By Khawar Ghumman
Dr Fehmida Mirza, the elegant Speaker of our sanguine National Assembly, made the country’s woman parliamentarians immensely proud the other day when she gave credit of 60 per cent of the business done in the National Assembly to woman legislators. That is praiseworthy because they count just 76 in the house of 342.
One hopes her disclosure, made at a two-day convention of woman parliamentarians in Islamabad the other day, would wake up their male colleagues from their slumber and show more seriousness in the legislative business. Or else they stand to lose their stock in the public eye further and may be their seats to woman rivals.
The National Assembly has a unique provision of 76 reserve seats for women — thanks to the former President General Pervez Musharraf. Proportionate to the number of directly elected members of the lower house, political parties nominate women candidates on reserve seats. The basic idea behind this concept was to have a gender balanced National Assembly, giving women enough representation to raise their voices at this level.
Of the 76 legislators who constitute 22 per cent of the overall strength of the lower house, 16 are elected directly and 60 on reserve seats. Of the 60 women reserve seats, 35 are from Punjab, 14 from Sindh, eight from Khyber
Pakhtunkhwa and three from Balochistan. Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) being the majority party in the house has a lion share of 23 seats, followed by Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), 17; Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid-Azam (PML-Q), 10; Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), five; Awami National Party (ANP), three; Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal Party (MMAP) and Pakistan Muslim League Functional (PML-F) one each.
None of these 60 members has been appointed full-fledge minister except two junior ministers — Mehreen Anwar Raja, Minister of State Parliamentary Affairs and Shagufta Jumani, Minister of state for Religious Affairs. However, two directly elected members have been given full-fledged ministry slots – Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan, Minister of Population Welfare and Samina Khalid Ghurki, Minister of Social Welfare. Sherry Rehman, who was elected on reserve seat, was given the important portfolio of information ministry but she had to resign owing to differences with the party leadership.
Since the allocation of 60 reserve seats for women by the former military dictator that has also been upheld in the 18th Amendment, one may question whether such a large number of unelected women MNAs have made any significant change in the house. Or they have only been able to increase budgetary expenditure of the house, which has crossed Rs1 billion mark during the outgoing financial year.
In a male-dominated society where in some parts of the country even today women are not allowed to use their adult franchise, presence of such a large number of women MNAs is a great opportunity to influence both policy and decision makings. They (women) were brought to the National Assembly not only to speak for their own folk, but also for other weaker segments of the society. However, they have failed to come up to our expectations, said a seasoned observer of parliamentary proceedings. They largely represent privileged class of the society, thus, could not make any significant change, the observer added.
He also suggested that political parties should fill these reserve seats with young women especially trained in the business of legislation and monitor the government functioning. Just imagine 60 fully dedicated parliamentarians who have no other engagement, can really bring a turn around in the house, which has so far been suffering from lack of interest
on the part of its occupants. Except a couple of its initial sittings, MNAs have lost interest in the National Assembly sessions and majority of them only turn up whenever there is some special occasion such as Presidential address etc. They [women MNAs] like their male colleagues, have serious attendance issues, what to talk of taking active participation in the National Assembly proceedings. Every time there are few known faces who at least make their contribution worthwhile, whereas rest of them remain absent and if they come to the house, spend most of their time in chit chat.
Yasmin Rehman, Justice (retd) Fakhrun Nisa Khokhar, Dr Mehreen Razaque Bhutto, Fauzia Wahab, Sherry Rehman, Farah Naz Isphahani of the PPPP; Nuzhat Sadiq, Tahira Aurangzeb, Khalida Mansoor, Shireen Arshad Khan, Nisar Tanveer, Advocate Anusha Rahman Khan of the PML-N; Marvi Memon, Attiya Inayatullah, Dr Donya Aziz of PML-Q and Kashmala Tariq of the PML-Like Minded and Bushra Gohar of the ANP are the ones, who at least participate in question-hour session of the National Assembly.