Enhancing the Role of Women in Political Parties The first in a series of Policy Seminars on Women’s Empowerment Women’s Parliamentary Caucus with support from UNDP and UN Women

07 May 2014

Opening Remarks delivered by Tracy Vienings

Honourable Minister Ms. Saira Tarar, Madam Secretary of the Women’s Parliamentary Caucus Ms. Shaista Parvez Malik, Honourable Chairperson of the Senate Committee on Parliamentary Affairs Mr. Jahangir Badar, Honourable Chairperson of the National Assembly Committee on Parliamentary Affairs Mr. Abdul Manan, Ladies and gentlemen.

Good afternoon,

It is an honour to be here today at the inaugural seminar on women’s empowerment in politics  - hosted by UNDP and UN Women.

As Joanne said in her opening remarks, one of the global priorities of the UN is supporting national efforts to empower women – socially, economically and politically. This is underlined with our commitment under MDG3, to promote gender equality and empower women.

Since I arrived in Pakistan, I have been struck by the determination of women from all walks of life – from remote villages in KP, to young women entrepreneurs in Karachi, to women parliamentarians here in Islamabad – to claim their rightful role in society, assert their basic rights and ensure they have a voice in shaping the community and society in which they live.

For example, in our Refugee Affected and Housing Areas project, which focuses on peaceful co-existence between Afghan refugees and local communities until conditions in Afganistan are conducive to their return, we have established Women’s Community Councils, where women from local villages get together to find solutions to common challenges such as access to water, transport electricity.

The active engagement by women in these Councils is a source of inspiration, and an example not only of the desire by women to actively engage and the need to provide platforms to enable them to do so, but also of how women’s empowerment is essential to advancing development agendas and improving livelihoods.

I am sure all of us here today recognize that gender inequality and lack of women’s empowerment pose major barriers to sustainable development.  We see this dynamic across the world.

If there is one thing we have learned from our work in 177 countries – development goals cannot be achieved if women are denied meaningful, and active, participation in governance structures.

Here in Pakistan, the Women’s Parliamentary Caucus is making a significant contribution to diminishing the gender deficit. Through their vibrant advocacy initiatives several landmark pieces of legislation on women’s rights have been passed.

They are increasing the role of women in parliamentary processes, and building cross-party consensus around legislative reforms that are required to increase the participation and representation of women in politics.

Their role in improving the quality of Pakistan’s democracy through the promotion of a more equal and representative political process, is a testament, not only to their determination, but also to a collective recognition that this issue transcends party politics.

Making progress to ensure women enjoy an equal role in politics and the wider society is a non-partisan issue. No single party can champion this issue if real progress is to be made.

Only through robust cross-party consensus can women’s representation in the political process be increased, and inequality based on gender diminished.

And so turning to today’s topic for discussion, my challenge to the representatives of political parties here today is how can Pakistan improve the number of women directly elected to general seats (from six in the last general elections) and create a level playing field for women in the electoral process?  How can the under-representation of women in governance structures be addressed?

A final point I would like to make is that I am very optimistic about progress being made to enhance women’s participation in all spheres in this country.

It is easy to focus too much on the negative and overlook the positive trends that are emerging which reveal a stoic determination to promote social change premised on gender equality and women’s empowerment.

Today’s seminar is another example of this collective commitment, and I am very much looking forward to the discussion and debate that will take place this afternoon about the role of women in political parties.

My genuine hope, however, is that today’s dialogue, and subsequent dialogues, will translate into meaningful change in the not too distant future.

Thank you.