Monday, December 17, 2012

Hands off the Reserved Seats for Women!

So according to this news report in the Express Tribune, Imran Khan has announced that he opposes the way women in Pakistan enter the National Assembly on reserved seats. At a seminar called "Justice for Women" hosted by the PTI, Khan said that women should not be "nominated from a list" for those seats, but should "contest direct elections" the way the rest of the seats are contested for in the Assembly.

Currently, there are seventy (70) seats in Pakistan's National Assembly reserved for women (60) and for minority members (10) of Parliament. A woman or a religious minority can fight an election for any other seat, but these seats are exclusively for them. These seats are allocated to political parties based on proportional representation, meaning that the largest party gets the largest number of seats, and so on.

So you don't have to be elected to hold one of these seats; you get one of them assigned to you after your party holds an election to select you for the seat.  Imran Khan says he wants to do away with this indirect system and make the women fight for those reserved seats directly like everyone else has to do in the general Assembly seats. This is the way forward to a more democratic system, says Khan.

Another criticism of this system is that the women in these seats (it is claimed) don't actually do anything useful in Parliament; they are "placeholders" for their husbands and cannot act on their own.

Let's deal with the first issue first: that women should fight directly for these elections, not be elected within their parties and then be nominated for the seats. Imran Khan says, "How can some women be representative of women when they haven't even contested elections? In some areas it is not possible for women to contest elections." 

Okay, Mr. Khan. If this is true, that in some areas it is not possible for women to contest elections in general, why are you are insisting that they should contest direct elections for reserved seats?  I find this to be a highly impractical, if not downright contradictory, stance. There will be a complete failure to find enough women to contest all these elections throughout the country, especially in the more conservative areas of Pakistan. There is even the danger that these seats may eventually be taken off the reserved list if there aren't enough women willing to fight direct elections, and go back to men.

Imran Khan also says, "Political parties should hold elections within their ranks and promote women into higher leadership positions."

You mean, like when women are elected by the political parties and then nominated for reserved seats in the National Assembly?

I quote the wise Marvi Sirmed on the issue of women directly contesting elections.

The matter of contesting direct elections has so many other factors involved, that do not favour women's participation. Also, contrary to general perception, not all of the women in legislatures come from elite / feudal classes. There are so many women who have come forward from rank and files of parties. And there are many more who are ready for next elections. We have parliamentarians who have been part of women movement in Pakistan. Do you think they would be able to contest elections if snatched [from] these seats? 
Also, not many parties are going to give tickets to women from winnable seats. That's why we raised the issue before the election commission that at least 20% tickets should be given to women candidates. The Election Commission agreed to make it 10% tickets and include it in the Political Representation Act that governs political parties. But political parties (the right wing parties, Q-League, PTI, PMLN, JUI-F etc) did not even agree to 10%.  

The problem, Mr. Khan, is that women in Pakistan are nowhere near achieving the equal status that is required for being able to participate in large numbers in direct elections, even for reserved seats. As you yourself have acknowledged, our society and customs discourage women from appearing in public, from campaigning, from going door to door and meeting their voters. They can't imagine doing this for all the general seats of the Assembly; they can't even imagine being able to do this for the 60 reserved seats for women.

The reserved seats system may have become a way for women to be inserted into the political scenario as "placeholders" as people so cynically put it. But I'd like to argue a different angle: that the reserved seat system, though it seems to go against democratic principles, serves as a way of getting women in greater numbers into the Assembly FULL STOP. This type of affirmative action for women in itself is empowering and visionary, and a great example for all the people of Pakistan. To do away with this system at the moment would be setting women back many, many decades.

When we have reached much closer to our goal of equality for women in Pakistan, equal rights as citizens, with justice and concern and empathy for our struggles and our obstacles, then perhaps we will be ready to take the step of having women contest directly for those reserved seats. That day is many years away. I would say it is still several generations away.

Marvi Sirmed says that it's time to instead start thinking about the second generation of affirmative action in Pakistan's parliaments, and the modalities of how to achieve this. "The world has evolved many modalities, e.g. direct elections on reserved seats while expanding constituencies for women candidates".

It's certainly reasonable to place greater scrutiny on the women in the reserved seats, to ensure that they are actually serving as they are meant to, and not just enjoying perks or furthering the individual needs of their family members. But that is not a problem limited to women in reserved seats; in fact, it's a problem that all Assembly members and ministers and army chiefs and elected officials and bureaucrats have contributed to for the last sixty-odd years of Pakistan's existence.

But above all, we must protect the tradition of reserved seats for women, and never, ever eliminate it: this will drive us back to pre-1973 conditions (1973 is the year they were created), according to Marvi Sirmed. She says,

It is such a shame that even 'educated' people are discussing whether reserved seats should be there or not. That points to a serious lack of knowledge and insight into why women of Pakistan have been striving for these seats for decades. The fact that farmer and peasant women are not represented in parliament should not be used as pretext to scrap these seats. We don't have farmer and peasant men also, so should we scrap men's seats too? That the nominations are given to the influential women is also a myth.

Hands off our reserved seats! We have fought long and hard for them, and we will not give them up easily. It's very easy to destroy systems, Mr. Khan, but it is very difficult to build them - and you should know better than to attempt this particular "reform" in the name of your election campaign.

