Exclusive interview: Fiza Batool Gilani holds forth from her father’s shadow

Published: February 25, 2012

The prime minister’s daughter speaks at length on a host of issues and her own future political career.

ISLAMABAD: 

For some, Fiza Batool Gilani is a living example of the nepotism which has plagued Pakistan since its inception. She talks about empowerment, equality and democracy – yet people only listen because she speaks from her unearned position as the prime minister’s daughter.

For others, Fiza is a thoughtful, determined young woman who did not choose to be Yousaf Raza Gilani’s daughter, but has chosen to make the most of her opportunities and cares deeply about making Pakistan a better place, especially for women.

It’s a duality that continuously presents itself as Fiza tells The Express Tribune, from the cozy surroundings of Prime Minister House on a hill overlooking Islamabad, about the plight of the wretched of the earth.

The plight of women is foremost on her mind. For Fiza, democratic representation is the cure, though she is against reserved seats. “I say female politicians should be elected rather than selected to the Parliament,” Fiza says, though she also lauds women parliamentarians in her father’s government, who she believes have made a significant contribution to legislation for the empowerment of women. Fiza thinks the cause is long-term and legislation is the only way to bring about substantial social change. Thus she wants women to be more involved in politics.

She admits, though, that there are often impediments in Pakistan. When asked about certain areas where women are barred from casting their vote – as happened in the recent by-elections in Kohistan – she says that the government is taking the issue seriously and has made changes to the election law. She points out that the law now states that if women are barred from voting, the result from that constituency will be declared null and void.

Fiza’s idol, Benazir Bhutto, remains her guiding inspiration. Giving credit to the Pakistan Peoples Party for its pro-women stance in Parliament and beyond, she says that the party was following Benazir’s vision.

Fiza herself seems to be following Benazir’s vision – and footsteps. She has decided to contest the next general elections and pursue a political career.

She says her focus is now on disadvantaged women in Balochistan, Chitral, Gilgit-Baltistan, Azad Kashmir and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, as the women’s ministry is now under the provincial government.

When asked about the perception that a majority of women parliamentarians come from the ‘elite’ class and do not know the ‘real’ problems of most Pakistan women, Fiza says there are many MNAs and MPAs from the lower and middle classes who are playing a proactive role in legislation and raising women’s issues.

For the PM’s daughter, class and privilege will always be issues she will, at some stage in her life, have to confront or conspicuously deny. She has gone on record saying she aims to challenge the feudal lords and influential politicians of southern Punjab. When asked how women, the majority of whom live under the exploitative feudal and tribal systems, can be empowered without breaking the stranglehold of these systems, she replies: “Not all of them [feudals] are bad.”

“Had that been the case, the majority of parliamentarians who have a feudal background would not have supported the women-related laws. It is now more an attitude among some segments of society, since the power of the landed aristocrats was not the same as it used to be.”

She believes that change can come from other avenues from the bottom up. “What is hindering the progress of women in the rural areas is lack of education, not so much the hold of the landlord,” Fiza says.

But what is her definition of an empowered woman? “An empowered woman has the right to be independent and the opportunity to select a productive role for herself in society.” She also believes that avenues for women are opening up, mentioning the Women Chambers of Commerce and Women Crisis Centres.

Talking about her work with the Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP), Fiza believes that education is paramount to improving gender equality. Her poster girl is the late Arfa Karim, who became a Microsoft certified professional at the age of nine. “I want every girl to follow Arfa. Women’s economic empowerment has the potential to change their destiny.”

Land distribution can also do this. Indeed, Fiza says that the government has decided to give 12 acres of state land to poor women. “This programme is being initiated under the BISP.”

She also says the government is all set to introduce a Women Ombudsperson to address the grievances of women working in public and private offices. Fiza is evidently clued in on government activities: she also mentions a project to alleviate the sufferings of women in jails. She clearly wants to expand her horizons, as she plans “to visit the jails of south Punjab so that I can be of some help to the women prisoners” and also to visit Balochistan for a fact-finding trip on how to resolve women’s issues there.

She thinks she can play an important role: “My direct contact with women at the grassroots level will help me in bridging the gap between poor women and government agencies like the Small and Medium Enterprises Development Authority, National Rural Support Programme and BISP,”

Nevertheless, she remains sensitive when asked about her inherited position. “I’m working as a common woman, not as the prime minister’s daughter.”

She quotes the Italian poet Dante: “The hottest place in hell is reserved for those who remain neutral in times of moral crisis.” Fiza Batool Gilani is certainly not neutral, but whether she can truly emerge from her father’s shadow and stake a position of her own in Pakistani politics will only be seen in five, ten, fifteen years or beyond.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 25th, 2012.

Reader Comments (26)

  • IFTIKHAR-UR-REHMAN
    Feb 25, 2012 - 10:14AM

    but has chosen to make the most of her opportunities and cares deeply about making Pakistan a better place, especially for women.
    Hahahaha !! what a joke ! A GILLANI caring for someone else other than themselves???? Give me a break !!!!

    Recommend

  • DevilHunterX
    Feb 25, 2012 - 10:52AM

    “She believes that change can come from other avenues from the bottom up. “What is hindering the progress of women in the rural areas is lack of education, not so much the hold of the landlord,” Fiza says.”

    And who is responsible for the lack of education in rural areas?

    Recommend

  • hammad
    Feb 25, 2012 - 11:22AM

    Gawd I hate these waderas.

    Recommend

  • AndWeCare
    Feb 25, 2012 - 11:47AM

    NO Comments ! Not worth it to comment

    Recommend

  • from India
    Feb 25, 2012 - 11:56AM

    I think its time we Indians and Pakistanis should kick out these sons and daughters of politicians and choose our leaders ! These family politics do not cater to the democracy of the 21st century !!

