May 012008

Fasi Zaka

I have always thought that women’s reserved seats in the National Assembly is a good idea. But the way they have worked out leaves a lot to be desired. The women from the religious parties were rubberstamps in the last elections. The PPP has some prominent women in their party, but a good deal of them had no political authority other than feeding into Benazir Bhutto’s need for confidants and sycophants. Currently, those elected are women who are related to the ruling coalition or sycophants within the parties who have been rewarded for being part of the party structures.

It was wrong to assume that getting women into parliament would somehow make decision-making better. That’s an argument that is derived from the stereotype of a woman’s supposed nurturing nature. Unfortunately, gender assumes insignificance if class becomes more important. A society begum will do nothing for the women employed in her household, to expect her to do something for women in general once she is in parliament is unrealistic.

A slight diversion now. I welcome the judiciary rescinding the BA rule as a precondition to get elected. The rule was highly discriminatory and inegalitarian; in effect, it was the government penalising the people for a failure to provide them with education. Also, the previous parliament demonstrated that education is no guarantor that parliament will hold the interest of the people, and not themselves, supreme.

But I suggest the BA rule be kept for the reserve female MNA’s. And not just a BA rule, but a whole range of other conditions. For example, if a woman’s husband is already an MNA in the parliament, it makes no sense to award his wife a reserve seat. Second, there are a lot of women in Pakistan who work for special interests in the country, like acid burn victims and the like. They need to make their way to parliament. Even academics who are women, having them in parliament will help inform the legislative process. The best thing would be if the women in the reserve seats are not card-carrying members of political parties, they would be more inclined to do what’s right as opposed to just following the dictates of the party.

Once elected and their term is over, these women should not be allowed to be re-elected for another term, to spread out the number of women who get access to the inner workings of politics and government.

When they go back to their professions they will be able to make the grassroots connection of their primary work to policy much easier.

Right now the prominent women in parliament may just have too much to be grateful for. With women who have a whole life beyond serving a party to get a slice of the pie, there is the likelihood that they will bow to unreasonable demands or willingly be silent spectators to discourse. We have to remember that most of these women in parliament are not those who have campaigned hard to better the lot of their gender prior to getting elected.

Just look at what’s happening with the women from the previous government. I just don’t find it credible when Kashmala Tariq and Nilofer Bakhtiar find a conscience after their party loses the elections. Their explanations for moving away from their party in forward blocs or reformer groups sound disingenuous.

In good times these parliamentarians (who came in through party nominations and not direct elections) did everything they could for photo-ops with the senior leadership of the PML-Q, and their benefactor, President Pervaiz Musharraf. But despite the snake in the grass tint in the intentions of these particular parliamentarians, one of the functions they are serving is indispensable.

Precisely because Kashmala Tariq is not invested so radically in the process, she can raise her voice, and to be fair after these elections, the PML-Q is in need of radically reworking its leadership style in order to stay relevant.

The very act of having women in parliament has become redundant because social and clique reproduction is taking place. The same sycophants, spouses of industrialists and feudals, are making their way into parliament; the only difference is now gender. We still need reserve seats in parliament for women, but the institution needs radical reform. Otherwise it is just another junket to be thrown around.

The writer is a Rhodes scholar and former academic. Email: fasizaka@
Source: The News, 1/5/2008

 Posted by at 6:53 am

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