ISLAMABAD: The idea of reserved seats for women, aimed at increasing their representation from across the country, has failed to yield desired results as female lawmakers from six cities run the show in the National Assembly.
This was revealed in a new analytical report published by the Free and Fair Election Network (Fafen) on Thursday.
Currently, 57 per cent of women representatives sent to the National Assembly on reserved seats are residents of six cities — Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Karachi Lahore, Peshawar, and Quetta.
Stressing that the spirit behind the idea of reserved seats for women was greater representation, Fafen noted the existing method of considering the entire province as a single constituency for election on the reserved seats allowed political parties to select candidates from any area of their choice.
“This has resulted in an uneven distribution of quotas with few divisions and districts monopolising the representation while a majority of districts and divisions remain unrepresented,” the report added.
Fafen calls for reforms for greater representation
It revealed that in the incumbent National Assembly, five out of 29 administrative divisions across the country are over-represented in terms of allocation of women’s reserved seats, eight are represented in proportionate to their population, while 16 have no representation at all.
After the 2018 general elections, women from 105 out of 136 administrative districts that existed at the time of the elections had no representation on reserved seats in the National Assembly.
There was no representation from 23 districts of Punjab, 32 in Balochistan, 30 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and 20 in Sindh on women’s reserved seats in the National Assembly.
This was concluded after reviewing the residential addresses of women mentioned on their nomination papers.
In the case of provincial assemblies, most women representatives elected on reserved seats in 2018 had residential addresses in the province’s capital.
As many as 59pc of women on reserved seats in the Punjab Assembly hailed from Lahore, 66pc in Sindh Assembly from Karachi, 73pc in Balochistan Assembly from Quetta and 50pc in KP Assembly from Peshawar.
The report called for introducing divisional quotas for women’s reserved seats in the national and provincial assemblies to ensure equal representation and incentivise their greater political role.
Fafen has proposed to amend Sections 19(2) and 19(5) of the Elections Act 2017, to provide for administrative divisions as territorial constituencies in a province for the reserved seats under Articles 51(3) and 106(1) of the Constitution.
Section 19(2), in its present form, reads: “A province shall be a single constituency for all seats reserved for women which are allocated to each province in Article 51”. Section 19 (5) reads: “The constituencies for the seats reserved for women and non-Muslims in the Provincial Assemblies shall be such that each Province forms one constituency with as many such seats as are allocated to that Province in Article 106.”
The report pointed out that Article 51(6d) read with Article 34 of the Constitution provided a legislative space to the parliament to allow divisional representation on reserved seats through an amendment in the Act without the need for a constitutional amendment.
“While considering such a legislative proposal, the [p]arliament should also address the cases where the number of seats allocated to a province is less than the number of administrative divisions in the province”, it said.
The territorial constituencies within the province would lead to the appointment of multiple returning officers for women-reserved seats enabling women to attend nomination and scrutiny processes closer to their homes as Section 51(1) of the Act required the ECP to appoint one RO for each constituency.
Currently, the 342-member National Assembly has 60 seats reserved for women as per Article 51. Of these, 35 are for Punjab, 14 for Sindh, eight for KP and three for Balochistan.
Published in Dawn, February 3rd, 2023
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