Are Pakistani Women Represented?

Despite leading Muslim countries in ensuring political participation of women, Pakistani women lag behind men in the election process.

pakistani-womenThe first constituent assembly of Pakistan in 1956 ensured female suffrage and reserved seats for women. The 1970s witnessed the appointment of the first female elected to the National Assembly; election of the first female Deputy Speaker of National Assembly; appointment of the female Parliamentary Secretary; and election of the female candidate to the general national assembly (on general seat) and the senate.

In the following decade, female parliamentarians served as full cabinet ministers in Prime Minister Muhammad Junejo’s government. This trend continued with late Benazir Bhutto becoming the first female prime minister of a Muslim country.

Despite leading Muslim countries in ensuring political participation of women, Pakistan lags behind in fulfilling its commitment to Article 7 of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). Though the national and the provincial assemblies have 22 and 18 percent of female representation, the last election saw only six women being elected to the national assembly on the general seats.

Pakistani women still need to go a long way to guarantee political participation of women across regions. The disenfranchisement of women in Malakand, Bajaur, Buner, D.I. Khan, Dir (KP), FATA and Musakhel (Balochistan) have increased the importance of conducive social environment for women to exercise their right to vote. In the recent elections women have been stopped despite women-only polling stations established in the area.

The representation of People’s Act 1976 needs to be enforced and the Election Commission will have to exercise its legal authority. Recent statements in support of female voting rights by right-wing parties such as JUI (F) and JI are encouraging. However, the conditional support given should not go unnoticed either by the civil society or the Election Commission. Maulana Rahat Hussain of JUI (F) in his recent statement supported the voting right only “if they (women) veil themselves properly and are accompanied by men.”

In 2013 elections female voters constitute 37.4 million compared to the 48 million male voters

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The discrepancy in male-to-female ratio is disturbing for the total voting age population of 84.36 million.

According to the Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN) there are ten million unregistered women. One contributing factor is that women in rural areas remain unaccounted and do not have the National Identity cards. The other impediment are more customary in nature.

Overall 92 million have identity cards whereas only 84.36 are registered voters. According to the Final Electoral Rolls for the upcoming elections, female registered voters have increased by 5.5 percent compared to 2007 females voters list. Despite this increase, the ratio of females per 100 male voters has decreased by one percent.

The major political parties have fielded only 36 female candidates on the 272 total general national assembly seats for the 2013 elections. The break-up being: Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) 11 as against 15 in 2008; MQM 07 as against 05 in 2008; ANP 02; PML (N) 7 as against 6; PML (Q) 04 as against 08; and PTI 05.

The trend seen is that of reduction with PPP, and PML (Q) reducing the number of candidates, whereas PML (N) has increased only one more candidate. Surprisingly, PTI who has championed for social change have fielded only 05 candidates.

Clearly, the female representation in these political parties is weak. Seemingly, this can only be improved by improving the women vote bank-which at the moment is less than 40 percent. The political participation of women is an essential prerequisite to strengthen the democratic process in Pakistan. So far the electioneering remains a male contest.

Khalida Ghaus is the former Director of the Centre of Excellence for Women Studies; Chairperson in the Department of International Relations, University of Karachi, and Pakistan Centre for Democracy Studies. She is currently serving as the Managing Director of Social Policy and Development Centre in Karachi. Khalida has a PhD in International Relations.