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Old Thursday, February 25, 2016
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Default Women Parliamentarians In Pakistan

Author: Dr. Farzana Bari

Article: Women Parliamentarians Challenging the Frontiers of Politics in Pakistan

The article argues that in the absence of women’s own power base, descriptive representation through gender quota does not lead to substantive representation.

1) Linkages of women legislators with the women’s movement

2) Networking for collective voice and capacity enhancement
Pathways to women empowerment- Bari

The history of Pakistani women’s struggle for political rights and a voice can be seen from the Colonial period in the Subcontinent. Women played an active role in the independence movement against British rule. However, only two women, Begum Jahan Ara Shahnawaz and Begum Shaista Ikramullah, were elected to the first Constituent Assembly of Pakistan (Mumtaz & Shaheed, 1987).Women were allowed to participate in the nationalist struggle and pushed back to their homes as soon as the struggle was over (Mumtaz & Shaheed, 1987).

Politics was not viewed as a legitimate arena for women: mismatch b/w women’s participation in the nationalist movement and their representation in the legislature of Independent Pakistan: ‘the patriarchal mindset of the leadership of the Pakistan’s Movement.’
There is no restriction on women’s participation and representation in Pakistan,
Socio cultural, socio-economic and socio political dimension to this subordinate position of women.

Gender quotas as part of the global strategy to bridge the gender gap in politics were adopted by the Musharraf regime, as it helped it establish its liberal credentials among the world community.

landmark decision by President Musharraf:

Before Musharraf no more than 3% women served in the parliament. He reserved 33 percent of seats for women in all three tiers (union council, tehsil, and district) of local government, and 17 percent for women in both chambers of both the national assembly and provincial assemblies.
36,105 women into local government and 205 in the 12th national and provincial assemblies and the senate. The gender quota in politics has elevated Pakistan’s position on women’s empowerment index substantially.
Essentialist approach to gender quota: women were treated as a homogenous group undifferentiated by class, ethnicity, region, rural/urban divide.
‘In the absence of any criteria prescribed for the nomination of women on reserved seats, political leaders were given a free hand to nominate women of their own choice, from their families and from the elite background and those willing to toe the party line’ (364).

Modality of elections: closed lists submitted by party leaderships of 60 women; indirect modality via proportional representation. led to an elite capture of seats reserved for women in the national and provincial legislatures. Belonged to feudal families or were kith and kiln of party members/leaders.

Women rights concerns with this indirect modality: women did not develop their own direct political constituency and were kept away from mainstream political processes. Halts the development of a ‘political consciousness.’ Nomination by male elites in the political party: reinforced the already dependent status of women in political parties and their reliance on the political leadership.

Three questions are asked: 1)What changes have women brought to politics? 2)What extent have women legislators represented women’s interests? 3) How far have they succeeded in making women’s concerns a part of public debates and policy?

Study period: 2002-2007. Performance assessment of women parliamentarians.

The majority of interventions by women legislators on the parliamentary floor were related to social sector and public interest issues: supported by studies conducted in developed and developing countries.
The findings of this study show that after the social sector and
public interest issues, women MNAs were most interested in politico constitutional issues, and participating in parliamentary debates on these matters.

Parliamentary discussions and debates shows that women legislators were as alive to political and constitutional issues as they were to the social sector and women-specific issues.
The findings of the study confirm the conclusion of earlier studies that women legislators do have distinctive legislative behavior (see Afzal, 1999; Shaheed et al., 1998): pro women legislation related to family matters for instance.

Contradictory evidence that women parliamentarians had occasionally shown solidarity and support across party lines on legislation relating to women-specific issues, while they had also opposed women specific legislation because of their party politics.

Solidarity case: amendment to the honor killing legislation supported by PPP opposition plus ruling party.
Opposition: Sherry Rehman’s motion reference on “The Introduction of a Bill to Provide for Elimination of Gender Discrimination,” the bill was opposed by Nilofar Bakhtiar, the Prime Minister’s Advisor on Women’s Affairs at the time.

