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Empowering Pakistani Woman

10 August, 2005

By Muhammad Karim


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In the present age of human enlightenment and actualization, the decision of the local leaders of various political parties in Lower Dir, a northern district of NWFP, on July 13, 2005 to keep women out of the local government elections is, so to speak, a slap in the face of our polity. The decision was not taken or forced by any government authority or agency; it was made by none other than our democrats who otherwise leave no stone unturned in condemning the establishment for its anti-democracy practices. Reportedly, in a meeting at Lower Dir, the local chapters of the political parties JI, PPP Parliamentarians, PPP-Sherpao, ANP, JUI, PML-Q, PML-N and Tehrik-e-Insaf unanimously decided not to field women for reserved seats and those trying to submit nomination papers would be resisted physically. Regrettably, following the much publicized decision, none of the top leadership of these political parties denounced or disassociated itself from the decision, let alone issuing show cause notices or suspending the basic party membership of their local stalwarts who concluded this nasty agreement.  The ruling MMA as usual is on the forefront of this campaign meant for a negation of the democratic right of the women. Not a single woman in five union councils of Samar Bagh, the hometown of the MMA Senior Minister Sirajul Haq, has turned up for filing nomination papers.

However, Chief Election Commissioner Justice Abdul Hameed Dogar’s recent proclamation that keeping women out of the electoral process is a crime is praiseworthy. He maintained that the results of those areas, where women voters are forcibly restrained from exercising their fundamental right would be withheld. Now there should be no doubt in the minds of those who are claiming that there is no law that declares those elections null and void in which women are barred from casting votes or participating as candidates. Denying women their right of vote is indeed in conflict with law and the constitution of the land. Stopping women from exercising their right of vote contravene Section 168 of the local government ordinance as well as Section 181 of the Representation of the People Act 1976. Under the Representation of the People Act 1976, those who restrained the voters from exercising the right of vote were liable to imprisonment of three years or fine of Rs15, 000 or both.

If the ECP had sternly moved against the elements who had forcibly denied women their constitutional right in the last local bodies’ polls in 2001, they might have refrained from repeating the offence this time. Nonetheless, filling of the nomination papers by a far larger number of ladies this time than the last local government elections in the MMA strongholds like Upper and Lower Dir, Batagram and Kohistan districts is in fact a verdict against the religious parties which were vigorously opposing female participation in election.
The role of some public interest groups and NGOs to mobilize women candidates to stand against the 33 per cent seats reserved for women in local government in 6022 union councils of the 110 districts of the country is highly commendable. They are launching campaigns for ensuring women participation in political structure and decision-making by their maximum representation. They are seeking an enabling environment at the local level for prospective women candidates by generating greater acceptance among the public about women as public representatives through both the electronic and print media. Not only are they trying to ensure the availability of women candidates in the specified union councils across the country but also facilitating their participation in the electoral process through accessible institutional mechanism and supportive citizen’s groups. They are helping women candidates evolve election strategy, constitute joint election panels, form alliances and hold conventions in constituencies to convey their election strategy to the general bodies. Besides training women in the processes from filing nomination papers to casting vote, they are mobilising partner networks to motivate and facilitate them to get the new identity cards. They are also holding meetings with relevant government authorities for advocacy on electoral issues and dialogues with influential social and political groups to neutralise their opposition. Notwithstanding NGOs efforts, a joint strategy however by the government, political parties and the civil society organisations needs to be evolved to overcome the problems related to woman enfranchisement.
One cannot but help admitting President Pervez Musharraf’s contribution to the goal of empowering the Pakistani woman by giving her a substantial representation at all local, provincial and national institutions and providing equal opportunities to her in remunerated employment, education and health as well as in financial and corporate sectors.
The establishment of key institutional mechanisms like permanent National Commission on the Status of Women and the enactment of Criminal Law Act, 2004 (Honour Killing Law) were the significant steps of his government to ensure the rights and honour of women in society. These measures look even more impressive in comparison with those taken by the previous regimes especially the government of the Daughter of the East, who except pushing herself through to the corridors of power did little for improving the lot of a Pakistani woman.

Nevertheless, much more needs to be done from government side on the front of participatory politics where woman’s marginalized role has been sought by certain politico-religious groups. The government through its laws and code of conduct for the polls should ensure that all eligible voters in the country, irrespective of their sex, creed, political affiliation and religion, have a level playing field to cast their ballot and contest in elections. Disenfranchising women should be treated as a crime with severe punishment. An equal onus lies on the mainstream political parties as they should forcibly prevent their local leadership from striking agreements aimed at the political marginalization of woman. More importantly, women should combat these problems by asserting themselves together with view to have an access to the power corridors of the state.

End.

Reader Comments:

Empowering the Women

The ending of the above insightful story represents its essence:

"More importantly, women should combat these problems by asserting themselves together with view to have an access to the power corridors of the state."

