Once upon an orthodox time, not many years ago, there was an impression that women would not be able to tackle national issues as well as their male colleagues could.
But as the 13th National Assembly sets to complete its five-year tenure, this perception has taken a giant leap forward. Female lawmakers have proved their hold by contributing profusely to issues discussed in the lower house.
“There is a sea of change in the mindset,” Pakistan Peoples Party member Yasmeen Rehman confesses, while sharing her decade long experience as a lawmaker. Rehman joined at a time when reserved seats for women increased substantially.
Initially, she said, people were of the view that women MPs were not capable of dealing with national issues as they were of a complex nature. “I could see people and read their minds when I first stepped into this house in 2002,” Rehman said.
But times changed and women were encouraged to contest for 76 general seats in the 2008 polls, out of which 16 won elections from all provinces except Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KP). Women from K-P, however, acquired representation through reserved seats. According to the National Assembly Secretariat, out of the 57 reserved seats eight are from K-P, 34 from Punjab, 13 from Sindh and three from Balochistan.
Furthermore, National Assembly has 46 standing committees, six of which are headed by women. These include the standing committee on law and justice, on defence, finance, human resource development and information and broadcasting.
Recalling her own experience as a lawmaker, Rehman said: “I don’t remember the exact figure, but I think I have introduced more than 40 bills during the last five years.” Her most recent bill that passed into law established that the government was to carry out census every 10 years.
Elaborating upon the dynamics of the type of seats women get elected from and the nature of the legislature they have introduced, Rehman explained that women elected from their constituencies focus on issues related to their area as they have to return to contest polls. However, members on reserved seats are under no such compulsions and play a leading role in national issues.
In a statement, Dr Fehmida Mirza appreciated the role of the women parliamentary caucus in the National Assembly for protecting women rights and empowering them politically and economically.
Furthermore, Awami National Party’s Bushra Gohar said: “Women Parliamentarians have performed really well despite lots of challenges and demonstrated they can perform.”
Gohar added that female MPs have received a positive push and “many will participate in the next general elections despite security threats.”
More than 40 women had applied for ANP’s ticket both on general and reserved seats in K-P, she added.
Gohar proposed that the number of reserved seats for women in NA should be increased from present 17% to 33%.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 8th, 2013.