Systemic and political issues that impacted on the functioning of the parliament should also be taken into account in understanding the poor performance of women legislators in conducting legislative business. They were unable to pass the majority of their PMBs.

Research evidence: Badly drafted PMBs; women MNAs did not have the requisite technical skills for drafting. Sixty-eight percent of women legislators reported that they did not receive any technical support or advice from parliamentary staff in drafting their bills.
Women members of Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA): received support from senior party members in drafting and a secretariat with the services of a lawyer established to help them out.

Drafting of legislation was mentioned as the top training need by 57.5 percent women legislators, followed by advocacy and networking skills.
The study provides sufficient evidence that women parliamentarians have legislative priorities distinct from those of men. They feel more strongly about women, family, and social welfare issues than male parliamentarians. Women’s legislative priorities should not be viewed from the lens of essentialism: it is their experiences, social position and role in society that determine them. In short, every woman comes with her own baggage accordingly her views will differ (Anne Phillips 1991).

Women Legislators and Representation

Many feminists argue that women have both interests in common and in conflict (Jhappan, 1996; Spivak, 1995; Vickers, 2002). Therefore, women can form what Gayatri Spivak has termed a “strategic essentialism,” that is, the “formulation of a temporary consensus about women’s interests” (Spivak, 1995), meaning that women can formulate minimum
common interests in a specific situation and articulate them in politics. The politics of difference and identity should not be allowed to destabilize feminist politics.
Women’s inclusion in politics is needed and should not be restricted to a symbolic requirement; they are needed to bring about a difference in politics.

Ninety percent of women parliamentarians interviewed for this study believed that women had special interests. Seventy percent of female MNAs believed that only women legislators could represent the interests of women. This indicates the self-consciousness of women parliamentarians.
The different ideological leanings of women parliamentarians cross party prevented a consensus to emerge on legislation: some women took the initiative of forming a cross-party women parliamentarian’s caucus unfortunately this did not work out.

2014 political developments:

Women Minister: After the 18th Amendment, the Punjab Assembly, for the first time, has a Women minister - Hamida Wahidudin. The minister is supposed to take briefings and play an advisory rule for WDD.
Women Caucus: Similarly, the formation of Women Caucus is also a fresh initiative in post devolution scenario. Ms. Ozma Bokhari heads this Caucus. It comprises of 67 women in Punjab Assembly. “The caucus has its organizational structure; a Chairperson, General Secretary and Finance Secretary and well defined working agenda related to women legislative reforms” said Uzma Bokhari. She added that Caucus members have been exposed to certain trainings for capacity building and it is hoped that their performance in the House would improve. 10. Punjab Commission on Status of Women
In response to a survey question whether a women’s caucus could help women parliamentarians to project women’s issues more effectively, the majority (67.5 percent) responded positively.

the lack of organized women’s interest groups outside the parliament: another issue for lack of consensus: THE NARROW POPULAR URBAN BASE OF THE WOMEN’S MOVEMENT NEGLECTS POOR WOMEN LOCATED IN MARGINALIZED SECTIONS OF SOCIETY.

They did not work systematically around women’s interests. They did so more to legitimize their own political existence as they entered politics on the reserved seats than out of a genuine concern for women.
Bari advocates a close relationship of women parliamentarians with the women’s movement and in order to be effective in parliamentary politics in terms of addressing women’s issues.

Women elected through the gender quota were more eager than women elected on general seats to represent women’s interests.
The score list of women MPs compiled by Mirza and Wagha (2009) identified that out of the 25 most active women MPs, only two (out of 14) came from the general seats. The need for greater legitimacy.
The organization of political parties supports women parliamentary efforts: Pakistan’s political parties are male dominated physically and lack unity internally plus are not gender responsive: the politics of appeasement among members.
Authoritarianism within political parties weakens networking and lobbying on women’s interest issues within the parties as well. Sometimes women parliamentarians lack support from their own party members and MNAs on women’s issues. However, despite these constraints, women parliamentarians were quite active in raising women’s interest issues, moving 101 PMBs in five years. Most of these PMBs were related to women’s interest issues.

