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The way forward: Women on general seats

March 24, 2013

IT is often said that women have to work twice as hard to get half the credit. During the last five years, in the Pakistani political arena, women have lived up to the first part of that statement. Studies have shown that female legislators far outperformed their male counterparts in proportion to their presence in the assemblies, at least where parliamentary business was concerned. However, whether they’ll get even half the credit they deserve from their political parties is still a moot point. A report in Dawn on Friday reflected the concerns of women elected to reserved seats in the recently dissolved Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly. Almost all of them have applied for tickets to contest the upcoming elections on general seats but are uncertain whether their parties will nominate them. Having cut their teeth on reserved seats, they are keen to campaign for constituencies of their own. And so they should. For despite the indisputable value of reserved seats to ensure women’s representation in a political system where they have been marginalised, indirect election is no substitute for contesting from a general seat. There is also a perception — ill-deserved given their creditable performance in the outgoing assemblies — that women elected on the reserved quota are ‘second-class’ legislators present in the house on their male colleagues’ sufferance.

Although women comprised over 22 per cent of the recently dissolved National Assembly, the second highest percentage in South Asia after Nepal, that was largely because of the 60-seat quota for women’s reserved seats. Only 15 women were elected on general seats in the last election, almost all of them from well-known political families. At this juncture in the democratic project, political parties, in particular secular ones, need to repose faith in their female party members, nominate them on general — and importantly, ‘winnable’, seats — and throw their weight behind their election. True empowerment of women in politics will only take place when they are fighting for a place in the court of public opinion.