ISLAMABAD It was Pakistan's first budget presentation by a woman, and Minister of State for Finance and Economic Affairs Hina Rabbani Khar did it with flying colours in the National Assembly on Saturday, though there was little for womenfolk to help manage family kitchens.
Prime Minister's Adviser on Finance Shaukat Tarin is the main architect of the budget for fiscal year 2009-10, but though he suffered no disability to present it for not being an elected member of parliament, Ms Khar, his number two and an elected member of the National Assembly, was assigned to add a distinctive chapter in the country's financial annals.
Members from both the treasury and opposition benches of the lower house cheered by desk-thumping when Ms Khar rose to unveil the 15-month-old PPP-led coalition government's second budget, pointing out she was the first Pakistani woman doing it.
This was the latest in what she called 'important milestones in our quest for women empowerment and gender equality' — after PPP's assassinated chairperson Benazir Bhutto became the Muslim world's first elected leader on becoming prime minister in 1988 and PPP member Fahmida Mirza was elected last year as the country's first woman speaker.
But during the rest of Ms Khar's 65-minute speech in Urdu, members of only the ruling Pakistan People's Party, including Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, cheered her repeatedly whenever she referred to the government's significant plans or big allocations like the salary increase for troops fighting Taliban militants or Rs50 billion for the reconstruction of militancy-plagued relief and rehabilitation of the internally displaced people.
Members of other parties mostly remained calm, although there some hackles from Ms Khar's one-time party colleagues in the formerly ruing Pakistan Muslim League-Q when she referred to alleged policy faults and failures of the 'previous government', of which she was part as a minister of state in then-prime minister Shaukat Aziz's cabinet.
Unlike the budget-day situations in some previous years, there was no interruption of the speech of the minister of state from southern Punjab though she seemed facing difficulty in pronouncing some long words or Urdu translations of economic terms of English, probably because of her English-medium education background.
Ms Khar later presented to the house supplementary demands for grants for the outgoing fiscal 2008-09 and the Finance Bill 2009 aimed to give effect to the new budget, whose proposals, like withdrawal of subsidies on power and gas, will make the cost of living higher and, as a result, add to housewives' burdens despite women-specific plans like the Benazir Income Support Programme and microfinance.