Workshop on Strategizing Women’s Substantive Political Representation

Workshop report

“Women nominated on quotas are usually party-bound and they have to follow party-line first and if they disagree with the party, they stay aloof,” said an MNA Nafeesa Khattak during the hbs workshop on “Strategizing Women’s Substantive Political Representation”, held in Islamabad on July 13, 2016.

Women rights activists and parliamentarians stressed the need for progressive legislation and its implementation, and change in political and social culture for political empowerment of women. They expressed these views during a day-long workshop on “Strategizing Women’s Substantive Political Representation”, organized by the Heinrich Boell Stiftung (hbs) in Islamabad on July 13, 2016. The workshop was aimed to bring together relevant stakeholders to strategize how hbs can support the efforts for substantive representation of women in politics in Pakistan in the years to come. The workshop was a follow-up activity of the research study “Bridging the Fault Lines? Rethinking the Gender Quota Approach in Pakistan”, authored by Dr. Farzana Bari, launched by Heinrich Boell Stiftung on January 25, 2016. The study critically reviews quota designs, practices and experiences of women parliamentarians on both quota and general seats and can be downloaded The hbs project “Strategizing Women’s Political Representation” sets out to connect the dots between academic research insights, and every day experiences of women’s rights activists and women parliamentarians.

The workshop was conducted by Dr. Andrea Fleschenberg, long-term DAAD guest professor at Quaid-i-Azam University Islamabad. Dr Fleschenberg gave a detailed presentation on state of the art research on substantive representation of women in politics and highlighted ways of accessing and transforming power and the role of informal institutions and gender equality institutions/mechanism. She underlined that there has to be a shift from focusing on the performance of individual women to structural obstacles, like quota designs.

Followed by her presentation, the participants shared that in 2002, 2008 and 2013 elections, the political parties made tall promises for political empowerment of women, but these promises were never materialized fully. They said that the problem with lesser or limited political participation of women primarily lies in the political patriarchy, which is reflected by the political system as well as the political culture and stressed the need for more pragmatic steps including legislation for effective women’s participation in politics.

Activist Shahida Shah from Khwendor Kor said that in provinces like Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the quota system is workable and suitable because women cannot contest independently in elections due to social, cultural and tribal norms, restrictions and conservatism. Thus, the quota system is effective in a way that it at least provides them an opportunity to remain part of the political process, she added. PTI MNA Nafeesa Khattak said that not only in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa one may find conservative attitude and limited space for women in the political arena, but in interior parts of Sindh and Punjab provinces also one may find same conservative attitude towards women’s political space.

PMLN MNA Rumina Khurshid Alam said that the ruling party is going to table an anti-harassment bill in National Assembly soon, adding that there were many pro-women laws available, but unfortunately these are not properly implemented.

Waseem Wagha, a human rights activist from Aurat foundation, said that before 1970s parliamentary business was all about policies and legislation and everything was in place, but Martial law in 1978 by Ziaul Haq brought change and now one may find legislators more interested in delivery of services and development funds than legislation which is their actual job.

The participants were divided into three working groups to discuss and devise a strategy for “women’s political effectiveness” (Goetz Hassim 2003), informed by the recommendations drawn from the 2015 research study conducted by Dr Bari. Each group prioritized three necessary steps on how to improve women’s political effectiveness in two different political arenas i.e. political system and political campaigning, and the state and bureaucracies based on a matrix developed by the researchers Anne-Marie Goetz and Shireen Hassim[1]     

The group participants pinpointed that there is need to enhance capacity of the parliamentarians on parliamentary procedures, rules of business, international human rights law and treaties, and legal and constitutional knowledge as most of them coming on reserved seats lack the capacity.

The participants mapped out steps to be taken to move beyond the gender quota in parliament and capacity building. They envisioned a law that puts women into decision-making positions in political parties’ leadership and an increase in tickets for women on general seats in the assemblies. The participants further emphasized the need for a shift of the expectations on parliamentarians’ work away from development work to a renewed focus on legislation. In order to increase legislative effectiveness they identified access to different caucuses through networking and communication between MNAs and MPAs as a key issue. Apart from this, the participants also discussed gender-budgeting and were of the view that women parliamentarians should be allocated separate/special budget at provincial and national level.

One of the participants underlined the role of media and said that media only shows the appearance and looks of female parliamentarians rather showing their work. There is need to sensitize media on substantive political representation of women.

Marion Regina Mueller, Country Director, hbs, in her concluding remarks thanked the participants for their valuable input and said that hbs will develop its strategy based on the results of the workshop taking the considerations of the participants into account.


[1] Goetz, Anne-Marie and Hassim, Shireen (2013): “No Shortcuts to Power. African Women in Politics and Policy Making”