Karachi: In this day and age where the global world has witnessed a revamping of sorts of gender roles with respect to the fast evolving socio-political as well as socio-economical scenario, Pakistan for a fact hasn’t been faring well in matters pertaining to gender disparities existing within its society.
Being one of the few countries to have had a female prime minister, Pakistan still has a long way to go for women to actively participate in the political process.
Addressing a session titled ‘Increasing Women’s Technical Capacity to Participate in the Political Process’ on the first day of the ‘Consolidating Democratic Devolution’ workshop organised by the Forum of Federations on Sunday, Roberta Ryan (professor at the Australian Centre of Excellence for Local Government) observed that participation of women in the political process was essential for effective redressing of issues pertaining to women’s rights in any country.
The political representation of women in Pakistan with regard to the Lower House and the Upper House stands at a mere 20.7 and 16.3 percent of the total female population.
Drawing a comparative analysis with Indonesia and Rwanda, Roberta said the former had witnessed an overall steady increase in female representation while the latter had made a world record of the highest percentage of female representation (64 percent); although, they were yet to occupy key state positions.
To understand the barriers women face while participating in politics, she mentioned four conceptual frameworks – ideological: essentially the stance that the “rightful” place of women is not in politics; social and cultural: women’s dual burden in work and domestic sphere; economic: this includes the role of poverty in contributing to exclusion of women; and political: economic and social criteria for political candidacy, the level of availability which political activity demands as well as the stigma that politics is “dirty”.
Rejecting the popular notion that women are not electorally popular, she said there was enough evidence to suggest that this was not the case.
Increased ability and capacity to run for elections as well as equal opportunity to run for elections were cited as considerable solutions leading to better participation of women.
She also suggested that an increase in support from the political leadership as well as male counterparts were essential for enhanced participation.
As for women, she advised them to develop leadership qualities, and gain knowledge and skills to foster working relations with government officials.
In response to this scribe’s question regarding the concept of “reserved seats” for women as well as separate women wings in political parties building on the perspective that women were not capable of doing things on her own, Roberta said it was an ideological question that needed to be addressed but where women generally faced structural disadvantage, giving them a representation through reserved seats would serve as a way forward, even though on a small level.
She suggested women to vigorously contest elections on general seats to make the voters realise the capabilities of female candidates. — Fatima Zaidi