A glance at the only five women in Shehbaz Sharif's 37-member cabinet

Published April 19, 2022
This combination of photos shows female lawmakers Shazia Marri (L), Sherry Rehman (C) and Aisha Ghous (R). — Pictures via Twitter
This combination of photos shows female lawmakers Shazia Marri (L), Sherry Rehman (C) and Aisha Ghous (R). — Pictures via Twitter

The suspense around newly elected Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif's federal cabinet finally died down on Tuesday — a whole eight days after he was sworn in as premier — after federal ministers and state ministers took their oaths to shape up the 37-strong cabinet.

It was reported that the prime minister took his "sweet time" in announcing his picks because he wanted to form an "inclusive government" to take along all his allies, particularly those who joined the former opposition after quitting the PTI coalition government.

When it was finally announced, the cabinet sported some new faces and parties that were previously not in the picture. However, in terms of inclusivity, PM Shehbaz's cabinet cuts a disappointing figure: His team so far has a total of five women on board — three federal ministers and two state ministers.

Here's a quick glance at the women inducted in the new federal cabinet:

Marriyum Aurangzeb

PML-N's Marriyum Aurangzeb has been given the portfolio of Information and Broadcasting
PML-N's Marriyum Aurangzeb has been given the portfolio of Information and Broadcasting

Marriyum Aurangzeb has been assigned the portfolio of Information and Broadcasting, a role she is intimately familiar with, as she was the mouthpiece of the previous PML-N government.

Immediately after completing her masters in development and environmental policy from the UK, Aurangzeb, just like her parents, placed her loyalties in PML-N's camp in 2013 when she became a member of the National Assembly after being given the party's reserved women's seat.

In 2016, she first assumed office as the minister for Broadcasting, Information, and National Heritage in then-prime minister Nawaz Sharif's cabinet. She continued in her role even after Nawaz was disqualified and replaced by Shahid Khaqan Abbasi.

Even after 2018, the PML-N leader remained in the limelight, frequently appearing alongside party vice-president Maryam Nawaz at all political gatherings and holding frequent media interactions critical of the government of Imran Khan, who was removed as prime minister in a vote of no-confidence earlier this month.

More recently, Aurangzeb had been seen advocating for the rights of media persons and free speech, and has promised to end the "draconian censorship on Pakistani journalism".

Sherry Rehman

Senator Sherry Rehman. – Screengrab via YouTube
Senator Sherry Rehman. – Screengrab via YouTube

The next minister in line is no stranger to the corridors of power. Pakistan’s first woman Senate opposition leader, vice-president of the PPP and recipient of the Nishan-i-Imtiaz, Sherry Rehman has been tasked with leading Pakistan's response to climate change as federal minister.

According to the Senate website, the PPP stalwart has a long list of achievements. After completing her masters from the UK, Rehman started her professional career in journalism with The Daily Star and then became the editor-in-chief of The Herald.

After working in the field for nearly 20 years, Rehman stepped into politics in 2002 after being named a lawmaker on PPP's reserved women's seat. During her tenure, she has held important positions in the party, such as the central information secretary, president of policy planning, and member of the Foreign Relations Committee.

However, it was in 2008 when her political career truly kicked off after she was appointed federal minister for Information and Broadcasting. Rehman also served as Pakistan’s ambassador to the US from 2011 to 2013 and became the first woman opposition leader in the Senate.

She is also the architect of the first parliamentary charter and bill for women's empowerment, mover of the Hudood Ordinances Repeal Bill, mover of the Anti-Honour Killings Bill, as well as the Freedom of Information Act, 2004. Her bills include the removal of colonial press laws in Pakistan, as well as legislation on domestic violence and affirmative action for women.

Moreover, as a minister, she moved the first government bill of the 2008 National Assembly for the repeal of martial law-led anti-media clauses in the Electronic Media Regulatory Ordinance. In August 2008, Rehman's move to repeal similar amendments in the Print and Publication Ordinance paved the way for constitutional protection for the print media (RTI Bill).

Rehman was also conferred with the Nishan-i-Imtiaz in March 2013.

Shazia Marri

PPP information secretary and MNA Shazia Marri. — Dawn/File
PPP information secretary and MNA Shazia Marri. — Dawn/File

Shazia Marri of the PPP entered the National Assembly on a reserved women's seat for the first time in 2013. Her political roots go back to her grandfather Ali Mohammad Marri, who was an MPA in the Sindh Assembly before the Partition of British India. Her father Ata Mohammad Marri was an MNA and a deputy speaker of Sindh Assembly. Her mother Perveen Ata Marri was an MPA as well.

Before her NA stint, Marri served in the Sindh Assembly on a reserved women's seat in 2002 and 2008.

The PPP leader was nominated and subsequently elected a member of the National Assembly after the death of Fauzia Wahab. Previously, she served as the provincial minister for information and culture.

Hina Rabbani Khar

Hina Rabbani Khar was Pakistan's first woman foreign minister and returns to the Foreign Office as a minister of state.—Reuters
Hina Rabbani Khar was Pakistan's first woman foreign minister and returns to the Foreign Office as a minister of state.—Reuters

In 2011, Pakistan appointed its first woman and also its youngest foreign minister — Hina Rabbani Khar, who took on the role at age 34.

Khar was born in the district of Muzaffargarh and received education in the United States. She seamlessly moved from being a cabinet member in the government of General Pervez Musharraf to becoming one of the most popular ministers under President Asif Ali Zardari.

During her two-year term, Khar successfully carved out what is described as an innovative foreign policy, with an emphasis on the "regional pivot" strategy focused on improving relations with neighbouring countries such as India and Afghanistan. The PPP leader was also an advocate of reducing dependence on the US, which won her praise from experts.

Her 2011 visit to India, however, created a stir in the international community. As quoted by The Guardian, "Khar's glamorous turn triggered a media swoon and became the buzz of the subcontinental chattering class" because of her "pearl necklaces, elegant costumes, Cavalli sunglasses and a stylish Hermes-made Birkin bag worth at least $9,000 (£5,500)".

Khar has been inducted as the State Minister for Foreign Affairs in the Shehbaz Sharif cabinet.

Aisha Ghaus Pasha

Former Punjab finance minister Dr Aisha Ghaus Pasha.—APP
Former Punjab finance minister Dr Aisha Ghaus Pasha.—APP

Former finance minister of Punjab and PML-N lawmaker Aisha Ghaus Pasha was nominated for the seat of the NA in 2018 on Maryam Nawaz's recommendation.

Aisha is the wife of economist Hafeez Pasha, who had served as an economic adviser to the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and PML-N governments in the past.

In a recent interview at the Faiz Festival at Alhamra, the PML-N leader had revealed that she didn’t come from a political background and had remained an academic and policy analyst for the longest time.

As a policy adviser to provincial governments, she had recalled, her advice was heard and Shehbaz, then the chief minister of Punjab, asked her to join his cabinet. He managed to convince her saying he needed educated people to turn the economy around.

“We need to think about Pakistan beyond party politics. Women’s issues like their representation in labour, assemblies, (and) economy shouldn’t be politicised,” Aisha had said.

In the new cabinet of PM Shehbaz, she has been appointed as a state minister. Her portfolio has, however, not been revealed yet.

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