By Noran Elashi
Women’s political participation and protection of women’s rights has always been a challenge in the Developing countries. Despite the fact that Pakistan is a developing country with a developing economy yet women have actively been attempting to take part in government, and development of female-oriented civil society.
Women participation in politics has always played a great role in the political stage since the reform of Pakistan in 1947 where Fatimah Jinnah sister of the founder of Pakistan Muhammad Ali Jinnah, had an active participation in the political sphere and that had been an inspiration to all women in Pakistan.
The Constitution of Pakistan asserts the protection of women’s rights under national legislation. While human rights concepts can be found from the preamble onwards. Article 25 under the chapter of fundamental rights of citizens highlights the principles of women’s equality in the Pakistani constitution. Article 25 clearly guarantees equality before the law and equal protection of the law stating that there shall be no discrimination on the basis of sex. Furthermore, The Chapter on Principles of Policy - Article 32 and 34 ensures full participation of women in all spheres of national life. 1
However, in reality, women’s political marginalization and other forms of gender discrimination continue to be the norm. Pakistan has experienced extensive violence within the political sphere against women and men alike. Cases of women who have suffered Political violence include the former Prime Minister Ms. Benazir Bhutto who was assassinated in 2007. Another case of Women’s rights activist and Punjab Minister for social welfare, Ms. Zille Huma Usman who was also assassinated in public view in 2007. Most recently the case of Malala yousafzai, the co-recipient of the 2014 Nobel Peace prize; Malala was mainly known for raising awareness for women rights and education rights in her native Swat Valley in Northwest Pakistan. She survived a shot in the head in 2012. There are several other cases of suppressing women’s participation in politics such as barring women from voting or expressing threats especially in the province of Punjab and Khyber Pkhtawon (KP).
Pakistan ratified The Convention of Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in 1996, with the condition that it will not draft any policy and/or law which is repugnant to Islamic principles .2
“Despite passage of many years there are a lot of areas where it is not implemented. Significant problems in Pakistan persist with regards to participation of women as voters as well as candidates” - said Farkhanda Aurangzeb, a women rights activist and representative of Aurat Foundation.3
Moreover, some political parties have created women’s wings such as Pakistan Tahrek Insaf Women’s Wing. Opinions varies regarding this structure, some perceive it as another form of discrimination against women that isolates them further, while others believe it is one of the key strategies to promote women’s access to politics. Still women’s participation in government remains limited. Regardless of the strong representation in the national legislature ,the fundamentalist view of interpreting and implementing the country’s law deprives women of their fundamental right of equality provided for by the Constitution of Pakistan.
The main challenge Pakistan faces in the promotion and protection of women’s rights is to ensure the implementation of international obligations and constitutional provisions, besides enhance awareness and change entrenched societal attitudes relating to women and women’s rights.
The current political unrest in Pakistan seems to be reviving the advent of women’s political issues. Women’s participation in Pakistan Tehreek Insaaf (PTI) Protest among the past months noticeably reflects the increasing number of women participating in the political arena; Local women from different social backgrounds and different ages have been participating in the PTI protests, that were once limited to women belonging to political families or with political background.
As reported in Counter Punch an Amnerican political magazine, “A large number of women and children are taking part in these sit-ins. According to law enforcement agency reports, more than 30 percent of the participants are women. This is the first occasion in the history of Pakistan that women have participated in a major anti-government movement in such large numbers. A new era has emerged in Pakistan as men and women have joined hands in this growing social movement for political change – and women’s inclusion has proven increasingly effective.” 4
Overall, the growing participation of women in the political sphere, despite severe obstacles, such as cultural resistance, discrimination patriarchy, religious extremism and religious misconceptions and unequal social power structures, is a positive step in the right direction.
(1) Pakistan constitution 1973
(2) Aurat Foundation (2012) Pakistan NGO Alternative Reporton CEDAW
(3) Women rights activists demand implementation of CEDAW - MARCH 8, 2013 BY STAFF REPORT
(4) The New Face of the Anti-Government Movement
Progress in Pakistan Depends on Women’s Participation
by Rizwan Zulfiqar Bhutta - AUGUST 28, 2014 available onhttps://www.counterpunch.org/2014/08/28/progress-in-pakistan-depends-on-womens-participation/