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Cut in seats for women, workers opposed

KARACHI, February 15,2005: Gen Pervez Musharraf has been asked to withdraw the decision to reduce the number of councillors at union council level and the reserved seats for women and workers.

This has been stressed in an open letter endorsed by participants of a seminar and protest rally organized by the Pakistan Institute for Labour Education and Research here on Tuesday.

The letter states: “We appeal in the greater interests of the nation and for the empowerment of the underprivileged sections of society the reduction in the representation of the reserved seats (should) be withdrawn.

We want to invite your attention to the decision taken by your government on Dec 28, 2004 to make some vital changes in the structure of the local government system. According to the new plan, the strength at union council has been reduced from 21 to 13, which will ultimately affect the representation of women and labour in the local governments.

“On Aug 14, 2000 when the present government announced Local Government Ordinance 2000, civil society organizations not only appreciated and supported it but also became the part of the campaign for its consolidation in the society on the following grounds:

1- For the first time in the history of Pakistan, women and working people were given representation at all the three tiers of local governance. There were six seats reserved each for women and working class people and one seat for religious minorities at UC level. In a similar way, women were given 33 per cent and labour and minorities 5 per cent representation each at tehsil (or town) and district level.

2- Though reserved seats are not an adequate method of ensuring the participation of any of the sections of a society but in the prevailing social, political and economic scenario of our country, reserved seats for women, labour and the minorities provided them an opportunity to become a part in the institutions of policy and governance at the grassroots level.

3- It was hoped that a three tier local governance system, which emerged under this ordinance, would help in devolution of all institutions, departments and divisions concerning the policy-making, development and public services at local level.

4- It was also hoped that from the womb of the traditional power structure, a new and public-friendly system would emerge at the grassroots level, in which civil bureaucracy would genuinely work under the guidance and supervision of the elected representatives at each layer of the district governance.

5- There are more than 40,000 labour and women representatives throughout the country, which is an adequate number for mobilization of basic rights.

The letter further states: “At the stage when some of the public service departments are still awaiting devolution and the Police Order 2002 needs some basic reforms, the basic structure of representation in local governance system has been restructured and amended instead of reforming the administrative structure and making the system more viable. Thus, at this very time when consideration should have been given to increasing the size of the union council, and a consideration to further empowering women and labour at this level of governance, the very opposite has been done.

It is evident from the political history of Pakistan that the gender and class barriers are very strong and the privileged class is always willing to concentrate all powers in its own hands.

So the reduction in reserved seats for both these underprivileged sections of society would further increase their vulnerability and the dream for their empowerment would not be materialized,” it concludes.

In the light of the above mentioned facts we think that the decision to reduce the number of councillors at UC level should be withdrawn and the reserved seats for women and workers should remain unchanged. So we appeal in the greater interests of the nation and for the empowerment of the underprivileged sections of the society, the reduction in the representation of the reserved seats be withdrawn.
Source: Dawn