians face violent threats, unsubstantiated allegations and mudslinging. Politicians are often discredited through state run propaganda and vilification campaigns. Public debates are not on substantial policy issues but personal attacks and wild allegations. This, in my opinion, is because of frequent unconstitutional interruptions in the democratic process and the multiple power centres that remain at odds with one another.

The private lives and activities of politicians are illegally monitored by opponents and agencies to use as blackmail, arm twisting and/or intimidation. This is true for both men and women in politics.


Note: Several attempts where made to contact women leaders of the governing party, Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz, including Maryam Nawaz, Anusha Rehman, Marvi Memon and Ayesha Raza Farooq. None responded to repeated requests to represent their party.