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May 6, 2019

Making room for women


May 6, 2019

There is a need for adequate women representation in governance structures including parliament, provincial assemblies, local governments, cabinets and decision-making forums at all levels as well as in the public sector employment, boards, committees, and task forces at various tiers. We refer to some literature (Pildat 2019, Punjab Gender Parity Report 2018) in this article to illustrate this further.

Low women’s participation in politics is a significant marker of gender inequality both in developed and developing countries. We are all aware that the constitution of Pakistan provides protection of women’s rights by declaring that “there shall be no discrimination on the basis of sex only” [Article 25(2)] as well as that all citizens are “equal before law” [Article 25(1)]. It also calls to make special laws for women and children [Article 25(3)], as well as to a call to make sure of the “full participation of women in all spheres of national life” [Article 34]. The 18th Amendment devolved women’s rights to provinces; and provincial women’s development departments, amongst others, are responsible for taking measures to promote gender equality.

It is no longer sufficient to count only the number of seats of Parliament held by women; it is also important to analyze whether women are in decision-making positions. Women have 20 percent seats in the National Assembly and 19 percent in the Senate, largely due to women being elected on a reserved quota. We have some women ministers in the cabinet as well. However, at the local government level, women’s representation through quotas has decreased to 22 percent, having come down from the earlier 33 percent. Fewer women win on general seats in local government elections. And even fewer women are elected to be nazims at local government tiers.

In the Punjab local government elections of 2015, there were 46 percent polling stations/booths for women, and 54 percent polling stations/booths for men, highlighting the gender disparity in election-day arrangements. This disparity is more glaring in terms of the outcome of the local government elections. Other than women being elected on the reserved quota, only 32 out of 26,689 women candidates won as members of union councils (0.12 percent), only two out of 3,994 women won as naib nazims (0.05 percent), and only five out of 3,941 (0.13 percent) women won as nazims in the local government elections in Punjab.

This does show one encouraging trend: that a large number of women are willing to contest the local government elections. Yet, the challenge is that very few of them are actually able to win the elections. It might be that women are being given tickets just to meet a requirement, rather than being propped up as winning candidates. This is a trend that we saw being repeated in the general elections of 2018. A large number of women were given the tickets to contest the elections. However, political parties gave those tickets to women largely on seats that were difficult for them to win. Hence, women’s candidacy did not translate into their victory in direct elections.

Political parties have a responsibility to amend the respective local government laws and reserve more seats for women since it is not easy for them to win in direct elections. It is also important that women get their due share of nazim and naib-nazim seats. There is a need to reform the selection process for the candidates. A 'parity' principle of 'no more than 60 percent of one gender' in the activities and events of political parties would make them more gender inclusive.

In terms of overall patterns of women and governance, women’s interests are not only protected through quotas in parliament, provincial assemblies, and local government; there are also special clauses in the public-sector service rules and statutory guidelines that call for women’s representation in these avenues.

However, these service rules and guidelines need to be fully implemented to provide for a higher women’s representation in public-sector employment and other decision-making boards. For example, in Punjab, women’s representation in both gazetted and non-gazetted positions is much less than those of the men. Data is available for 181 provincial departments for Punjab who responded to the PCSW's data request. Among gazetted officers, men are 71 percent and women 29 percent in these 181 provincial departments. The difference is even much more for the non-gazetted positions. An overwhelming majority, 91 percent of non-gazetted positions, are held by men, and only nine percent by women.

The Punjab Women Empowerment Package 2012 gives certain targets to ensure gender inclusivity in governance structures. One such provision states: “All Boards of Statutory organizations, public-sector companies as well as [a] special purpose task force and committees shall have 33 percent women representation”. However, the PCSW found out that amongst those organizations that responded, only 78 percent boards, 53 percent committees, and 43 percent task forces complied with this provision. As evident, compliance is higher for women’s 33 percent representation in boards and much less in task forces.

Another clause of the Punjab Women Empowerment Package 2012 stipulates: “Quota for women in all public service employment including posts recruited through PPSC shall be enhanced to 15 percent”. However, as stated earlier, the PCSW received data from 181 provincial departments in Punjab; 133 departments/institutions out of 181 did not fulfill that 15 percent quota requirement in public-sector employment. In other words, only 48 departments/institutions out of 181 (26.5 percent) did meet the requirement. Similarly, at the local level, 137 district offices out of 663 did not fulfill the 15 percent public-sector employment stipulation.

This means that a large majority of district offices, 526 (79 percent) were actually able to meet the requirement of the Punjab Women Empowerment Package 2012, which is encouraging. Overall, there are both some encouraging trends and many challenges to surmount in order to promote gender equality in politics and governance structures.

The writer is an Islamabad-based social scientist.

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