Women by all means wield great power in the families and societies. They are sure to get the needful empowerment by getting more involved in political democracy. The missing point lies in their lacking a dynamic and forceful weekly magazine to educate them in the working of a functioning democracy. Here below is an extract from a "Survey on Full Democracy" published in the venerable magazine: "The Economist" of London:

"Democracy: A Govt. By The People:

"The next big change in human affairs will probably not be a matter of economics, or electronics, or military science; it will be a change in the supposedly humdrum world of politics. The coming century could see, at last, the full flowering of the idea of democracy. The democratic system of politics, which first took widespread roots in the 19th century, and then in the 20th century the attacks of both fascism and communism, may in the 21st century realize that it has so far been living, for understandable reasons, in a state of arrested development. Those reasons, however, no longer apply; and so democracy can set about completing its growth.

The places that now consider themselves to be democracies are with a handful of exceptions run by the process generally known as “representative democracy”. That qualifying adjective should make you sit up and think.

The starting point of modern democracy is the belief that every sane adult is entitled to an equal say in the conduct of public affairs. Some people are richer than others; some are more intelligent, and nobody's interests are quite the same as anybody else's; but all are entitled to an equal voice in deciding how they should be governed.

Part-Time Democracy: There is something odd in the fact that in most democracies the voice of the people is heard only once in every few years, in elections in which voters choose a president or send their representatives to an elected parliament; and that between those elections, for periods of anything up to seven years, it is the presidents and parliamentarians who do all the deciding, while the rest of the democracy is expected to stand more or less quietly on one side, either nodding its head in irrelevant approval or growling in frustrated disagreement. This is part-time democracy.

There exists in a few places a different way of doing it. It is called direct democracy. In this straightforward version, the elected representatives are not left to their own devices in the periods between elections. The rest of the people can at any time call them to order, by canceling some decisions of the representatives with which most of the people do not agree or, sometimes, by insisting that the representatives do something they had no wish to do, or perhaps had never even thought about. The machinery by which this is done is the referendum. It is a vote of the whole people. IF DEMOCRACY MEANS RULE BY THE PEOPLE, DEMOCRACY BY REFERENDUM IS A GREAT DEAL CLOSER TO THE ORIGINAL IDEA THAN THE EVERY FEW-YEARS VOTING WHICHIS ALL THAT MOST COUNTRIES HAVE."

The most important catalysts are: One: A renaissance and charismatic leader to put roots of democracy for all. Two: The media, especially electronic and Internet ones.

I envision the essential requirement of two viable and strong mainstream political parties. Do we have them? No, is the answer. Whatever we see in the political arena are the broken threads of the Grand Old Party (GOP): Muslim League. The only other mainstream party, the PPP, succumed to Bhuttos cult personality. And the PML is more a shadow than a living body. Look at its so-called obscure and antique "Secretariat" at Islamabad. I will come back in my outputs about the formation of political parties and their reach to the people at the grass roots.

Coming back to the women, there is already a wave of educated young blood outperforming the boys and very soon they would fill important jobs in the development of the country.

The episode in "Dir" and in similar "back water" areas should be treated as an isolated case. But there also the matter needs to be pursuid to its logical end.

Sher Mohammad
Email: sher_apr@yahoo.com


Sher Mohammad, Pakistan - 11 August, 2005

Empowering Pakistani Woman

This article is a wake up cal for the government of Pakistan as well as wake up call for the citizens of Pakistan. This is 21st century and if Pakistan has to stand shoulder by shoulder with the world these religious-political leaders need to be forced out. Young men and women together need to build their country to a nation where freedom is rule of the land. Women these days are judges, Layers why can't they be in political stream. Religious people cannot keep the old rattling about women. Today's woman is well educated and knows and understands her responsibilities inside and out side of the house. The time has come where educated and intelligent women need to come into main stream politics of Pakistan. Please give these women a chance and let Pakistan be a well and alive country with freedom for all.

narvin, United Kingdom - 11 August, 2005

Women In Government Jobs

Back in 70's I recall some Mohammad Aslam the MD of House Building Finance Corp had vision unmatched to witness at that time that he had appointed women as Department Heads in HBFC office in Karachi. As a result the corruption was almost negligible. The only exception and black sheep was a man employee in Mortgage Dept engaged to be involved in mal-practices, who would attend all jobs related to Courts and probably Mohammad Aslam could not find a suitable Woman for that job capable of travelling to Court & back to HBFC office in Shafi Court. We need many Mohammad Aslams.

Probono Public, Pakistan - 16 August, 2005

Woman for education

The most important role a woman in man-dominated society can paly is to assert her right of eduaction, as so much emphasis in Islam is for woman education. An educated woman is a blessing for society and keep check on men. Women are deprived of their right to get eduacted.

Mohammad Iqbal, Pakistan - 16 August, 2005

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