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Here is a list I found on Wikipedia (updated on December 12) that breaks down the reserved seats and who is holding them at the moment, by province:


Khyber Pukhtunkhwa (8)
  1. Ms. Bushra Gohar ANP
  2. Ms. Jamila Gallani ANP
  3. Ms. Khurshid Begum Saeed ANP
  4. Ms. Asma Arbab Alamgir PPPP
  5. Malik Mehrunnisa Afridi Advocate PPPP
  6. Mrs. Farhat Khan PPPP
  7. Dr. Imtiaz Sultan Bukhari PML(N)
  8. Mrs. Farzana Mushtaq Ghani PML
  • Fata (0)
  • Federal (0)
  • Punjab (34)
  1. Begum Ishrat Ashraf PML(N)
  2. Ms. Qudsia Arshad PML(N)
  3. Ms. Tahira Aurangzeb PML(N)
  4. Begum Nuzhat Sadiq PML(N)
  5. Ms. Nighat Parveen Mir PML(N)
  6. Ms. Khalida Mansoor PML(N)
  7. Ms. Shahnaz Saleem PML(N)
  8. Ms. Parveen Masood Bhatti PML(N)
  9. Ms. Sabeen Rizvi PML(N)
  10. Ms. Shireen Arshad Khan PML(N)
  11. Ms. Surriya Ashgar PML(N)
  12. Ms. Tasneem Siddiqui PML(N)
  13. Mrs. Nisar Tanveer PML(N)
  14. Ms. Shaheen Ashfaq PML(N)
  15. Mrs. Anusha Rahman Khan Advocate PML(N)
  16. Ms. Rukhsana Bangash PPPP
  17. Ms. Shahnaz Wazir Ali PPPP
  18. Miss. Palwasha Khan PPPP
  19. Mrs. Belum Hasnain PPPP
  20. Ms. Mehreen Anwar Raja Advocate PPPP
  21. Ms. Farzana Raja PPPP
  22. Justice (R) Fakhar-un-Nisa Khokhar PPPP
  23. Miss. Fouzia Habib PPPP
  24. Mrs. Shakeela Khanam Rashid PPPP
  25. Mrs. Yasmeen Rehman PPPP
  26. Ms. Samina Mushtaq Pagganwala PPPP
  27. Begum Nasim Akhtar Chaudhry PPPP
  28. Ms. Nosheen Saeed PML
  29. Ms. Kashmala Tariq PML
  30. Begum Shahnaz Sheikh PML
  31. Dr. Donya Aziz PML
  32. Mrs. Attiya Inayatullah PML
  33. Ms. Bushra Rahman PML
  34. Mrs Tanzila Aamir Cheema PML
  • Sindh (14)
  1. Mrs. Surraiya Jatoi PPPP
  2. Mrs. Farah Naz Ispahani PPPP
  3. Dr. Mahreen Razaque Bhutto PPPP
  4. Ms. Fauzia Wahab PPPP
  5. Ms. Rubina Saadat Qaim Khani PPPP
  6. Dr. Nafisa Shah PPPP
  7. Miss. Shagufta Jumani PPPP
  8. Dr. Nahid Shahid Ali MQM
  9. Ms. Kishwer Zehra MQM
  10. Mrs. Fouzia Ejaz Khan MQM
  11. Mrs. Imrana Saeed Jamil MQM
  12. Mrs. Shagufta Sadiq MQM
  13. Ms. Fiza Junejo PML
  14. Ms. Reena Kumari PML(F)
  • Balochestan (3)
  1. Mrs. Zubaida Jalal PML
  2. Dr. Zil-e-Huma PPPP
  3. Mrs. Asiya Nasir MMAP





4 comments:

  1. Important part is have these women, if even considered from elite class, passed so much legislation's for the women right, which has no past example. this tells if this system continues, many black laws which today cant be touched, will be changed or regulated. In a country like Pakistan where already the environment is against working women, if women are denied of reserve seat, the representation of women in national assembly would be so low, that raising voice for women will in NA would be almost impossible.
    This must also be noted, at present scenario many non-elite women have chance to represent in NA. In general election's only elite class women will win and represent in NA.

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  2. Bina - RESERVED seats is not true representation of women in Pakistan - due to the confusion PTI has tried to issue a clarification - Imran Khan does not mean to abolish reserved seats but suggest that women be also elected by direct elections by women

    We hare doing this for even our Intra-party elections - SEVEN are open seats (men & women) but FOUR are reserved seats for Women - which women are asked to vote for - each UC now has SEVEN general seats and FOUR Women - this is the empowerment of women we are talking about.

    Reserved seats is like Nawaz Sharif nominating 10 prominent women into parliament with absolute NO stake in any constituency and are like perks and privileges just becuase you had sifarishi connections with the leadership . This is short cut empowerment - the real empowerment is when on election day you have another ballot paper for Women - who stamp their women candidate - THIS IS TRULY EMPOWERING Women right down to the constituency level

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  3. Well Ms Bina you have mentioned that in most parts of the country woman does not have access and they can't contest election, very true but ma'am do you really think that woman of those areas gets the special qouta seat? and lets assume they get any, how much worthy it will be for them?

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  4. Reserved seats for woman / Minorities are there because they do not have equal opportunities. They should only be discontinued till the goal of equal opportunity is achieved.PTI should include this in their manifesto and devise program to achieve this target in certain period of time and then abolish it once and for all. So far so good but this absolutely necessary and should continue. We should listen arguments for and against the statement and then make and express opinion in educated way.

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