Report confirms that fight for gender equality is far from over

Female legislators still face sexism, misogyny, according to SPO research


Our Correspondent December 22, 2017
PHOTO: FILE

KARACHI: Women are still fighting for equality within the elected houses of Pakistan, facing every day sexism and misogyny, despite claims of ‘respecting women’ by a religio-conservative male dominated political order.

These not-so-startling revelations were made in a research report by the Strengthening Participatory Organisation. The report, which highlighted a number of problems faced by female lawmakers, was launched on Thursday.

“The women are not only denied the right to speak on the floor of assemblies, but development funds are not released to them and they have meager representation in the cabinet, parliamentary committees and their women-specific laws have long been pending before Parliament, with some of them having lapsed,” stated the report that has been authored by Marvi Sirmed, a journalist and human rights activist. The report analyses the attitudes of and support offered by male legislators to their female colleagues regarding providing a space for effective functioning of the legislature.

The study also assesses whether a women-friendly atmosphere is available to female legislators and how free they are to address women’s issues across parties and mandates. The study is based on the explorations of perceptions of members of the National Assembly and provincial assemblies of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Sindh, aiming to address issues of women empowerment.

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According to the report, in 2015 women made up more than half of the world’s population but only constituted 22.1% of the world's parliaments. Currently, 20% of Pakistan's parliamentarians are women, with a reserved quota of 17%.

"Efforts are afoot to finish [off] the reserved women quota. Women will be marginalised if their quota of reserved seats is removed in Pakistan," stated the report.

It referred to the January 2017 heated arguments in the Sindh Assembly where Sindh Works and Services Minister Imdad Pitafi of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) made unbecoming remarks about Pakistan Muslim League - Functional MPA Nusrat Sehar Abbasi.  The remarks were made when Abbasi asked him a question during assembly proceedings, to which he responded with an invitation for her to visit his chamber for what he called ‘a satisfactory reply’.  "If that was not enough, television cameras also caught a UK-educated PPP lawmaker, Nawab Muhammad Taimur Talpur, taunting Abbasi, which prompted laughter from other members of the ruling party.”

"Men consider themselves entitled to pass sexist remarks even on the floor of the House, while making speeches, during committee meetings, parliamentary party meetings and social gatherings. Majority of both men and women legislators view family responsibilities of women as a barrier in fulfilling their political responsibilities," the research report said.

Regarding the attitudes towards pro-women legislation that has been pending for years, the report said the anti-rape and anti-honour killing bills lapsed last year after the tenure of the lawmaker who moved them, Senator Sughra Imam, ended. Her bills were passed in the Senate but could not make it through the National Assembly despite the senator trying her best to make it happen before her term ended in March, 2015.

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"Similarly, PPP MNA Nafisa Shah has been striving to muster support of all political parties over another important law that seeks more representation of women on general seats. The bill was sent to the Standing Committee on Parliamentary Affairs, which subsequently approved it. However, Parliament did not take it up even three years after the committee endorsed it," the report stated, adding that all female parliamentarians unanimously supported the proposed law.

"In the K-P Assembly, 62% of the male respondents said they would support a pro-women bill if it were in accordance with Islam and culture. A majority of the female respondents, however, raised concerns about the non-implementation of pro-women laws, even when they have been passed."

As per the Constitution and Rules of Business and Conduct of Business of all legislative houses, women are entitled to participate in all parliamentary forums and processes. The spaces open within the parliamentary system include the positions of the speaker and deputy speaker, panel of chairs, committee chairs and parliamentary secretaries

"In the Sindh Assembly, there are currently 30 standing committees, of which four are being chaired by women and 23 by men, while the rest are vacant. This brings the women's share of committee chairs to 13%," the report stated.

Balochistan Assembly Speaker Rahila Hameed Durani said culture is the main hurdle to empowering women in politics and society. Women in assemblies or as parliamentarians cannot serve their constituencies as the development funds are not being provided because of their being elected on reserved seats, she said.

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Sindh Assembly Deputy Speaker Shehla Raza said that the empowerment of the women based on their social, legal, economic and cultural rights guaranteed by pro-women laws in Sindh will only be possible when women raise one voice to address the vulnerabilities they encounter in society.

K-P MPA Amina Sardar said women should be made part of the budget-making process to empower them as decision-makers. Another K-P MPA, Najma Afzal, said female education should be a top priority.

Sindh MPA Mahtab Akbar Rashdi highlighted the important role of women in assemblies and their roled with regard to punctuality, attendance and raising questions in assemblies, which has been praise-worthy in comparison to male legislators. In order to be given our rights, women, particularly those in politics, need be proactive and speak with a single voice, she said.

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