Women Legislators and Oversight Role

There were only two PCs in which women’s membership exceeded 33 percent. One was the Standing Committee on Culture, Sports, Youth Affairs, and Tourism (46 percent) and the other was the Standing Committee on Women’s Development
(61 percent). The representation of women MPs in the remaining PCs
varied from 7–24 percent.
Other committees headed women parliamentarians were on “soft issues” in line with the stereotypical understanding of women politicians working on social sector issues: with the exception of women chairpersons on defense production, petroleum and natural gas production and narcotics control committees.

Issue: lack of women appointment to traditionally associated men PCs.
all committees headed by female legislators held more meetings than PCs headed by male parliamentarians.

Inefficiency of PCs: their politicization and patronage based appointments: They were given the appointments to please political parties as members of committees are entitled to additional allowances and perks.
PCs had no political clout. There was a complete disconnect b/w civil society actors’ participation [they have the mandate to participate in them fully]. Most were not invited. No mechanism to hear public voices in the PCs.
Women specifically mentioned the lack of financial resources available to them to work on the PCs. Lack of public hearings on public issues. Ministers were uninterested in attending PCs.

Impact of Women’s Presence in Legislative Bodies

Even though there were no tangible results concerning the passing of women’s legislation and policy making their presence did have a great impact on focusing parliament’s attention on women’s issues.
The number of times gender issues were raised in the parliament (2002–2007) through PMBs, through calling attention notices, parliamentary questions, privilege
motions, and resolutions was unprecedented in the parliamentary history
of Pakistan.
Positive impact of political presence of women: the cultural front:
The high visibility of women in Politics had an enormous impact on cultural perceptions of women’s roles in politics, resulting in an increasing public acceptability and legitimacy. This created a dent in the gender role ideology that assumes politics as a predominantly male prerogative.

Women’s entry through gender quota in politics not only created a genuine interest in politics among women parliamentarians but also, their presence in the political realm, served as a role model in the society.
This impact was obvious from the number of women candidates (180) who contested elections on general seats in the General Election of 2007. Only 38 got party tickets the rest were independent candidates who failed.
It appears that without party support, it is difficult for independent women candidates to win general seats, especially when the election process is increasingly more commercialized and corrupt.

Women parliamentarians showcased a high level of oppositional gender consciousness.
Taunted by their male colleagues that they were not “real politicians” hence they felt the need for building their own power base: Many women parliamentarians who had no history of working with women’s rights groups or civil society organizations actively reached out to women’s rights groups and organizations and championed women’s rights in order to build a constituency and legitimize themselves.

Pressurised by NGOs and women rights groups to work on women related issues as their mandate required especially on issues related to the Hudood Ordinace, Law of Evidence, Qisas and Diyat, issues the women rights groups had been working on for so long.

Positive changes in political parties due to women legislators:

Male members began to take them seriously, those MPs who worked actively. Gender equality and empowerment is now a part of party manifestos even those of religious ones. Women are seen as voter bait: whose interests when reflected in party manifestos will get political support.
Lastly, the gender quota provided women an opportunity to take up the role of public representatives. They learned political skills, enhanced their own political capabilities and capacities, and built up their confidence to become representatives.

Issues and challenges faced by women parliamentarians:

Feminists challenge the traditional notion of politics that restricts political activity only to the public arena and renders the private sphere of family life as apolitical.

Discursive divide of public–private: restricts women’s opportunities to enter formal politics by shaping societal attitudes and institutional structures.
This patriarchal discursive context: women as private citizens are unable to play a transformative role to change the nature of politics and gender. Patriarchy defines their role. The majority of respondents mentioned the patriarchal mindset that they encountered in society, in political parties, and in the parliament as the key challenge in effectively performing their role as public representatives.

