Women and political parties

Published: February 24, 2012
The writer is an Islamabad-based freelance communications consultant. She tweets @tazeen and blogs at

The writer is an Islamabad-based freelance communications consultant. She tweets @tazeen and blogs at http://tazeen-tazeen.blogspot.com

Pakistan is a strange country. While on the one hand it has had the first female prime minister of the Muslim world and has the maximum percentage of women in its legislative assemblies in the region; on the other hand, politics has not been used as a tool of empowerment for women at the grass roots.

It is a curious paradox. The reasons can be as varied as politics being a classist business in the country to a general lack of women’s access to public spaces. If political parties are scrutinised, most female politicians are either siblings or children of the party heads or are married into the political families. There are hardly any role models, if any, of women political workers who assumed a leadership position after serving their parties over a number of years. Political ascendency on meritorious grounds is a novel phenomenon in Pakistan but more so in the case of women political workers.

With the exception of Bushra Gohar and now Nasreen Jalil, no other party, barring the ANP and the MQM, has women holding pivotal positions in their parties and they, too, need to do a lot more. For example, the MQM’s Rabita Committee has a disproportionate number of men. Further, certain regressive elements in the ANP still bar women from exercising their right to vote — as late as November 2011, when all the eight contestants of the constituency KP-61, Kohistan decided not to allow women to cast their votes.

The importance of being out and about in politics is obvious to anyone with a passing interest in it. The women’s rally staged by the MQM last weekend showed us that politics is far too important a business to be left to men alone.

Pakistan is a country where women are losing ground in public spaces and confining themselves to fit to certain patriarchal norms and boundaries set down for them. In that context, the rally and its message that a strong Pakistan is dependent on independent women was a timely reminder that women need to reclaim the spaces that have receded.

The MQM may have wanted to show the world that Karachi is still their home and other political upstarts have a long way to go before they lay any claims to the city but what also comes across from this is that women as voters and citizenry are important and must be viewed as such by other political powers. The large numbers that turned up also showed us that women should be taken seriously and that many of them want to engage in the political process.

It is about time that political parties realise that women are a political constituency and their concerns need to be addressed and fought for, not only in parliament but also in the party ranks. This is election year, so should we not demand all parties to include issues important to women in their election manifestos and genuinely try to bridge the gap that exists?

In politics, the importance of constituency cannot be overstated. The MQM rally brought to the fore the fact that the constituency of women across ethnic, racial, tribal and class exists and needs to be catered to by all political parties.

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

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Reader Comments (18)

  • Falcon
    Feb 24, 2012 - 11:49PM

    Good article. I liked the message of MQM as well. On a side note, you forgot to mention Fozia Kasoori and Shireen Mazari in PTI. Fozia Kasoori is one of the 7 founding members of PTI.


  • Salman Zafar
    Feb 25, 2012 - 12:26AM

    Thanks God….
    This time, you article was not about bashing Imran Khan.


  • Mansoor
    Feb 25, 2012 - 12:53AM

    This article is grossly inaccurate.

    The PPP has a number of women in prominent positions. Yes the whole system is ripe with nepotism but that doesnt mean there is necessarily a gender bias. Please note the following PPP women and their positions for future reference:

    (1) Speaker of national assembly: Dr Fehmida Mirza
    (2) Foreign Minister
    (3) Information Minister
    (4) Deputy speaker of Sindh assembly
    (5) Ambassador to US
    (6) Information Minister of Sindh
    (7) Adivsor to president
    (8) Advisor to CM Sindh
    (9) Defence Secretary

    The list doesnt end here. On reserved seats PPP has women who are ordinary workers on Senate and reserved seats including Almas Parveen and Sajida Mir. Lastly, federal projects like BISP giving money to women and not men of the household, distributing agricultural land among women at Sindh level empowers them at grass root level.


  • Uza Syed
    Feb 25, 2012 - 2:59AM

    (1) “politics is far too important a business to be left to men alone.”—–Agree in toto, yes women must force their acceptance in political decision making; men should have no monopoly over wisdom or power politics here.

    (2) “the MQM’s Rabita Committee has a disproportionate number of men.”——-I’m sure that now MQM walas would or must realize this fact and encourage and accomodate women in their Rabita Committee—–this would not enhance women participation and sense of belonging in the national affairs but also make MQM trule a progressive party. It’s an opportunity for MQM which it has proactively created for themselves as well as the women of Pakistan.

    (3) ” should we not demand all parties to include issues important to women in their election manifestos and genuinely try to bridge the gap that exists?”—–of course, you should not only be demanding but also actively pursue and enforce this on all the political parties over here. It’s a good omen and must be used to your maximum advantage and the country also would benefit from this.

    (4) Imran Khan is non-issue and check mated and it’s good so. You, Tazeen, unfortunately, have ignored him and his politics of supporting the mullahs of Difa-e-Pakistan who called women ‘whores’ in their Karachi public gathering. I wish people had raised issue on this and see where Imran Khan stands by sending a delegate to participate and stand on that platform with such primitive mullahs.Recommend

  • s
    Feb 25, 2012 - 6:38AM

    Its funny how you just completely ignored the first woman speaker of a Muslim country. Also the women caucus developed in the National Assembly. I wish you did more research before writing this article. You also didn’t seem to write about the women protection bills passed.


  • Falcon
    Feb 25, 2012 - 8:25AM

    @Uza Syed:
    If I get the drift of your fourth point, you are hypothesizing IK’s political engagement of fringe groups means he is in agreement with their ideology on women? I think that is too much of a leap to make. If you really want to know the man’s view of women, you have to see how respectfully he talks about his divorced wife and women in his surroundings (his party). On that note, please also note how different male politicians in general talk to women on the talk shows vs. PTI male leadership (Dr. Alvi, Naeem-ul-Haq, Sadaqat Abbasi, Firdos Naqvi, Umer Cheema, etc.) and you will know the difference.


