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Embassy of Denmarks winning Essay on Women

Political participation in Pakistan

Women Political Participation in Pakistan
By Marium Siddiqui
Behind every successful man there is a woman.
Drafted perhaps with the intention of praising and appreciating
the efforts of women, the saying in my opinion does the exact
opposite. It restricts the role of women as being just that of a
support function and propagates the notion that in spite of doing
all the work they still require a man to be the face of their
achievement and accomplishment. The saying further reinforces
the belief that a womans place is in the background, applauding
her man as he rises up to the top and takes all the credit and
acclaim. Is that really how we want to position our women? As a
group that works silently but diligently all year long without
asking for any attention in return or do we want them to take
charge and lead us from the forefront? Will our appreciation and
encouragement of women be only restricted to the now overly
commercialized mothers or womens day or do we want to give
to give them actual empowerment by providing them with
opportunities to grow and prosper? Doing so in a country like
Pakistan which is so blatantly and unapologetically portrayed as
being a traditional, conservative and at times downright
radical nation may seem like an impossible task. However, a
closer look at the country suggests otherwise. Every day,
hundreds of women shatter stereotypes and break through
barriers to emerge as positive agents of change, reforming their
communities for the better. Whether it is Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy
showing the world the true spirit of Pakistan through her films,
Malala fighting for education in her community or Sabeen
Mahmud giving up her life in an effort to create a platform for free

speech and creativity, women all over Pakistan have been

stepping up to the challenge and demonstrating great initiative
through the setting up of various entrepreneurial ventures across
the country. While women take the lead in health, education and
various other fields there however still exists one area that to
some extent remains devoid of the presence of women; politics.
Contrary to popular belief, the participation of women in politics
does not solely comprise of contending for an office position but
can range anywhere from voting, participating in political rallies
or just writing a letter to ones state authority. Perhaps its the
tarnished image of our government sector or an overall social
taboo attached with the profession that keep women at bay but a
positive change in the situation has been observed given the
recent efforts of various women activists in the country. The last
elections of 2013 saw a 130% increase in the number of women
contesting for generals seats where 150 women filed nomination
papers to run for the national assembly whereas 313 women ran
for seats in the provincial assembly. Compared to the elections of
2008, these facts although seemingly promising however, do not
present the complete picture of the situation. In the National
Assembly out of the total 342 seats only 60 have been allocated
for women. This brings their representation to a mere 17%. The
senate represents the same picture where only 17 seats out of
the total 104 have been reserved for women meaning their
representation is only 16%. Moreover only ten women were able
to win unreserved seats in the provincial assemblies while only six
women won seats in the national assembly.
In view of such a dismal performance of women in occupying
unreserved seats, it may seem as though the quota system might
actually be working in favor of the women candidates however
such is not the case. The number of reserved women seats
allocated to each party is directly proportional to the number of
general seats they have won in the elections. It is then up to the

discretion of each party to allocate seats as they wish, a loophole

that leave room for bias allowing political connections to take
preference over merit. Without a proper process for nomination
and selection, chances of political favoring are increased as
certain political parties start to bargain seats in exchange for
support. Thus, while some deserving candidates get through, a
great many still lose out because of the absence of a clearly
defined set of nomination criteria. The situation is further
exacerbated for women who do not come from political
backgrounds but do possess the zeal, aptitude and motivation to
bring about a positive change in Pakistan. Already faced with
social and cultural barriers, women without political connections
or a strong financial base are almost never able to transform their
dream of a political career into reality.
Under pressure from various women groups and international
agencies, the government may have introduced a quota system
to promote women participation and as a result shown significant
improvements on paper but in reality without putting any real
thought behind the process these efforts remain merely cosmetic
at best. Increasing the political participation of women n Pakistan
is not as easy as reserving seats for them but requires a much
more deeper and well-coordinated effort that spans across
different social and cultural spheres. There is no denying the fact
that, Pakistan is a country that is already struggling with
educational reforms, battling security threats and fighting
economic stability; in the midst of all these issues the question of
women inclusion in politics might seem trivial to many when in
fact it is anything but. All across the world, we can find evidence
in countries that have been able to successfully turnaround their
economies just by empowering their women and allowing them to
occupy leading positions in the government. In India alone,
women-led councils initiated 62% more drinking water projects
than men-led councils. Norway too observed a casual relationship

