Pakistani women have miles to go in politics

January 4th, 2009 - 1:32 pm ICT by IANS  

Islamabad, Jan 4 (IANS) Pakistan’s parliament has a woman speaker, a woman is a federal minister and 74 women have been elected to the National Assembly. But thanks to the widely prevalent feudal system, women in three of the country’s four provinces are not allowed to vote during elections.Of the 74 women in the National Assembly, 14 were elected to the general seats and 60 to the reserved seats.

But even this 21 percent representation in parliament falls short of the “critical mass” of women’s representation in legislatures that the landmark 1995 Beijing Platform for Action had laid down, analysts point out.

On the one hand, Pakistan’s 21 percent compares favourably with the world average of 17.9 percent and the Asian average of 16.9 percent women in parliament. But this gets negated when vast numbers of women can’t cast their votes.

As Dawn noted in a recent editorial, in parts of the North West Frontier Province, Sindh and Balochistan, “patriarchal traditions are strong and male political expediency holds sway. These negate the principle of free and fair elections”.

Thus, the editorial said, it was not surprising that the Senate’s Functional Committee on Human Rights “felt constrained” earlier this week “to call for the empowerment of the Election Commission in this context” but added: “It would not be surprising if nothing comes out of this exercise”.

Just how futile the exercise would be can be gauged from the fact that a demand made in September 2007 by women politicians and activists from various political parties and organisations at an All Parties’ Women Conference in Karachi that women be given 33 percent representation in parliament similar to a demand in India has been totally ignored.

In this context, Dawn noted that “irrespective of the position adopted by political parties - they have officially endorsed women’s right to vote - the obscurantist move to bar women voters has enjoyed the tacit support of male politicians of the areas affected.

“They have found it in their narrow personal interest to control the vote. Keeping women out of the exercise was one way of doing that,” Dawn noted.

It also pointed to the various ways in which women had been denied their electoral rights: flawed voters’ lists, insecure location of polling stations, failure to provide them safety and lack of voter education.

“If women are to be truly empowered, political parties must give tickets to female members on the basis of their work in their community at the grassroots level,” the editorial maintained.

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