In a roundtable meeting held by the Women Parliamentary Caucus recently, in Islamabad, a resolution was passed by women parliamentarians from all political parties to strengthen women’s representation in the political and legislative process. They vowed to build broad based consensus among their respective political parties to demand for a minimum 10 per cent party quota for women on general seats before the next elections. They also opted to preserve the provision of reserved seats for women in the National Assembly, Senate and provincial assemblies by amending the Political Parties Act 2002.
For long, women’s organisations have been demanding enhanced and strengthened female representation for women in political and parliamentary processes. The resolution passed recently has upheld their demands. The consequent legislation needs to be expedited in parliament. There is a dire need to strengthen women’s representation to bring women to decision making levels. This will result in translating women’s voices and concerns from the grass-roots level into policies and laws at the national level.
Before the allocation of 17 per cent reserved seats for women in 2002, their participation in assemblies remained very low. A hundred and eighty six women were elected and nominated in various legislatures between 1947 and 1999. The total number of women who contested and succeeded in general elections till 1977 was only 28. This trend showed that factors operating against women’s electoral role had not changed, though in the first Constitution of 1956, they were granted the right of double vote, one for the general seats and one for women’s reserved seats.
In 2011, Musharraf’s government, accepted an increased proportion of seat for women. It was indeed a major breakthrough. During 2010-2011, various studies show that despite their under-representation, women have remained more effective than their male counterparts in parliament. The National Assembly website also indicates that women parliamentarians have been most active in introducing private member’s bills.
In-depth analysis shows great differences between female and male parliamentarians in choosing the issues they wish to support. Women give greater priority to specific women’s agenda and social issues. This does not mean they are not interested in national and constitutional issues but the fact is that they are viewed with a patriarchal mindset, which confines them to health, education, violence etc.
Women legislators have found themselves constrained due to the indirect method of elections. In every assembly, women often complain that their male colleagues do not give them enough space and their competence and representation is challenged. They are not taken seriously as they do not have any constituency of their own and, in some cases, are deprived of their due share in the development budget.
Indirectly elected women members also get a smaller share in the ministries. The solution lies in gradually shifting to direct elections. Parties should give tickets to female candidates themselves.
Women’s position in party structures, the method by which they are elected, the absence of a power base and the role of the election commission in promoting their representation are interconnected. They all pose a challenge for women legislators in making their role effective.
These legislators are boldly fighting the prevailing patriarchal mindsets but they have to resolve their own conflicts are emerging out of their multiple complex identities by answering several important questions: What have women parliamentarians learnt about self-identities in parliament? Are they women first or representatives or simply carrying out the work given by the party’s male leadership? Are they able to express their independent voice? Has the time come to integrate women in the mainstream rather than separate wings? Why do they accept the role that the party gives them, which is to work with projects to do with women?
By answering these questions, women can determine the future course of their roles and their effectiveness in the legislatures.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 18th, 2011.