The role of women parliamentarians is considered critical not only in terms of raising issues and concerns of women at policy level, but also it is critical in ensuring that women gain equitable access to resources, knowledge and institutions. Their meaningful role can make an impact in changing the nature of politics from the present patriarchal and masculine complexion to a more democratic and feminine outlook by mainstreaming gender perspectives into civil and political discourse, performing a key role in law-making and approval of budgets, participating in discussions on specific issues and directly influencing policies and programmes in favor of women.
Keeping in view of women parliamentarian’s vital role, Strengthening Participatory Organisation (SPO) Peshawar arranged a day long networking meeting with women parliamentarians on June 25, 2010.
The meeting was attended by 30 participants including 12 women parliamentarians from ANP, PPP (P), PPP(S), PML (N), JI and JUI. Objectives of meeting were: • To highlight the main challenges faced by the women in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa • To assess the current role of women parliamentarians role in solving these issues • Key discussions to reflect a way forward drawing on their knowledge & experience • To create and strengthen linkages among women parliamentarians for women development irrespective of party affiliations in Khyber Pukhtoon Khwa
The meeting started with recitation of Holly Quran followed by a round of introduction. Zuhra, MER specialist gave an overview of SPO work in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa with its Vision & Mission and major activities. Arshad Haroon, Regional Head shared the meetings objectives and highlighted the importance of women parliamentarian’s role in lobbying/advocacy on key issues affecting the lives of women of Khyber Pukhtookhwa. He gave the ownership of this meeting to parliamentarians by saying that SPO provided an opportunity to them for getting together and formulating an action plan to address women issues in Pukhtoon Khwa legislative assembly.
Mrs. Sitara Ayaz, Minister for women development and social welfare, welcomed the initiative taken by SPO Peshawar. She further shared that we all were working on women issues irrespective of party affiliation. She said last year no significant legislation has been made to change women status, because ANP government was busy in IDPs issue. She mentioned that we had to make a women caucus like in national assembly. She informed that an inter-ministerial group of all women ministers existed but we also needed such a platform for women MPAs at provincial level. She informed that a provincial commission on status of women has also been formed recently, but still more guidance and capacity building of this commission is needed and CSOs can play their role.
Ms. Nasreen Khattak, ex-MPA (PPP-S), said that affirmative action for the reservation of seats for women at the grassroots and at the macro level contributed to transforming the political culture for women in Pakistan, though women legislators appear to be handicapped in their endeavors in several ways. One obvious reason for this is the indirect nomination system for election to secure reserved seats. It deprives them of the opportunity to deal directly with the electorate and hampers their entry into mainstream politics. Women’s representation should not be limited to ‘quotas through nominations’. The sooner women develop their own constituencies through an established mechanism the more progress they will make. There is an urgent need for political parties to introduce internal party quotas for women either voluntarily or the state should make it mandatory through an amendment in the law.
The opening session was followed by an open discussion on women issues and women parliamentarians’ role in solving these issues:
Education: MPAs from MMA & PML (N) shared openly that when they present a bill and resolution in assembly, it is kept on a side and they are instructed to keep silence. Women MPAs are given no power in legislation and development fund allocation for local constituencies. They were of view that education system should be gender sensitive and 10% quota should be fixed for women in jobs in education sector. They also felt the need of affirmative action for educated middle class women especially in employment. They linked women MPAs empowerment with party support. Nargis Semeen from PML (N) opined that the manifesto of political party should be gender sensitive.
Health: Women MPAs favored women staff appointments in hospitals in sections such as ECCG, X-rays and clerk section in order to make it more accessible by women patients. Tabasum from ANP shared that planning and research is needed for bringing some issues on the assembly floor. She requested SPO to support MPAs in this regard.
Economics: Women face lack of social protection, restriction on mobility, sexual harassment at workplaces, low daily wages as compared to men, low quality education, gender biasness in top level allocation, inheritance deprivation, lack of opportunities and ineffective government policies implementation. MPAs were of view that women issues can also be solved by creating income generating opportunities at grass root level. They stressed that other project like Bacha Khan Khud Rozgar scheme should be introduced but again all the focus should be on women development rather than benefiting few party workers.
Way forward: • Women parliamentarians recommended a need of a women parliamentarian forum for solidarity on women issues across party lines. • Exposure visit of the members of this forum is needed to other provinces for sharing experiences among women parliamentarians. • Capacity building of women parliamentarians for bills/resolution drafting and legislation process. • Research and planning support is needed by women parliamentarians to identify, advocate and move resolution/bill on assembly floor more affectively. • Confidence building workshops is also needed with party leadership and women parliamentarians in order to gather back up support and to bridge the gaps between party leaderships and women MPAs. • Affirmative actions should be taken regarding women issues on local, provincial & federal level. • Gender gaps should be tackled by making party manifesto and leadership gender sensitive. • Empowerment of women by having a strong and live women MPAs forum and using it for women development • Planning & analysis for bill presenting is needed followed by effective lobbying and strategy on assembly floor. • Advocacy on fund allocation to women MPAs is also needed.