The flawed argument in favour of reserved seats for women

Wives, daughters, and relatives of the bigwigs of each political party occupy these seats reserved for women.

Salman Latif December 20, 2012
Imran Khan recently kicked up yet another melee in Pakistan’s media when he declared that he would have women contest in elections rather than enter the National Assembly (NA) on reserved seats.

Before weighing the plausibility of the argument, many were quick to jump the bandwagon of unqualified criticism simply because it was Khan who said so.

For the uninformed, women in Pakistan’s National Assembly currently have 60 reserved seats.

How exactly are these seats filled in?

Well, since the seats are allocated to each political party based on their proportion in the legislature, the said political parties have the sole authority to figure out who will fill these seats.

The result is simply that the wives, daughters, sisters and relatives of the bigwigs of each political party smugly position themselves on these seats, clamouring out about women rights yet being utterly incompetent to launch the least effort to that end. Seats are allocated purely on political connections with nary a thought spared to any merit or qualification.

There are plenty who dished out criticism to Khan’s proposition by stating that letting women contest elections is nearly impossible in a conservative country like Pakistan. The argument is quite valid and yet it is utterly inadequate to reach the conclusion that the reserved seats shouldn’t be tampered with.

In my view, yes women contesting elections still seems a remote possibility. However, things are on their way to change with the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) pushing for a greater number of party tickets given to woman candidates. Meanwhile, what we can do is to ensure that at least the women who find their way to the National Assembly on reserved seats merit some minimum qualification.

Just like I would never vote for Hamza Shahbaz being Shahbaz Sharif‘s son, I wouldn’t want a woman to represent Pakistani women simply because she is the wife of an eminent politician.

Is that principally wrong?


Is that too much to ask or somehow impossible?

Absolutely not.

So why the mindless ruckus then?

Rather than expending their energies in rabidly attempting to defend the reserved seats, I would suggest that the women rights activists can do a far better job if they tried to coordinate with the authorities and somehow devise some kind of minimum qualifications for the women who get to be appointed on the reserved seats.

A proven record of working for women, some political insight into policy-making for the said gender – anything tangible that may make sense for a person who gets to be on one of those reserved seats.

And I really don’t think that is too much to ask for.

This post originally appeared here.

Read more by Salman here or follow him on Twitter @SalmanLateef
Salman Latif A blogger who blogs at and tweets @salmanlateef
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.


Dr Imran Ahmed | 9 years ago | Reply Good valid points, the present system has delivered reasonable female parliamentarians, leave it alone. Let Pakistanis get used to female politicians representing their interests. Do not fix something which is not bust even though there may be lots of alternatives to the same end.
Lol'd | 9 years ago | Reply @Analyzer: Lets assume for a minute that Imran's premise holds and the reserve seats are to be filled by an election between women, it leaves several questions unanswered. Firstly, which areas would be included in such an election? Would you include the whole province, certain regions (if yes than select them through what criteria?). Lets assume that the whole province is to be included that will need the delimit the regions so that the seats can be divided among them. That would provide another administrative challenge as well as a political one as we have seen MQM's response to the delimitation proposal in Karachi. Or would these elections be like senate elections where the assemblies vote for the candidates? and we all know our horse trading that goes on during the senate elections and if that happens its almost the same as the reserved seat structure based on party representation. Thirdly, while these elections between women seems like a great idea to the urban educated class, how would you find women candidates in rural areas, tribal regions etc where women are still victims of a patriarchal system and have no say in matters. In Khan's own town Mianwali, women were not allowed to vote through a Jirga decision until earlier this year when Ayla Malik of PTI helped convince the regional leaders otherwise. or does Khan propose that we leave these regions out of such elections which would then raise question of equal representation from regions. Someone else here mentioned the example of BB and Hina Khar as a proof that women are getting their rights. In case he did not notice that both women came from highly influential political families. They have been brilliant in what they achieved and after their term in the NA or as PM would have definitely been able to win the seats on their own accord but would they have been elected initially from the conservative societies in interior Sindh or south Punjab, is something that is doubtful had they not belonged to the Bhutto or the Khar family. The fact of the matter is that Khan's proposal might look good in theory but they are an ideal world solution. Sadly we do not live in that world. A systematic reform is needed in the society before his proposals can be implemented. Till then the current system of getting candidates for the reserved seats is the only option I have. And reserve seats is the right for women given the patriarchal nature of our society.
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