Cultural barriers are dominantly shaped and reshaped by the discursive dichotomy of the public–private, and result in lower resource allocation for women’s human development by the state, the society, and the family.
This can be seen in the social indicators that reflect varying degrees of gender disparities in education, health, employment, ownership of productive resources, and politics. Traditions of purdah, gender segregation, thana kacheri culture women can’t help their constituents: this perception and examples impede women’s efforts. Women respondents from religious parties their ideology conflicted with their public presence.

Male-dominated political parties are the gatekeepers to women’s entry in politics. Female party members are treated as less important and are not assigned decision-making positions within their own parties.
Political parties are institutionalized sites of patriarchal power in the political arena. Women are not perceived as likely candidates to win, hence discriminated in the award of party ticket. Patronizing attitudes plus sexual harassment. During the research, some women politicians confided that they had faced pressure to give sexual favors to those in positions of power in the party in order to move upwards in the party hierarchy and in national politics.

the lack of gender expertise in the research staff and the lack of gender disaggregated data posed difficulties to them in raising gender-related issues in parliament. The Election Commission did not act on complaints submitted by various NGOs with evidence that women in certain areas were not allowed to cast their votes during the elections of 2001. An independent EC is seen to support women.

Therefore, a key finding of this study is that the level of confidence and capacity-building needs of women parliamentarians vary according to their political background and their exposure to public and political life. Requirements differed b/w directly elected MPs and those on reserved seats and those serving on PCs. Most lacked confidence, experience, advocacy skills, technical skills related to drafting. They lacked sufficient gender understanding on how to represent women’s issues. Thus, unable to establish alliances and networks within parliament and among stakeholders.

Conclusion: In a nutshell, the performance of female MPs cannot be assessed in isolation, connected to wider systemic and structural issues.
It became evident from the study’s findings that when women, who are considered private citizens, enter the public domain of politics through affirmative action measures, they continue to face all those challenges and constraints previously militating against their entry in the formal arena of politics.

It is important to remember that the reservation of seats for women in parliament is a recognition that women cannot participate and represent on an equal footing with men due to the patriarchal nature of the socioeconomic and political structures of Pakistani society.

Gender quota: it should not be expected that the numerical presence of women in the parliament will automatically result in effective representation.
complementary political and electoral reforms that are critically important
to create a supportive and an enabling environment for them.
Findings of the study: the government, the political parties, and the civil society in Pakistan did not provide adequate support to women legislators in the areas of capacity building, networking and information sharing. in the absence of a strongly organized women’s movement that articulates women’s interests outside the parliament, it remains difficult for women legislators to advocate women’s interests effectively within parliament and within their own political parties.

They did not have a direct constituency of their own to whom they were accountable.
In the absence of any power base in the form of women’s movement or constituency, women legislators were easily ignored by the political leadership of their parties.

The study provides evidence that patriarchal resistance and challenges, which women legislators continued to face after entering parliament, triggered an oppositional gender consciousness in them. They resented male domination and a masculine parliamentary culture by which female MNAs were viewed as proxies and faced discrimination. Except for women MPs belonging to religious parties, all other women legislators showed their resolve to claim politics as their legitimate space and right.

Conclusion of this study: they drew greater attention to women’s issues during the 12th National Assembly (2002–2007) than ever before. The study empirically verifies the assertion that women politicians represent women’s interests better than male politicians.

The data shows that most of the parliamentary interventions by female legislators related to the social sector, public interests, and women-specific issues. Interestingly, the findings of the study refute the assertion, often made in political science literature, that women are not interested in hard-core constitutional and political issues. In contrast, there were significant numbers of women legislators who took a keen interest and showed commitment to raising issues in these areas, too.

Changing perceptions of women’s roles in public life: impact of high no. of women MPs. In the media, in the public fora and in poltical life had great symbolic value. Their presence increased the social acceptability of women in public life as evidenced by the high participation of women in the 2008 General elections: 180 women. Their presence served as a ROLE MODEL for others to venture into politics.
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