ISLAMABAD: Women’s rights campaigners have expressed concern over the minimal female presence in the new Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaaf government’s cabinets in the center, Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, urging the party to review its appointments.
“Pakistan’s politics and political parties are unfortunately male dominated and that’s why women lawmakers are not given the importance they deserve for being a parliamentarian,” said Farzana Bari, a gender specialist and women’s rights activist. She added that there is need to change the political culture in the country through mass awareness campaigns.
“Women make up 50 percent of Pakistan’s population and yet they are yet to be included in the decision-making process at the government level,” she said.
Bari said that activists and gender-equality organizations have been lobbying for increased inclusion of women in the country’s politics and decision-making processes, but much remains to be done.
“Legislation is the only solution for due share of female lawmakers in cabinets and other decision-making bodies,” she said, adding that female lawmakers in Pakistan have been historically more active in raising issues on the floor of parliament compared with their male colleagues.
In the July 25 general elections, PTI emerged as the single largest party in the center and the provinces of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where it has now formed governments.
The 24-member cabinet in the center appointed by new Prime Minister Imran Khan, the PTI leader, includes only three women: Dr. Shireen Mazari, Zubaida Jalal and Dr. Fehmida Mirza. In Punjab, Dr. Yasmeen Rashid is the only woman in the 23-member cabinet, and there are no women at all in the 15-member cabinet of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.
Alia Amirali, deputy secretary of the Women Democratic Front, said that political parties in Pakistan, including PTI, like to portray themselves as progressive and supporters of women’s rights while campaigning, but fail to recognize the importance and potential of women when in power.
“Our women are educated and vibrant and they want to play their role in the nation building but our male-dominant politics fails them,” she said. The situation for women will not change, she added, until female lawmakers of all party affiliations speak up for their rights, inside and outside the parliament.
“If the women lawmakers cannot get their own due rights, how will they fight for rights of ordinary girls and women in villages and remote areas?” said Amirali. “No nation can develop without the active participation of women, and our rulers need to realize this fact as early as possible.”
Professor Tahir Malik, an academic and political analyst, said political parties largely ignore women lawmakers when appointing members of the cabinet and other decision-making bodies, believing that they have already adequately accommodated female lawmakers simply by granting them seats in the parliament.
“The situation is likely to remain the same until more women become members of the parliament by winning direct elections, instead of being elected on reserved seats,” he added.
Azhar Laghari, PTI’s head of public relations, said that his party holds its elected women in high esteem and will give them more cabinet positions in the coming months.
“You will see more women ministers in the center and provinces where the PTI is in government after the cabinets are expanded in next few months,” he said. “Ours is the only party that has effectively raised women’s issues at all forums and we will continue doing so, besides increasing their strength in the cabinets.”