By Sajjad Amin Bangash
Women compose an equal contour of any society and without women, no society can grow and prosper. Women are mothers, sisters, wives and come in many relation to the men they exist in any society. God created men and women equal in all respect and it’s the human behaviors and attitudes towards women who kept the women either ignored or given less privileged and equal rights to demonstrate, participate and contribute in the development, prosperity and progress of any society and country. Woman is one of the best creatures of the universe. She has been equally endowed with in terms of intellect, prudence and rights as man has been.
The last two decades have witnessed an increasing emphasis on women’s empowerment as gender has moved at the center of contemporary development debates. International commitments like the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) have brought women’s empowerment as an extremely important component of all development interventions across the globe.
Women’s empowerment has been approached with a variety of rationales such as women’s empowerment through improved access to educational opportunities, women’s empowerment through participation in the political process and provision of economic opportunities including but not limited to micro-credit programs.
My key argument is that economic participation alone does not lead to women’s empowerment. Access to labor market does not improve the status of women within the household hierarchy and does not influence the power relations in their favor.
Empowerment is a highly relative and complex concept which has different articulation for different individuals, though it is not possible to tackle with empowerment at an individual level. Empowerment is a state of mind which has to come from within and cannot be granted by any outside actor.
What the outside actor like Government, NGOs and Donors can do is to create a conducive women friendly environment which enables them to exercise their fee will and choices in life. Providing women with a social space free of discrimination, violence and fear is the first step. Women’s empowerment is a process that challenges and transforms the patriarchal beliefs and institutions that reinforce and perpetuate women’s inequality.
With the advent of 21st century, what we have been witnessing is a a complete paradigm shift and reemergence of awareness among people of the world especially the societies of under-developed countries have been benefiting from this global awakening and swarming. The technologies such as mass media, social media networks and modern trends which have revamped the entire philosophical, geographical and geological shapes of societies.
People now are more aware, liberal and free to raise the oppressed voices all over the world and can be heard. This has led to a realization that along with men, women have equal partnering and contributions in the hierarchical structure of decision making process and by which women have to be given equal proportionate share of representation in the economical, political, and physiological empowerment. Politics is one such obvious platform where women’s contributions play an equal importance and leverage. It is essential that the relevant state organs take all necessary measures to eliminate discrimination against women.
The role of women parliamentarians is considered critical not only in terms of raising issues and concerns relating to women at public forums so that these are reflected in all public policy, but also, it is critical for ensuring that women gain equitable access to resources, knowledge and institutions. Their meaningful role can make an impact in changing the nature of politics from the present patriarchal and masculine complexion to a more democratic and feminine outlook by mainstreaming gender perspectives into civil and political discourse; and by performing a key role in law-making and approval of budgets; participating in discussions on specific issues and directly influencing policies and programs. Women parliamentarians in the 13th National Assembly (2013-2018) have demonstrated, through their multi-pronged endeavors that their presence in the House had a purpose.
Despite the fact that a majority of the women parliamentarians were elected for the first time, they show a keen interest in learning and applying the rules; and as the National Assembly completing its five-year term in 2018, they are carrying an enviable record as compared to their male colleagues in key areas of legislative interventions, for example they asked 27% of the total questions; 30% of the total calling attentions notices; 42% of the total private members bills; and 24% of the total resolutions. “Parties could promote and ensure greater inclusion of women in decision-making and leadership positions within parties and the political parties could be required to nominate a minimum proportion of women candidates to contest on winnable general seats. Equal electoral participation of women is essential to the legitimacy of democratic processes and structures.
Benazir Bhutto is the first female politician who became the first female Prime Minister and Pakistan is the first Islamic country to honor it. Benazir Bhutto was the daughter of former revolutionary leader Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto of Pakistan People’s Party.
Women in Pakistan are now equally participating in the political process of Pakistan as more and more political parties are gearing for political empowerment.
Affirmative action measures for the reservation of seats for women at the grassroots and at the macro level contributed to transforming the political culture for women in Pakistan, though women legislators appear to be handicapped in their endeavors in several ways. One obvious reason for this is the indirect nomination system of election to secure reserved seats, which deprives them of the opportunity of dealing directly with the electorate and hampers their entry into mainstream politics. Women’s representation should not be limited to ‘quotas through nominations’. The sooner women develop their own constituencies through an established mechanism the more progress they will make. There is an urgent need for political parties to introduce internal party quotas for women either voluntarily or the state should make it mandatory through an amendment in the law.
Although the notion of having 60% seats reserved for women has been achieved in Pakistan, but the question is how many of them win on direct seats. Most of them are nominated candidates who either belong to an influential family or have a political backup. It is not to deny the fact that there are, and have been, charismatic and competent women leaders like Sherry Rehman and Benazir Bhutto. They are part of a small, but significant, number of women who have marked their place in the country’s political arena. In the present scenario, women’s liberty in Pakistan does not necessarily make any point because there are no charismatic leader after Benazir Bhutto who could get elected on their own strength in unreserved constituencies and also it will take a long time for women’s emancipation to reach acceptable levels that are prevalent in a more democratic society like India”.
The Youth Factor: Will it make a difference?
The youth in Pakistan have not played any significant role in the elections until now, but this time, they are expected to play a major role in the whole process.
The PTI (Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf) and the PML-N (Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz) are focusing on the youth and both have developed special schemes, youth policies, and are giving 25% tickets to the youth in order to wow them. The PML-N has started a laptop programme and loan schemes for the youth. To some extent, the factor of Imran Khan in the PTI, being a former star cricketer is also attracting the youth to his party, but Imran Khan has done lots of developmental work like the creation of a University and Hospital which are also connecting people to his party and adding to his appeal.
The PTI has been extremely active in the social networking sector, which is a new front being opened in politics; they have special cells which have been working very quickly on the updates. The young people are the show runners on most of these networking sites and they do campaign on these sites. One comment against Imran Khan and these pages becomes a hotbed of comments and counter comments. But whether this networking factor will be able to play out at the polling station remains to be seen. The middle class in Pakistan, like in India, is abdicated from the state so it is to be seen if the social media this time brings this section in the political sphere. If it happens, it needs to be welcomed as it could be a bit of a game changer in many urban seats.
For change to happen, to improve women’s rights in society, and women’s participation in elections, both men and women have to understand what the needs are and what the best is for society in the future. In Pakistan’s last elections, only 44 percent of eligible voters cast their ballots. This time, will the coming forward of tribal women and the way certain parties are trying to involve the youth make an impact on the election process or not would be clear only after the elections are over and the results announced.
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