In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, representation of women belonging to minority groups is negligible in assemblies. You! takes a look...
Even in this day and age, it is quite rare to see women taking up leadership roles especially in conservative society like ours. This becomes more evident in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), especially in case of minority groups, where female representation is lesser than usual, particularly in politics. It is hard to find women in the provincial assembly and national assembly as well as the senate. In various sectors such as health, banking, trade, commerce and specially education, these legislative bodies don't have effective representations.
The chief purpose of addressing this issue is to discuss the problem of social and political discrimination being faced by minorities in Pakistan, particularly in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Also, there is no seat for marginal students in most of the premier and historical educational institutes, while same is the case with professional colleges and universities, where hardly a single seat is allocated for them. Moreover, there are no specialized and well-organized schools, colleges and universities for Christian, Hindu and Sikh students who are the major minority communities in the province. Government and other institutions have also failed to promote women leadership. It is quite unfortunate that one of the ruling political parties in the province has failed to implement the allocated quota for minorities in educational institutes. There are many departments that don't have any place for people from the minority communities.
The question arises, if representatives especially women from minority groups will not come forward and take prominent positions, how can we expect a developed and prosperous Pakistan?
Haroon Khan, a keen observer and expert of gender studies, says, "It is the responsibility of every state to provide equal opportunities to all its citizens regardless of caste, colour and creed. But sadly, the rise of intolerance and extremism in the recent years makes minorities insecure. The question before them is now of survival instead of equal opportunity. The lack of education and abject poverty in such communities is also responsible for their woes."
One can't deny the fact that if there will be representation of minority groups particularly women in all spheres of life, it would be easy to prosper and achieve our national goals.
According to Prof Dr Fakhar ul Islam, a well-known scholar, researcher and Director of Pakistan Study Centre at the University of Peshawar, "Highlighting the need for minority women representation is a good idea. Minorities are part and parcel of our nation. Our prosperity lies in their prosperity. The non-representation of women is a serious issue. Partly, minorities themselves are responsible for this phenomenon. During elections for minority representation it has been observed that women are ignored while generally men receive some nominations. Therefore, it is important to consider women for the reserved seats. As far as the government is concerned, it should devise a plan through which their status could be improved. The Pakistan Study Centre, University of Peshawar has one reserved seat for minority students, whereas on merit basis, they can seek admission with no limitation on number of seats."
Safeguarding the rights of minorities and empowering their women is the need of the hour. The provincial government must take necessary steps in order to provide all possible support to these aggrieved and depressed communities.
"I object on the word 'minority' leaving the details aside on what the constitution of Pakistan says about their status. In my view they should be called non-Muslim Pakistanis. It is not just about the women, even male non-Muslim Pakistanis are not given their due share - particularly in governmental and educational departments. The policy speech of Quaid e Azam in legislative assembly dated 11th August, 1947 is totally ignored, which clearly indicates the secular nature of Pakistan. Everyone knows what a secular country offers to its citizens. In short, we are proud of our democracy but our behaviours are non-democratic, particularly towards women (Muslims and non-Muslims both)," laments Bakhtiar Agha, a Columnist and Vice President at the Awami Workers Party, Pakistan's KP chapter.
Establishing a strong and effective commission on provincial level, on the pattern of national commission of minorities, is necessary to address their issues. To find out the actual population of different communities, carrying out census is very much necessary as it would facilitate the government in establishing policies based on true facts and figures.
Associate Professor of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Peshawar, Dr Faizullah Jan shares similar views. "Calling any community 'minority' is a discrimination in itself, which hampers their upward movement in society. It is unfortunate that in countries like Pakistan, non-Muslims have been branded as minorities. This nomenclature itself is a stumbling block for these communities to aspire for equal rights. The state should not discriminate against its citizens on the basis of their religion or religious orientation. The minorities need to be made part of the mainstream society; for this purpose, they have all the right to equal representation in every decision making institution. But at the same time, there is a need for constitutional amendments to let them become part of the so-called 'mainstream society'," shares Dr Faizullah Jan.
A famous social activist and chairperson Women Parliamentary Caucus (WPC) in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa assembly, Meraj Humayun Khan, says, "Poverty and illiteracy are the basic reasons behind the lack of women leadership in minorities. Unfortunately, they have been ignored in almost all sectors of life, which affects their capabilities and talents to play any role in national development and prosperity."
Following the same vein, MPA Meraj Humayun states, "The present provincial government has taken many wise steps in this regard. Women Parliamentary Caucus in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly is fully devoted and it has established a joint working group to develop women without any difference. Until now, it has been found that there are no statistics of different minority communities in the province. That is why it has been decided to conduct a research in order to find out there exact population. WPC's progress is satisfactory and it is hoped, these efforts will bring a change in the lives of depressed women."
Regarding the representation of minority women in politics, Prof Dr Qibla Ayaz, a renowned religious scholar, member of Pakistan Council of World Religions (Faith Friends) and former vice chancellor of the University of Peshawar says, "When we look at minorities, Christians seem better as compared to other communities in the province. They have many prominent personalities presenting them at different platforms. However, the status of the Hindus and Sikhs is unsatisfactory. They have no leadership at almost all sectors of life. Similarly, they have been suffering the effects of illiteracy and poverty for a very long time. Therefore, they have no option but to rely on trade and business to meet their financial needs. Furthermore, there is no seminary or institute for their religious education."
"The government should focus on making the situation better for minority groups, particularly in health and education sector. Their youth should be trained with modern technical and vocational courses so that they can play a key role in order to progress. The University of Peshawar has two seats reserved for minority students at every discipline therefore other educational institutes should follow this trend," adds Dr Qibla Ayaz.
In a country where people are deprived of their basic rights and the government has failed to provide them with basic facilities, talking about giving minorities (women) their due share in the parliament seems like a distant dream!