Women politicians

Published November 18, 2023

DECADES after Pakistan became the first Muslim nation to elect a woman prime minister, women’s electoral participation in its testosterone-driven political landscape still represents their unappreciated place in society. While female candidates with party tickets are tokens to maintain progressive appearances, reserve seats, granted without election campaigns, are perceived as political favours. In both scenarios, most remain confined in operational obstacles. Hence, HRCP and the National Commission on the Status of Women have long pushed for more tickets to women so that their contribution in forming policies becomes notable. Stalwarts Abida Hussain from Jhang, Tehmina Daultana in Vehari, Balochistan’s Zubeida Jalal and many others prove that institutionalising gender centrality is imperative for the legislature to stay relevant. Moreover, first-generation and minority women politicians endure prejudice at every stage, including being sidelined within their parties. According to UN Women’s “Women in Politics 2023” Map, “the proportion of women parliamentarians has increased globally to 26.5pc from 25.5pc in 2021”, whereas, in the Women Legislators Performance Report 2017-18, Pakistan ranked 89th among democracies with 20.5pc women in the National Assembly and 18.3pc in the Senate.

There is, however, a palpable realisation that women must have agency and be heard for balanced, viable economic progress. Female leadership sensitises society with pro-women and children laws and strategies. Therefore, our political parties should field more than 5pc women on non-reserved seats in an enabling environment. The ECP has to ascertain women-only polling booths with women staffers so that resistance in conservative quarters can be managed. Besides, political campaigns must advocate modern mindsets focused on the merits of female representatives to shed stigmas attached to politics. Undeniably, age-old patriarchy cannot be taken apart in a hurry. However, sustained support for women from within parties and institutions is the path to nurture and strengthen voices of Pakistani women. For honest representation of millions of women, more mainstream parties need to field female candidates.

Published in Dawn, November 18th, 2023

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