Coming hard on the heels of a report published by the World Economic Forum that placed Pakistan second from bottom in terms of gender disparity, comes yet another example of disparity in action. Protests are being raised by women lawmakers of the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) Assembly criticising the government for its unequal distribution of development funds, with male lawmakers getting their dues but the women not. The Women’s Parliamentary Caucus (WPC) has said it is going to frame a strategy in order to raise the matter during the current assembly session. There are 22 women in the WPC and they form a powerful body.
They have protested before, walking out of the assembly on October 11, saying that though they are elected on reserved seats, they still have constituencies to represent and that their constituents are as deserving as any other. There have been discussions in the past with the chief minister in an attempt to resolve the issue and they were promised Rs10 million each in development funding via the social welfare department. The K-P government released Rs10 million to the male legislators, with an announcement that another Rs20 million would be coming their way as well. No top-up was announced for the women. Add to the mix, the Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency chief, Ahmed Bilal Mehboob, who was of the opinion that the government was anyway wrong to allocate funds directly to lawmakers and it was more properly the job of local government officials.
Funding allocation such as this has been an annual event, with Rs20 million supposedly allocated to lawmakers for development work. The lawmakers are supposed to submit proposals for the projects they want to fund, but there has been no on-record comment yet as to whether they have now or historically. There may be an issue about the accountability and transparency of such funding, but this does not excuse the apparent discriminatory practices against female legislators. Women have as much right to development funding as men and they should not have to fight tooth and nail to get it.