Women and politics


Obstacles to equal participation are deeply embedded in social and cultural patterns



A few decades back, the glass ceiling was considered to be the reason why the arenas of power were dominated by men. The concept stresses out the impossibility of women to advance on the scale of professions higher than they already have, claiming that women do not lack ambition or strong will, but they are kept from doing so by invisible obstacles. The glass ceiling is described as ‘those artificial barriers based on attitudinal or organisational bias that prevent qualified individuals from advancing upward in their organisation into management level positions’. Invisible and impossible to overcome, it is not found only at the top of the pyramid, but also in middle-management and where minorities are concerned.

It was the feminist movement that drew attention that experts ought to look into the issue of gender difference in political matters. They set about building up a new type of paradigm, where critics pointed out flaws in the state and politics which undermined gender equality in the favour of men. The state, the political system, and the positions of power were masculine. The glass ceiling made it hard for women to obtain and secure their places in the same way men did.

Women gained political participation after the Second World War and the Suffragist movement, when they tried to attain their representation in the power echelons through political participation, but being less in numbers and low in effectiveness, they couldn’t change or alter the patterns of development. While in the Pakistani scenario, Fatima Jinnah headed the central committee of the Muslim League that was appointed by the Quaid. This led to the mobilisation of the women on the political front. Quaid-e-Azam stated that “It is a matter of great happiness that Muslim women are also undergoing a revolutionary change. This change is of great importance. No nation in the world can progress until its women walk side by side with the men”.

Women gained political participation after the Second World War and the Suffragist movement, when they tried to attain their representation in the power echelons through political participation

Women have had to face obstacles with regard to their political participation. The socio-economic factors as well as existing traditional structures are considered as barriers to their advancement in all fields of life. In 2008, the rate of female representation stood at 17.7 percent globally and this minimal representation shows that women have had to cover a long distance for the ideal parity in politics.

There is a need of full and equal participation of women in policy making in order to promote gender fair government. Efforts are being made to increase women’s participation through legislative measures like gender quotas which are being implemented at a remarkable rate all over the world. Gender quotas are increasingly viewed as an important policy measure for boosting women’s access to decision-making bodies. The basic purpose of a quota system is to recruit women into political positions in order to limit their isolation in politics. The political uplift of women lacks economic bases because of their low level of literacy. It was 45.2 percent for females in 2009-10 as compared 69.5 percent for men.

Women are present at different levels of their representation like union council, provincial assembly and the parliament. Seemingly it is being realised that they have little power to achieve change due to the non-supportive structure of the bureaucracy. In this regard there are structural constraints of the political system of Pakistan which domesticated women even more.

In this context Pakistan’s politics is no exception and political ideas are not competitive ones. So the majority of the population mobilised along traditional patterns which further relegated the position of women in the society of Pakistan in-spite of getting their quotas at different levels of representation.

In Pakistan, the Devolution of Power Plan was adopted in March 2000, reserving 33 percent seats for women in legislative councils at the local, tehsil, municipality and district levels. In local councils, with an increase in the number of councils, about 70,000 women were gaining experience in self-government. However, members of the tehsil and district councils are indirectly elected by the elected councillors at the local level. Women in Pakistan also feel a clear benefit from the quotas. They have faced problems, including hostile male attitudes, lack of a constituency due to the process of indirect elections, and being at the mercy of the male councillors who elect them and often assign them to committees dealing only with ‘women’s issues’.

Efforts are being made to increase women’s participation through legislative measures like gender quotas which are being implemented at a remarkable rate all over the world

Nevertheless, they are making their presence felt. According to Farzana Bari, “The fact that a huge number of women had taken active political role itself triggered social change, creating waves in the country’s barnyards where traditional power structures still dominate the social and political lives of people”.

In Pakistan, the growth of militant Islamic fundamentalism has included special forms of discrimination against women. This happened in spite of equalitarian provisions in the original constitution of undivided Pakistan. The situation worsened dramatically with the “Islamist” regime of Ziaul Haq. Measures dating from Zia’s times include the Law of Evidence, in which a women witness has a status of half that of a male witness, and the Hudood Ordinance, under which the vast majority of women in prison today have been charged.

Moreover, at the central level, women’s participation in governance has seen a very slow movement forward. Programs of special representation have gone through several stages. All previous constitutions provided for reserved seats for women at both the provincial and national assemblies. The allotment of seats ranged from five to 10 percent and was only through indirect elections by the members of the assemblies themselves.

A request for a 30 percent reservation was expressed in 1988 by the National Campaign for Restoration of Women’s Reserved Seats and figured again in a “national consultation” organised by the ministry of women and development in 2001. Eleven political parties endorsed a 30 percent quota for women in the provincial and national assemblies. President Musharraf then presided over an act passed in 2002 which allocated 17 percent seats in the national and provincial assemblies and the senate to women.

60 (of 342) seats in the national assembly are three times more than the previous 20 seats they held. Women improved this quota when elections were held, winning 21.2 percent of the total seats, the highest percentage of all South Asian countries. The obstacles to women’s equal participation in governance are deeply embedded in South Asian social and cultural patterns. In the bureaucratic and political institutions, their participation is restricted due to traditional factors like the patriarchal nature of the society and the fact that politics is seen as a lucrative source of income and power which men attempt to control. This trend, however, is being reversed as more and more educated, talented and motivated women are entering into the field, who aim to make a difference not only in their lives, but in the lives of the entire nation.