We have to shift the focus from women’s individual agency and capacity towards structural and constitutional constraints, to understand the barriers for women’s substantive representation in political decision making, says Dr. Farzana Bari in her research study “Bridging the Fault Lines? Rethinking the Gender Quota Approach in Pakistan”, launched by the Heinrich Böll Stiftung Pakistan on 26th January 2016 in Islamabad.
The research study “Bridging the Fault Lines Rethinking the Gender Quota Approach in Pakistan” critically reviews quota designs, practices and experiences of women parliamentarians on both quota and general seats. The study is part of the publication series “Reviewing the Gender Quota in Afghanistan and Pakistan” based on an action research project conducted by Dr. Andrea Fleschenberg and Dr. Farzana Bari in Afghanistan and Pakistan in 2015. As gender quotas worldwide and likewise in Pakistan continue to be surrounded by controversies and debates, the study sets out to understand the contradictory reality of women’s political representation through the prism of multiple theoretical frameworks and empirical insights. It examines the nature of democracy, institutional and socio-cultural frameworks, political parties and the ways in which formal and informal rules, structures and practices of candidate selection and recruitment impact on women’s substantive representation in legislation and policy making in Pakistan.
On 25th January, Heinrich Böll Stiftung launched the research study and discussed the findings with parliamentarians, experts, intellectuals and civil society. In her presentation, Dr. Farzana Bari highlighted that the quota provisions in Pakistan are problematic, as an indirect selection for reserved seats takes place by the male party leadership. Although women, according to her analysis, aspire for leadership roles and participation at various level of the polity in increasing numbers and there is a high level of legislative performance of female MPs, as compared to male colleagues, they still face issues of political credibility. One of the main challenges faced by women MPs in Pakistan’s political environment, she identifies in her paper is the quota modality in place. It leads to restrictions in the accumulation of political capital and sustainable constituency-building, thereby undermining the quality of gender representation and women’s political mainstreaming. This was underlined by the women parliamentarians in the panel discussion. Marvi Memon, Member National Assembly (PML-N) on a reserved seat for women said that although she had good experiences in her party and constituency, there is no political legitimacy without general seat. Shafqat Mehmood (MNA, PTI), member of the electoral reform committee said that besides talking about direct election for women, one could also suggest variations in the modalities of the reserved seats. Dr. Andrea Fleschenberg, long-term DAAD guest professor at Quaid-i-Azam University Islamabad and author of the Afghanistan study of the research publication series pointed out that the indirect election on reserved seats is a specific form of quota designs, which is particular to South Asia and referred to the comparative policy brief “Unmaking Political Patriarchy through Gender Quotas?” in which she and Farzana Bari have discussed different modalities of quota systems.
Dr. Farzana Bari also highlighted during her presentation that male-dominated parliamentary culture and andocentric state institutions leads to constraints in terms of government oversight and pro-women policy making for women parliamentarians. Shazia Marri, Member National Assembly (PPP, general seat) emphasized that Pakistan is a chauvinistic society, and that there is a long way to change people’s mindset in public as well as private life. She pointed out that women have to struggle a lot more than their male counterparts and make sacrifices, to challenge this mindset also within the own party structures. Neehal Hashmi (Senator, PML-N) said that men in Pakistan generally don’t like if women question their authority and it is therefore more difficult for them to be in politics, as they also have to build a constituency within the party, not only with voters. Also in his opinion women have to struggle and fight more. Saeed Ghani (Senator, PPP) argued that women have to make themselves winning candidates, a candidate who can get the votes, then no party would refrain from giving them the ticket, for this they have to work harder than men. However it was pointed out by the researchers that the focus has to shift from individual agency of women parliamentarians to structural and constitutional barriers. Dr. Farzana Bari highlights in her study that male dominated political parties in Pakistan serve as key gate keepers and obstacles to women’s substantive political representation. So there is a growing number of women contesting as independent candidates, not on party tickets. It was pointed out from the audience that during the local government elections women were not represented in large numbers. Marvi Memon (MNA, PML-N) underlined this in her statement regarding the women wings of political parties, which in her opinion have to be judged and revisit on the lines of how successfully they bring women into political decision-making processes, which, according to her opinion, they have failed in the recent local government elections. Nafeesa Khattak (MNA, PTI, reserved seat) on the other hand said that she only could come out of the house and join politics, because of the women wing of her party. Shazia Marri (MNA, PPP) said that women and men need to work together and their needs to be a revision whether or not these measures which are meant to bring women into politics have reached their goals. “Why do we need a “Women Development Ministry”, we need to develop men at the same time”, she argued. After women had worked so hard and not being recognized for it, she would like to see women on positions of decision making, e.g. a women federal minister.
Farzana Bari concluded that it was very interesting to see the discussion again circling around the individual struggle of women and their agency. Especially the male parliamentarians on the panel emphasized that women need to work hard, without recognizing the context and looking at the structures. She argued that there is a need to evaluate the nature of democracy, if it continues reinforcing elitist structures, instead of focusing on participation. In her opinion we have to ask, how the political parties are organized and analyze the social set-up. She stated that, if we continue to hope that women will cross these fault lines through their own effort, there won’t be much change in their participation in politics.