LAHORE: I am moved to write this letter because of the recent shocking treatment meted out by the male legislators of the Punjab Assembly to the unfortunate women legislators serving on the reserved seats. Under the present mode of election to the reserved seats for women, before the elections, the male executive members of each party nominate a list of women whom they consider suitable for the reserved seats. When the results of the elections for the general seats are announced, each party is allocated a number of women’s reserved seats in proportion to the number of seats they have won in the general elections. There is no criterion for selecting these women. They may be proxies for their male relatives who may not have qualified under the graduation requirement which was the stipulation for the last elections were held, or they may be party favourites, who were simply gifted the seats. These women are generally dictated as to how they should express their opinion and cast their vote. They are often used for creating noise as a pressure tactic when a particular point does not find favour with their party. They are often jeered at by the male members and although they have tabled many bills/ resolutions, few of them have been passed into law.
The arbitrariness of the mode of election on reserved seats was manifested recently in the Punjab Assembly when a misogynist used the most abusive language while addressing some female parliamentarians. This was followed by physical harassment of the female parliamentarians. Needless to say such a situation could not have arisen if the women on reserved seats had been elected directly by general adult franchise.
The preferred mode for electing women legislators would be to require every major party — which is likely to secure at least 15 per cent of the general seats — to propose an equal number of names of female candidates for reserved seats. Votes for these female candidates could be cast simultaneously by the voters along with casting votes for the general seats on election day. Thus each reserved seat would be contested by female candidates from each major party. A reliable exit poll could be used to determine which parties qualify for putting up candidates. Alternatively, the election for the reserved seats can be held on a date after the results of the general elections have been notified. The method for electing female candidates on reserved seats has to be amended before the next general elections in order to avoid future harassment of female members in the legislatures. It would also guarantee that women with a solid track record of serving the cause of women would be elected by the citizens themselves.
President, Concerned Citizens of Pakistan
Published in The Express Tribune, July 5th, 2012.
More in LettersMaking our democracy “antifragile”