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Gender discrimination in government formation

THIS is apropos of ‘First civilian transition, at last’ (June 2), a joyful heading. We should appreciate that the country has witnessed an unprecedented transfer of power from one democratic government to another.

The new assembly was sworn in with several women parliamentarians with the hope and commitment that they would play their due role for the protection of women’s rights and promotion of women empowerment debate. The nation has an eye on the new parliamentarians to do more pro-women business in the house.

Women are almost half of the total population of the country but, unfortunately, like other institutions, women are still under-represented in our parliaments.

Instead of the population criterion, women were proportionally taken in to the highest forums of law-making in the country.

But on a positive note, the bicameral parliamentary system of Pakistan has seen an incremental positive change, recognising women as an integral part of the democratisation process of Pakistani society.

The journey starts from women parliamentarian elections for the house to the legislative business in the National Assembly to safeguard women rights under constitutional cover and guarantees.

In the 2002 and 2008 National Assemblies, there were almost 60 seats for women in the house of 340 plus, including some women members on general seats, but little attention was given to women empowerment issues.

However, despite having a lot of barriers, women parliamentarians did their best to bring pro-women legislation in the house, which made a drastic change in the lives of vulnerable and marginalised women.

Although the ideologies of respective governments of 2002 and 2008 were different and opposite to each other, one ideology was common, i.e., pro-women legislation by all women parliamentarians irrespective of their party affiliations.

Record pro-women legislation in the 2002 and 2008 assemblies provided opportunities to women to get social and legal justice as equal citizens of the country.
Legislations, including Protection Against Harassment of Women at the Workplace Act, 2010, the Prevention of Anti-Women Practices (Criminal Law Amendment) Act, 2011, Domestic Violence (Prevention and Protection) Bill, Acid Control and Acid Crimes Prevention Act, 2010, Protection of Women (Criminal Laws Amendment) Act 2006, and others were a landmark of previous assemblies and women parliamentarians’ struggle.

If this trend continues in the coming assemblies, a lot of issues concerning women would be resolved amicably and gender disparity would be reduced in terms of social empowerment and economic development.

People were expecting more women representation in the new assembly but, unfortunately, the trend, so far, is not gender-friendly. First, the main political parties, including the PML-N, PPP and the PTI, have reduced women quota on general seats. Secondly, the PML-N did not consider women parliamentarians competent enough to nominate for the post of speaker or deputy speakership in both the National and Punjab assemblies.

The same was done by the PTI in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. In the first phase of the provincial cabinet in Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, there is not a single woman minister. I think this shows the mindset.

If gender discrimination takes place in the first phase of government formation, then what would be the future course of the government is a million-dollar question.

Political parties must give due space to women parliamentarians in the cabinet and other policy-level forums so that more pro-women legislation could be done. Laws and their implementation can protect women rights and play a pivotal role to reduce bad societal practices against women.

ZULFIQAR HALEPOTO
Sindh Institute for Democracy & Development
Hyderabad

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