  • junaid
    Feb 25, 2012 - 10:48AM

    and not to forget benazir bhutto. it would be sheer intellectual dishonesty if we say that she led a political party ,ppp, just because she was the daughter of ZAB. No, the way Benazir bhutto has faced torture, imprisonments, solitary confinements under General Zia brutal regime , no other political person in pakistan history has gone thru it. ZIA was the most merciless and inhuman dictator pakistan has ever had. Benazir bhutto proved to be a leader in her own right. she never got it on a platter. not to forget she was just 24 years old young woman who started her fight to save her father’s life but ended up giving her own. she was haunted by mullah-military regimes for 30 long years but she stood her ground. In her own words,” The end doesnt matter, its the FIGHT u put up for the cause u believe in that matters the most.”


  • SharifL
    Feb 25, 2012 - 11:55AM

    We all know about what the author is telling us, but perhaps few recommendations of how to improve women’s lot would be in order. Yes, you see a few rich females driving cars and sitting in parliament, but over 90% of women are imprisoned in their homes and cannot walk freely outside of their four wall homes and cannot make decisions about their own lives. In my view women must be given a certain % of jobs in all spheres in industry and government, even in small stores.. Only when they have economic power, men will listen to them.
    A society which treats its citizens with inequality will remain in the celler, be it women or minorities. Some positive steps have been taken by the current ‘rulers’, but they are no more than window dressing. Worst is that such measures are not appreciaited by a vast majority.
    And nobody talks about sexual freedom of women. It is so important. I see men going abroad and have ‘fun’ with other owmen,but their own women dare not do that for fear of being lynched for saving family honour. What hypocracy.


  • Torrent
    Feb 25, 2012 - 1:08PM

    …and it all started with Fatima Jinnah.


  • x
    Feb 25, 2012 - 1:44PM

    @falcon, spot on!


  • mani
    Feb 25, 2012 - 5:32PM

    Pakistani selected Benazir Bhutto 24 yrs ago as PM. Though she fail miserably and because of her failure the country not experimented again


  • waqar
    Feb 25, 2012 - 5:42PM

    @Mansoor: Filter them out. because all of them have some family relationships


  • alicia
    Feb 25, 2012 - 6:37PM

    All of our male leaders are failures as well. Why do we keep experimenting with them?


  • Arif Ali
    Feb 25, 2012 - 7:10PM

    The article doesnt even talk about the PPP and the large number of women in the ruling class as well as the workers class! Unbelievable. PPP is the only party which is not promoting the Biwi-beti-bahu brigade, especially in the reserved seats!

    Shehnaz Wazir Ali, Sherry Rehman, Fauzia Wahab, Mehreen Bhutto, Rukhsana Bangash, Fouzia Habib, Amna Buttar, numerous in the Sindh Assembly as well as Punjab Assembly, they are not there because they are someone’s beti-biwi-bahu! They are there because they have been with the party for a number of years – less or more!

    Yes, amongst the elected women, you find related women, but that is because of the dynamics of local electoral politics! No one can get even Mukhtaran Mai elected even if the Pakistan Army and Judiciary run their campaign!

    Poor article. From MQM and ANP, you cant even name another woman. Same is the case with PML-N or Q


  • Kamran
    Feb 25, 2012 - 8:23PM

    What is important to remember is that we voted for the PPP and if we don’t like their leadership we can vote them out in the next election. If it wasn’t for a democratic party such as PPP, we wouldn’t even have had that opportunity.Also let’s not forget that much of the social & economic mess the country is in, was inherited from 8 years of Musharraf and another 25 years of military rule. The fact that this government has managed to still hold the country together is another achievement.


  • Neha Khan
    Feb 25, 2012 - 8:32PM

    Ms. Javed, I am afraid this has to be among your worst write-ups ever. You definitely need to do a genuine count of women in different political parties in Pakistan as you clearly have given a wrong impression here. Anything against the PPP? Just asking :)


  • Feb 25, 2012 - 8:39PM


    In Pakistan women are not elected through direct votes by the voters. They are*mostly nominated by the heads of political parties. on the basis of votes obtained by a party in the general elections.. There are no hard and fast rules for their selection. Mostly party heads select such women who are either their daughters, sisters or near relatives. In some cases daughters, wives, sisters or near relatives of influential Members of Assemblies are selected on the basis of recommendations and not on merit. Hard workers who are generally poor are ignored at the time of selection as they have no recommendations or influential family background. A number of women assembly members have been found holding fake degrees and have brought a bad name to the parties particularly PML(N)...The actual contribution of women politicians in the assemblies is not commendable.Like male members they should be elected by the women voters directly instead of selection. In this way more educated and matured women will reach assemblies and undoubtedly their voice in the assemblies will be forceful and they will be able to contribute more effectively..



  • Habbat kakar
    Apr 24, 2012 - 3:23PM

    i’m dining my MPhil research entitled “Participation in political parties” field work based on 8months carried out in Baluchistan the phenomena should be understood in deep down perspective, the existing paradox author mentioned which generally characterizes our society but that paradox should be understood in the realm of public and private spheres as mostly that is applied while studding middle eastern and Muslim society.women leadership basically is elite phenomena or surrogate leadership that is more to say heretical process and these parliamentarian almost act as mouth piece and ahere to their respective intersets rather representing the case of women as whole regasds


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