By HASSAN BELAL ZAIDI
ISLAMABAD: The battle lines drawn between women lawmakers from the treasury and opposition benches deepened on Tuesday, when the PML-N led women’s caucus refused to support a privilege motion demanding an equal share for women parliamentarians in the development funds doled out to lawmakers.
At the outset of private members’ day, PPP’s Nafisa Shah drew the attention of the house to the “clear discrimination with women members who are on reserved seats”.
“The development funds that are given to the men in the house, as well as minority representatives, are being denied to women members,” she said.
“If we wanted to, we women could take this discrimination to a court of law, but the only reason we are not doing so is because we don’t want to drag parliamentary issues before the courts. They say that women members only have half a vote. A man, a woman, a minority member, we are all the same; we all carry one vote.”
Dr Shah pointed out that women lawmakers were essential to the running of the house, fulfilling quorum requirements, and driving legislation. “But when [funds] are distributed, the male members get first preference,” she lamented.
She called on Deputy Speaker Murtaza Javed Abbasi to take notice of the issue, saying: “These development funds are distributed on the basis of membership of parliament; we are also members of parliament. Either don’t distribute them, or give them to everyone.”
Opposition members then drew up a privilege motion on the issue, which was signed by over 20 lawmakers. However, PML-N’s Shaista Pervaiz and Tahira Aurangzeb withdrew their support for the motion, after initially signing it.
The absence of support from the women’s parliamentary caucus – which is headed by Ms Pervaiz – riled up the women in opposition.
PTI Chief Whip Shireen Mazari posted photos of the privilege motion on her Twitter account, saying that all women lawmakers from opposition parties had distanced themselves from the women’s caucus, which had been reduced to “a PML-N forum”.
Talking to Dawn, Dr Mazari said that when the matter was raised with the leaders of the caucus, they agreed to support it. “First they said they would sign it, and some of them did. But then they said they wouldn’t support it.”
Ms Aurangzeb, who was one of the PML-N members who supported the motion but then withdrew her signature, told Dawn that her party colleagues had initially signed thinking it was a resolution. “When we realised it was a privilege motion, we withdrew our support, because treasury members shouldn’t be bringing privilege motions against their own government.”
This viewpoint was echoed by Ms Pervaiz. She told Dawn that while PML-N lawmakers supported their opposition colleagues on the issue of development funds, a privilege motion was a tool of the opposition, not the government.
“When I was consulted, they told me they would bring a resolution. But when they typed it up, we saw that it was a privilege motion,” she said, adding that: “We are with them, we agree with them and we have put in our protest to the party in writing. Whether directly elected or nominated on reserved seats, every one of us has a constituency.”
Dr Shah admitted that when the members of the caucus were consulted, the exact details of the action they were proposing to take were “vague”. “We said we’ll draft something jointly and take the government to task,” she told Dawn.
She contended that resolutions had been passed in the past as well, but to no avail. “It matters how forcefully we push for our demands; it is only when we put in a privilege motion that they will take notice.”