Reserved seats for women and the elite’s hold on them

Published: June 7, 2013
The writer is director of the Department of Gender Studies at Quaid-i-Azam University in Islamabad

The writer is director of the Department of Gender Studies at Quaid-i-Azam University in Islamabad

The resignation of Fauzia Kasuri, a veteran leader of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), from the party has revitalised the controversies surrounding quota politics in Pakistan. The PTI’s decision to nominate Dr Shireen Mazari and Munazza Hasan on the reserved seats in the National Assembly appears to be a violation of merit. Ms Kasuri is known for her hard work and dedication to the PTI, which she had been a part of since 1996. On the other hand, Dr Mazari joined the PTI in 2008, resigned in 2012 and rejoined in 2013.

The way reserved seats for women in the legislature are filled is a matter of grave public concern. The indirect modality of election on reserved seats with no prescribed criteria for the eligibility has led to nepotism and the capture of seats for women by the elite. In the previous two National Assemblies, as well as in the present one, the trend in treating seats for women undemocratically by political leadership has not changed. Blood relations, wives and relatives of politicians are nominated on these seats to reward party influentials. Many of these women have no background either in politics or of working in women’s rights movements. This trend reflects not only the dynastic and elitist nature of our politics, but also negates the very spirit of having a gender quota in politics.

In view of the male domination of politics and the structural constraints faced by women in entering the formal arena of politics across cultures, gender quota had been adopted as a global strategy to correct this imbalance. This global commitment is reflected in the human rights bill, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, adopted in 1979 by the UN General Assembly. It makes it obligatory for states to take affirmative action to ensure women’s equal participation in politics and public life. Today, over 90 countries in the world have adopted some form of gender quota as a strategy to remove gender discrimination in politics.

However, the quota debate is hotly contested all over the world. Justice and utilitarian arguments are offered to justify quota provisions. The justice argument is based on the principle of democracy. Women constitute nearly half of the world population, contribute to the social and economic life of their countries through their productive and unpaid reproductive labour, therefore, it is their fundamental right to have a voice in their countries’ governance. The utilitarian argument takes the position that women have different experiences, interests and needs from men. They have distinct legal and national priorities due to their caring roles that they have been performing for centuries. It contends that women will bring a distinct perspective and positive values of peace and love to politics.

This assumed commonality of interests amongst women has been challenged by women themselves. It has been argued that women do not have similar common interests. They are divided along the lines of class, ethnicity, rural/urban divide, religion and other social divisions. Therefore, it is important that quota seats represent this divide amongst women fairly. Women from the marginalised sections of society, peasantry, the labour class, religious and ethnic minorities should also be brought into the legislature on reserved seats to represent the interest of their own class/social group.

The majority of women parliamentarians, who came on the reserved seats in the previous two parliaments, belonged to elite backgrounds. However, they did play an active role in parliamentary business. Nonetheless, they are criticised for not taking up issues that directly impact the lives of poor women. Consequently, the majority of women continue to face problems in accessing justice, basic services and equal opportunities.

Reserved seats must be filled through direct elections so that women on reserved seats can have their own constituency and power base. Also, an amendment to the Political Party Act should be introduced on a priority basis that should make it mandatory for political parties to grant gender quota within the party structures and in giving tickets on general seats during elections. Reform in gender quota is the only way to protect the legitimacy and credibility of quota provision and save it from the challenge posed by misogynists.

Published in The Express Tribune, June 8th, 2013.                                                                                          

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Reader Comments (9)

  • Mirza
    Jun 8, 2013 - 12:52AM

    What a nice, to the point Op Ed by a woman scholar. Thanks ET for that. The Op Ed has substance, depth, and proposed solution to help improve the democratic rights of women of our country. It is a shame that our male dominated society does not even allow women to go out and vote let alone contest elections. If even the reserved seats are eliminated the number of women in the NA would become rare.
    The real solution of the problem is not to do away with the reserved seats but as the writer said make sure all political parties allocate a large number of tickets to women. The case of Fouzia K is most glaring example of our double standards. While turncoats and lotas could get ticket for 3-4 NA seats, the lady leader was not even offered a vacated seat by these Pir, feudal and lotas in by-elections. In fact the way she was treated by the lynch mob after denying the ticket is shameful to say the least.
    Kudos to the writer, FK and other women activists of all political parties who are not afraid to raise their voice for gender equality and against discrimination.


  • Ricky
    Jun 8, 2013 - 2:38AM

    @Mirza: Good article for woman’s rights and democracy. And equally good comments from Mirza G.Recommend

  • Unknown
    Jun 8, 2013 - 4:04AM

    @Author and @Mirza
    It is not possible to make everyone happy in a merit based system. Saying that Fouzia K case is an example of double standard means that you people are unaware of the term merit.


    Jun 8, 2013 - 7:38AM

    Shireen Mazari did not deserve to be MNA
    She has been glorified during Mushrraf era and did nothing for PTI or women.only the history is she is claims to be representative of south Punjab that is not fact. Imran Khan should be rational


  • Jun 8, 2013 - 8:39AM

    Reserved seats must be filled through direct elections

    When Imran Khan criticised the method of appointing women to the reserved seats, all of you so-called women-rights people were all up in arms.

    and Munazza Hasan on the reserved seats in the National Assembly appears to be a violation of merit.

    Munazza hassan is the elected president of the women wing, Ayla Malik was the runner up. FK was not even qualified to contest (I know its sad and tragic). Dr Mazari is on top because of what IK have stated numerous times that he prefers capability and qualification over time-with-party.

    There is no question of Fauzia Kasuri’s loyalty or dedication to the party though.

    Dr Mazari joined the PTI in 2008, resigned in 2012 and rejoined in 2013.

    Dr Mazari left PTI for the same reasons FK have. Later she realised her mistake and returned, InshAllah FK will too.


  • Jun 8, 2013 - 2:08PM

    The workers have a right to know why intraparty were unfairly conducted and PTI should conduct transparent inquiry.

  • Siddique
    Jun 8, 2013 - 2:27PM

    Sheeren Mazari did not leave the party for same reason as Fauzia kasuri,i think.She left because she felt lotas were becoming key figures in the party.


  • Toba Alu
    Jun 8, 2013 - 6:16PM

    Agree with the author. However, sixty years have past and education for girls (and also for boys, but that is not the point here) is still in its infancy. At this pace you will require reserved seats for women till eternity. Not only basic education, but also vocational and higher education is desperately needed if this country wants to depart from the dark ages.


  • Geo
    Jun 8, 2013 - 6:55PM

    I suggest that women seats should be allocated as per votes received by each party. The parties then must divide their seats over the region and thus create nominal women seats and allocate them to their women member from each nominal seat area. There should be a law that if one’s close relative is a elected member that person can not be given a free seat. Hopefully controls like these will stop nepotism and corruption by our so called champions of democracy. Who are nothing but shameless rats living on the blood of poor of the land not even educated to read their elected reps names on the ballot papers.Recommend

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