“…I think that we‘ve helped to change the Pakistani social fabric in this regard [to women] and now sometimes we even hear little girls say that they want to be members of parliament when they grow up which is great because when I was a little girl no one said that!” – Dr. Donya Aziz
iKNOW Politics: What was your motivation as a woman to get into politics?
I’m actually a medical doctor by profession and I went to Government College in Pakistan and worked in government hospitals as a medical student. I had grown up abroad as well and I was cognizant of the fact that health care didn’t have to be the way it was in Pakistan so, after finishing college and doing some post graduate research work, I went back to Pakistan. I don’t come from a political family, which is usually the mechanism to get into politics in Pakistan, but at the time that I returned, in 2002, they announced the Reserved Seats for Women, which was a mechanism for women to come in on a proportional representational process into parliament through parties and their lists. I thought this might be something I wanted to do, so I applied with my party and they put me on the list. My parents were super supportive and really encouraging so that’s basically how it happened.
iKNOW Politics: What challenges have you faced in your political career?
I think I had more challenges in my first term; I am now completing my second term. When I started my first term I was 26 and unmarried, in what was a conservative society.
Before the induction of so many women into politics in 2002, politics was seen as a not very savory profession for women, there were a lot of insinuations and ideas floating around of what women in politics are like and how they get there and I think that one of the largest challenges I had was trying to break that impression. In my first term, I used to cover my hair; I was very quiet and used to dress very conservatively and I would observe everything rather than be vocal and/or express my opinion. I think that it was a collective effort from all of us, women in parliament, at that time to break that kind of ideology that people had about women in politics and because we worked hard and produced results, I think that we‘ve helped to change the Pakistani social fabric in this regard and now sometimes we even hear little girls say that they want to be members of parliament when they grow up which is great because when I was a little girl no one said that!
iKNOW Politics: Why do you think that alliances and women caucuses are important for women parliamentarians?
I think that the reason why they are important is because there is always safety in numbers. All of those clichés and adages apply that, as a ‘group you can do more than as a single person’ and our experience in Pakistan has shown that it really does work that way. When you have 75 women speaking with the same voice it is much more powerful that having 75 women saying 75 different things. So it’s incredibly important and I know that in Pakistan if we had not had the caucus we would not have been able to pass the landmark legislations that we have passed.
iKNOW Politics: What methods of political financing have you found most effective, in terms of campaigning and forming caucuses?
For me, since I don’t come on a general seat, mine is a nominated seat through my party, personal campaign financing is not something I’ve had to do personally. In terms of the caucus, you really have to be a smart politician about how you’re going to fund it. We do not have any regular government funding in the caucus. The reason being that we felt that if we took government money on a regular basis then eventually we would be subjugated to a ministry or a bureaucrat, which is not what we wanted. We had a one-time donation from the Prime Minister’s Fund and we have a lot of ongoing relationships with various donors. We do also have a membership fee but it’s so nominal I think it only takes cares of refreshments for the caucus or something like that.
iKNOW Politics: What recommendations would you make to States to ensure there is a more level playing field between women and men when it comes to political financing and campaigning?
I think we see that, across the globe, in different societies and cultures, women do not have as much access to campaign financing as men do, for one reason or another. I think it is important for countries and election commissions in those countries to formulate stringent rules on what you can spend on your election campaign and they need to enforce those rules. If it is an amount that is manageable then the playing field is leveled, but if it is an astronomical amount, then invariably, as most of the world is composed of developing countries, it is the men that have access to that money and not the women. Instead of looking for ways we can increase women’s access to that much money, I think we need to decrease everyone’s expenditure and make it more manageable.
iKNOW Politics: What would you say to young women to encourage them to get involved in politics?
If you choose to go into politics as a young woman, you’ll find that this is the most exciting work ever. You learn something new every day, you meet interesting people and you really learn how to solve problems on a large scale. The one thing I would say is, ‘Don’t ever think that you can’t do it’. Politics is about a bunch of different kinds of people getting together with different approaches to solve different kinds of problems and you will find that you’ll fit in somewhere so if this is something you think you want to do, then go for it and do it.