Gender Action Manifesto launched

Event report

Representatives of political parties and civil society all echoed in same voice for the increased representation and participation of women in decision-making forums in the political and social arena by ensuring level-playing field to them. They shared these views at the launching of the Gender Action Manifesto, policy paper, organised by the Heinrich Boell Stiftung in collaboration with the Women's Parliamentarian Caucus on 13th October, 2017 in Islamabad.

The Gender Action Manifesto, co-authored by Prof Dr Andrea Fleschenberg and Rabeea Hadi, has been prepared based on debates, discussions and recommendations made during a national consultation process.  The Manifesto has two parts. The first part reviews the manifestos of the years 2008 to 2013 of all major political parties wherein Rabeea Hadi has identified gaps in gender-specific commitments and subsequent actions with regard to legislation in manifestos of mainstream political parties.

While, in the second part, Dr Andrea Fleschenberg, discusses in detail the policy-level framework through putting spotlights on Access: agenda-setting for women’s political participation and empowerment; Presence: agenda-setting for women-specific legislation and policy-making; and Influence: agenda-setting for women in decision-making in bureaucracy, judiciary, and law enforcement.

The event was attended by representatives of almost all major political parties including Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PMLN), Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), Muttahida Qoumi Movement (MQM), Jamiat Ulema Islama- Fazal (JUIF), Pakistan Muslim League Functional (PMLF), Jamaat-e-Islami (JI),  Awami National Party (ANP) and Qoumi Wattan Party (QWP); and representatives from civil society, concerned government institutions and the German Embassy

Speaking on the occasion, Jacqueline Wilk, hbs Deputy Director, said that with election fever around, this was an ideal time for civil society, women’s rights activists and female politicians themselves to seek more commitments and resolves from political parties in their respective manifestos.  She said: “We hope that the “Gender Action Manifesto” will not only provide political leadership, experts and practitioners a deeper understanding of policy level issues pertaining to women and gender, but also help political parties at federal and provincial levels to formulate their policies and laws through a gender lens.”

Deputy Head of Mission for German Embassy Dr. Jens Jokisch said that Germany has also experienced a decline in the percentage of women in the German parliament during the recent elections dropping to 31 percent. “This must be 50 per cent if we want our legislator to be a true representative of the overall population,” he said adding that the focus of the German government is to bring women on quotas in the mainstream economy such as in the board of governors of organizations. He said the true potential of a country could be unleashed only through empowering women.

While stressing the need to first registering women as voters, National Commission on the Status of Women (NCSW) Chairperson Khawar Mumtaz said that for actual representation of women, it is important to provide maximum number of women with their Computerised National Identity Cards (CNICs) as these are not just for the sake of elections, but also to bring progress in one's life. She also highlighted the value of vote in a democratic state and how women should have easy access to having their identification cards made along with having the freedom to vote according to their will and preference. She went on claiming ownership of the issue by outlining the crucial role of NCSW in this regard. 

In the second part of the event, hbs Deputy Director Ms Jacqueline Wilk presented a detailed presentation on the findings and recommendations of the Gender Action Manifesto followed by a panel discussion.  Women parliamentarians from all major political parties, including  Deputy Speaker Sindh Syeda Shehla Raza (PPP), MNA Arifa Khalid (PMLN) , MNA Nafeesa Khattak (PTI), Senator Sitara Ayaz (ANP), MNA Aasiya Nasir (JUI-F), MNA Dr Fouzia Hameed (MQM)), MNA Aisha Syed (JI)and MPA Nusrat Sehar Abbasi PMLF) were on the panel which was moderated by renowned gender expert Ms. Rukhshanda Naz.

In the course of the discussion, the panelists deliberated on their respective party’s manifesto and highlighted how gender components have been incorporated. While highlighting the successes, they also shed light on difficulties being faced by them in making their space and voice heard by the top party leadership which is mainly ruled by men. Senator Sitara Ayaz of ANP was of the view that there should be a joint effort towards having an increased number of women in judiciary and bureaucracy for more effectiveness and influence at policy level forums.

Commenting on the recently passed Bill on five percent women quota on general seats, Nusrat Sehar Abbasi of PMLF said that most of the political parties will field women candidates in those constituencies which are not their strongholds and where they can face a sure defeat. She, however, lauded the legislation and said this will at least bound the political parties and pave the way for women to contest on general seats.

Syeda Shehla Raza took centre stage to talk about the legacy of extraordinary women in PPPP and the efforts and sacrifices of those party leaders reflected in the party's manifesto. She seconded the view of other fellow parliamentarians on the need to increase the role of women in decision making forums within the parties like core committees and central executive committees.

Besides, almost all the panelists held common ground on the CNIC issue and Aisha Syed of JI said a big number of women in the provinces like Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkwa do not have their ID cards, thus making them unable to cast votes. All political parties need to make collective efforts to ensure registration of women with NADRA, she added. Furthermore, the panelists were unanimously agreed upon working to eradicate child marriages, forced marriages, marriage with the Quran and honor killings amongst various other issues that plague the society.

Regarding women quota in politics, there was mutual harmony on the subject that women who perform exceptionally well on reserved seats should be given a chance to contest on general elections and their jurisdiction to be increased accordingly.

Nusrat Sehar Abbasi (PMLF) opined that the basic gap lies between over-ambitious manifestos and the lack of their planning and implementation towards addressing and mainstreaming gender related issues. She was of the view that even though Pakistan is signatory to multiple conventions e.g. CEDAW, but the reality is quite contrary to obligations that we take upon ourselves, in the sense that we have failed to present our case in the international community and thus failed to provide solutions.

The panel discussion was followed by a question and answer session and many interesting perspectives came to light. Julie, a representative of the transgender community raised a question about the representation and inclusion of the said gender to safeguard their dignity and ensure basic human rights for them. To which MNA Nafeesa Khattak of PTI said she herself was working for this cause and there have been positive developments in this regard and she assured that sooner there will be legislation on issue of transgender rights.

One of the participants commented unfortunately most of the women parliamentarians have to follow party lines and sometimes their stances are against their fellow women parliamentarians from opposition parties. To which the panelists said it was not the case in every situation and they can find women parliamentarians on same page and supporting on issues like maternal health and breast cancer among others no matter whether they are highlighted by the ruling or the opposition party.

Summing up the whole discussion, WPC’s Technical Adviser Huma Chughtai reiterated the urgent need for women parliamentarians to collaborate beyond party lines, to contribute to the society and help in overcoming problems of women in a more holistic sense, as there is of course pronounced strength in unity.