Agents of change

May 6, 2014

NATION-building processes cannot work and development goals cannot be achieved if women are denied meaningful political participation. To ensure this, Pakistan’s parliament introduced a 17pc gender quota in 2002 in all legislative houses.

Unfortunately, despite the quota, qualitative indicators of women’s meaningful political participation remained low. Despite accounting for 22pc of the federal parliament, from 2002-07 women could not achieve much in terms of lawmaking except the Women’s Protection Act. In the subsequent mandate of 2008-13 however, women made more progress, overseeing policy implementation and raising important issues in all legislative houses.

Gender quotas alone, as global experience has shown, cannot transform the quality of women’s representation. They won’t work unless they are adapted to women’s direct representation, in which more women would win elections rather than taking up reserved seats. Compared to around 13 women in 2002, the number of women on general seats was 16 in 2008, but only eight won National Assembly seats in 2013.

This downward trend was indicative of the shrinking space for women in the electoral process, despite a numerically larger parliamentary presence. Urgent measures are thus needed to create a level playing field for women in the electoral process.