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LAHORE: The announcement of the interim cabinet for Punjab left many women activists shocked when six portfolios were announced but not even one of them had a woman.

Even at the federal level, out of six ministries only two were under women but this fared still better in comparison with the Sindh and Balochistan governments which had only one minister each out of seven and 14 members cabinets, respectively.

In the Sindh cabinet, Dr Sadia Virk Rizvi, associated with a private hospital, has been allocated the school education, college education, special education, population welfare, social welfare, women development and universities & boards departments, as well as rural health centres’ vertical programmes (primary health facilities) and secondary health facilities. In Balochistan, Rahat Faiq Jamali has been given labour and manpower, industries and commerce. No cabinet has yet been decided in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) though the chief minister of the province has been announced.

However, Punjab has no woman in charge of any ministry in its interim set-up.

Gender expert and women rights activist Farida Shaheed speaking to Dawn has termed the authorities act of ignoring women in the interim government in Punjab shameful, considering women making up almost half of the population.

“It is clearly a lack of positive action on part of the authorities,” she said. “One-third women representation is the minimum criterion in any sector which should be implemented across the board. But the proof is in the pudding as we can see.”

Ms Farida deplored that even now a large number of women voters have not even been registered yet. “How can you run a country without any women in the decision-making process?” she asks and added that despite the fact the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has ordered that a five percent quota of general seats be given to women but this has not happened. “Yet they keep taking votes from women,” she says.

Meanwhile, social scientist and gender expert Dr Fouzia Saeed, who has done vast research on women-related issues, says it is surprising that the Punjab interim arrangement has only men.

“Even though what we need is good quality people – men or women – but it is important to make an effort and reflect the diversity in the form of gender, class, and ethnic communities,” she said. “I hope that KP does not also end up with the same kind of set-up.”

Former PPP MPA Faiza Malik says the presence of women spoke strongly about what the government advocated. “There should definitely have been women in the cabinet,” she said. “Even though it’s just an interim government, the presence of women is integral. It would have been a motivating step, especially since the announcement of five percent representation of women on general seats.”

Mary James Gill from the PML-N says it’s astonishing because the CM is a well-known academic he still has not given any thought to include women in the cabinet.

“Inclusion of marginalised communities is a symbolic gesture that shows where you want to see them. And when it comes to gender imbalance – because there definitely is disparity – women must be seen. This is especially true of Punjab which is the most populous province’”

Defending her party’s government, Ms Mary says there were many initiatives taken by the PML-N government for women empowerment. She terms it important end discrimination; otherwise, the message sent would be ‘rather discouraging’ for men.

Published in Dawn, June 12th, 2018