    Recommend

  • saoodali
    Feb 25, 2012 - 12:26PM

    *She has gone on record saying she aims to challenge the feudal lords and influential politicians of southern Punjab. When asked how women, the majority of whom live under the exploitative feudal and tribal systems, can be empowered without breaking the stranglehold of these systems, she replies: “Not all of them [feudals] are bad.”*

    Is she going to challenge her ancestors?
    Strange!!!!!!!!!! Election Campaign

    Recommend

  • sohails
    Feb 25, 2012 - 12:39PM

    Yet, another one… My God.

    Recommend

  • Umer Farooq
    Feb 25, 2012 - 1:32PM

    There is no such Politician in Pakistan who’s done Master in Politics or have an Authentic relevant Degree, If Your Father or Grand Father’s a Politician the You are Politician…Recommend

  • Abdul Qayyum Bhatti
    Feb 25, 2012 - 2:15PM

    It is good to know that she is interested in women emancipation but what has her father has done as PM. PPP administration has been playing bill passing games but nothing practical. Pakistanis have learnt the lesson of voting for PPP.Recommend

  • zon
    Feb 25, 2012 - 3:04PM

    this just reinforces the belief of many that Express tribune is a favourable to this government.

    Recommend

  • A2Z
    Feb 25, 2012 - 3:43PM

    “empowerment, equality and democracy”
    Empowerment – of their own family and class. Everyone else should serve them
    Equality – should exist between their own class. Everyone else is like an insect for them
    Democracy – a tool to acheive the upper two.

    If she truly beleive on these then she should oppose her father first of all then I will think about listening her.

    Recommend

  • mohammad
    Feb 25, 2012 - 4:39PM

    I think we need to forget about ” birthright politics” if we want to progress as a country.

    Recommend

  • Motasim Ahmed
    Feb 25, 2012 - 4:43PM

    Nothing change if it takes another 50 years with the same faces .. God , Please save our country..

    Recommend

  • Feb 25, 2012 - 5:00PM

    Vienna,February 25,2012
    I think Fiza Batool should hurry up. Hurry up because the Supeme
    Court of Pakistan will not take long to announce a verdict on her
    father´s alleged contempt of court process. If and when that chair
    falls vacant because of the verdict,who should sit on that chair the
    fist fighting brother or the soothing sister? Fiza, I assure you Sania
    Mirza will love to see you as the Prime Minister of Pakistan. I would
    too. I for one take it,it was by chance you became the daughter of
    the Prime Minister!
    Taravadu Taranga Trust for Media Monitoring TTTMM India
    –Kulamarva Balakrishna

    Recommend

  • ABC
    Feb 25, 2012 - 5:34PM

    We all know that you can not do anything for this country. And no, this isn’t us being pessimists, we have just learned a lesson by electing your father. Recommend

  • Feb 25, 2012 - 6:19PM

    for starters, how about cutting your own household luxury budget on our tax expenses?

    Recommend

  • Mard-e-Haq
    Feb 25, 2012 - 6:25PM

    She doesn’t resemble anything close to the majority of Pakistanis. For one thing, she is well-fed.

    Recommend

  • Pinky
    Feb 25, 2012 - 6:55PM

    Jiyalas are out in full force these days…must be election time

    pat yourselves on your (rather ample) backs all you want, but we WONT vote for you…..and PLZ stop shoving down all the legislation you have done, down our throats, laws mean nothing unless implemented…and dont get me started on the implementation record of your government :@

    Recommend

  • Feb 25, 2012 - 7:25PM

    Fiza BB is our future Prime Minister….I will vote her.

    Recommend

  • Abdul-Razak Sdhy
    Feb 25, 2012 - 7:26PM

    ‘she speaks from her unearned position’ and ‘whether she can truly emerge from her father’s shadow and stake a position of her own’ are note worthy phrases. For obvious reason one can not disown her parentage nor her father’s premiership. The writer’s choice for the interview of her from among 9 crore females of the country is also meaningful. Nation has to ponder on ways to break the ‘Dynastic cycle’.

    Recommend

  • Feb 25, 2012 - 8:03PM

    @ABC:

    We all know that you can not do
    anything for this country. And no,
    this isn’t us being pessimists, we
    have just learned a lesson by electing
    your father.

    And I thought we are bad at learning anything from history. Among other examples, electing BB.

    Recommend

  • Feb 25, 2012 - 9:28PM

    Fiza is our future Prime Minister. I will vote for her.

    Recommend

  • Ahsan Abbas
    Feb 25, 2012 - 10:20PM

    No body knows you Faiza. Everyone know you as a daughter of of PM. I hope you will become another well know politician after some years just because of your father, there are many other well educated & well deserve women in the society & you should give them a chance to prove their self if you really want & cares deeply about making Pakistan a better place.

    Recommend

  • salarmaiwand
    Feb 25, 2012 - 11:03PM

    I am all for democracy and am very much against establishment and the mullas who collude with the establishment to derail democracy time and again. BUT democracy does not mean fedualism though i consider it lesser evil than establishment.
    Feudalism and democracy don’t go together. If Ms. Fiza B. Gilani genuinely wants women empowerment then I believe she is seriously handicapped due to her ancestry.

    Recommend

  • usmanx
    Feb 25, 2012 - 11:12PM

    I am no fan of PPP or Gilani or really any politician for that matter,

    But let’s give her a chance until she proves us wrong.

    Everyone is innocent until proven guilty not guilty until proven innocent.

    Recommend

  • mohammad
    Feb 26, 2012 - 1:13AM

    @asima, keep dreaming !!!!

    Recommend

More in Pakistan