between the number of women present in women council and the

extent of child coverage. Working with the same spirit, Pakistan
too can implement a positive and impactful change by attracting,
retaining and justly rewarding women in the field of politics.
There exists a great need to create awareness about the positives
of women participating in politics and how it is not as impossible
as it seems. Given the recent events in the country, the general
view about politics is quite a negative one. People usually
associate it with being a male-dominated field full with corruption,
dishonesty and immorality. This view needs to change by showing
the public real life examples of women working and succeeding in
the field of politics. A public-relations campaign that aims to
highlight current women working in assemblies or councils along
with their contributions can play a major role in helping counter
this perception. It should however be noted that women from
humble backgrounds should be shown here so that their success
story could serve as an inspiration for others. Showing women
belonging to political families could work out be counter-intuitive
at this point and further reinforce the belief that one needs
connections and stature to make it in the field.
This campaign could also in a way work as a gender sensitization
activity as it will let society observe women successfully heading
their leadership roles. Thus, helping limit the extension of the
stereotype women are bad drivers to women are bad leaders.
Even though Pakistan has progressed leaps and bounds in the
recent years in terms of womens progress the reality is that it still
remains to be a male dominated society where most men and in
fact even women believe that a womans place is at home, taking
care of the house and kids. With this campaign that perception
will be challenged allowing men and women to at least as a first
step start visualizing women in the leading roles within the
community as well as government entities. The campaign can
also feature the female workforce of the municipals or other

government bodies so as to let the public know that even

currently women are playing a major role in helping run the
administration of their towns and cities. This will give plenty of
women the confidence to step out their houses and participate
whether it is a political discussion or their own neighborhoods
committee elections thus taking the first step towards a career in
Another imitative that can facilitate women is the establishment
of incubation centers which already are quite common in the
corporate sphere. Here potential business ideas and ventures are
given a platform to develop their work and are provided with
supporting technology, proper training and guiding mentors.
Similar support centers can be created for potential female
political candidates or current civil advocates where they can be
provided with a space within which their political ambition is
strengthened and their path to success defined. Here they can
receive guidance by experienced professionals regarding efficient
fund allocation, relevant campaign agendas and be overall
groomed for a career in politics or public administration.
Surrounded by like-minded women, will not only be a morale
booster for the candidates but will also give them a chance to
mingle and learn from each others experiences, ideas and
knowledge. The platform will give deserving women a level
playing field to compete with their wealthier and politically more
astute counterparts.
Keeping in line with the same purpose, colleges and universities
can also be encouraged by initiating various competitions and
contests revolving around political themes. An example could be
to ask participants to analyze a particular bill and suggest
improvements in it. Winning ideas will get a chance to be actually
implemented if approved by the authorities. The exercise will give
students a chance to make an actual change while at the same
time the researching for the task will substantially increase their

knowledge pool and overall awareness about the field. Moreover,

an extensive internship or apprenticeship program could be also
be offered to the top performing female students pursuing a
degree in political science, international relations or any other
economic or political field. These students will thus get a chance
to witness firsthand a political organization, learn about its
processes and connect theory with practice in a relevant manner.
Once the women are motivated, trained and entered into the
field, it is important that barriers within the selection/nomination
process be minimized. As discussed before, parties usually
allocate seats based on their own judgments. A proper list of
criteria defining qualifications, education and experience should
be created, failing which candidates would not be allocated a
seat. Also, the inclusion of relatives of any party member must
firstly be discouraged however if under special circumstances be
approved must be done so after a committee review where the
proposed candidates eligibility and merit will be analyzed and
then a decision be made.
And finally, throughout the world various organizations are
working to promote a more entrepreneurial mindset in women at
the grassroots level and improve their overall participation on the
political front. Thus, collaborating with UN Women or NDI can help
our government in learning from and leveraging their plethora of
knowledge gained after working across multiple countries and
cultures. With their experience, the creation and implementation
of a proper set of policies, tools and action plans will be possible
in an effective and timely manner.
To conclude, women occupy more than 50% of the worlds
population but can still easily be one of the most underrepresented and under-appreciated segment of society. Taking
their daily hard work for granted most of us assume that a box of
chocolates on Womens day or a bouquet of flowers on Mothers

day is enough to show our gratitude. However, we do not realize

that this extremely vital segment possess the potential to reform
our administrative and public sectors dramatically. Given the right
kind of encouragement, training and opportunities, we can expect
great things from a segment that has been neglected for far too
long and yet has never wavered in its resilience or strength.
Hopefully the suggested initiatives act as the first step in creating
a long-term strategy aimed at increasing the participation of
women in politics.
Word Count: 2000 words