Traditionally, politics in Pakistan has been a male domain, even despite us having a female prime minister way before even many in the Western world could manage to elect women politicians as leaders of the nation. The irony, however, is that it is the woman politician who spends more time in parliament – as men continue their sparring in rallies and at press talks. According to Fafen’s 2022-2023 report on parliamentary performance, women have outperformed men in both the National Assembly and the Senate with 36 per cent of the agenda coming up in the National Assembly put forward by them and 30 per cent of it in the Senate. Women parliamentarians also attended more sessions, with 66 per cent attendance in the National Assembly compared to 53 per cent by men. In the Senate, it was 68 per cent attendance for women as compared to 56 per cent by men.
And yet, despite women dominating the agenda orders of the day, the legislation or suggestions they proposed including the call for attention notices and resolutions were often ignored and not moved forward. This becomes all the more discouraging as women parliamentarians are believed to have focused on hugely important issues including inflation, unemployment, human rights abuses, the rights of children, the situation of women, and so on. But, like much else women try to raise their voice over, even in parliament their input has been ignored. In all this, one thing becomes clear: the high attendance of women members suggests an urgent need to bring more women into politics and parliament. At the moment, we are still not in a situation where women parliamentarians are in a strong position. For this, political parties have to take the lead. They must ensure they hand out electoral tickets to more women, so that women become equally strong players in politics and subsequently in parliament. That does not mean the abolition of reserved seats – which are affirmative action that has to continue till we come to a place where a woman can contest an election as freely and easily as a man. Even on reserved seats, perhaps it’s time to encourage more women political workers on these seats instead of favouring family ties over merit.
This is why reports like the one launched by Fafen are important since they shatter myths associated with women parliamentarians and should ideally also give pause to male members of parliament to do better. That would include listening to their women colleagues, encouraging them in mainstream politics, and – above all – actually attending parliament which is what their main job description is.