PML-N in Chapter Four of its Party Manifesto 2013, titled ‘New Framework for Social Change’, promised that it would take steps to promote the participation of women in Pakistan’s national development, as well as women’s political empowerment by recognizing their role as agents of change.
Begum Najma Hameed, member of PML-N’s Central Executive Committee, said that by promoting participation through political empowerment, the PMLN means to encourage the active role of female parliamentarians. Resolutions and bills would be brought to the floor of the parliament that will empower women and diminish gender disparity, she added.
Pakistan, over the past decade, has gone through an awakening regarding women’s rights and their greater political participation. It started during the Musharraf regime, which made an effort to reform the Hudood Ordinance through the Women’s Protection Bill and increased reserved seats for women in assemblies. These steps were so robustly welcomed by Pakistan’s civil society and civil society organizations began to question the otherwise conservative outlook of Pakistani political parties. Popular and vocal demand grew for women’s rights and the promotion of women’s roles in national development.
It was due to this mounting social pressure that known right-wing political parties, like PML-N, who are not known for their pro-women-empowerment policies and stances, had to yield to popular demand for the political empowerment of women and their greater participation in national development. The PML-N went a step further and promised a ‘Framework for Social Change’ which involved promotion of female participation not just in political quarters but in National Institutions as well.
The promise would stand fulfilled if the PML-N Government takes practical steps and can provide tangible evidence of encouraging an active role of female parliamentarians, explains Najma Hameed.
The political government can only practice its direct authority to promote participation of women in national development through Political Empowerment by entrusting women with important political offices. It is important to point out that the appointments to national financial institutions, judiciary and other government departments is purely a function of bureaucratic hierarchy and the government has little or no legal say in those appointments.
“They just didn’t even make an effort to fulfill this promise”, said Mumtaz Mughal, Aurat Foundation’s Provincial Program Manager of ‘Aawaz’ Project. The Aawaz Project is an initiative of the Aurat Foundation that advocates and tracks greater political participation of women in the country.
Mughal said that what they did after coming into power is a story in itself, but that they broke their promise way before that by giving only five (5) women a chance to compete for a general elections seat out of the 148 National Assembly seats in Punjab. She said PML-N had some very competent women they could have fielded as candidates, and that the question of incompetence too is irrelevant, she added.
The manifesto clearly mentions that PML-N will ‘promote’ participation through political empowerment. Promotion would mean they will enhance it as compared to the status-quo, but they have actually forced the system to regress from all the gender-specific progress it made in the past decade. Speaker and Deputy Speaker of Federal and Punjab Assembly were offices that should at least have been entrusted to women, Mughal said. “If PML-N believes that giving two token ministries out of 21 caters to their promise of ‘New Framework of Social Change’ and women’s empowerment, they should know that they are fooling nobody”, Mughal concluded.
The last democratic government set a high benchmark in this regard by appointing women to important offices like the Speaker National Assembly, Federal Foreign Minister, State Minister Finance, Chairman Benazir Income Support Program, Federal Information Minister, Deputy Speaker Sindh Assembly, Provincial Information Minister Sindh and Ambassador to the US.
“With the clear majority in the Federal Parliament and an almost 3/4th majority in Punjab, there was no plausible inertia to the PML-N’s will, if they chose to practice it in favor of their promise”, said Asma Jahangir, a human rights activist and former president of the Supreme Court Bar Association of Pakistan.
Principally, the PML-N Leadership was responsible for taking steps to fulfill their campaign vows of political empowerment of women, which they so far have failed to do, Jahangir said.
Jahangir believes that the long history of right-wing politics could be one obstacle in the PML-N’s way. In their last term in the Punjab Government, they passed the Women Inheritance Bill to end discrimination against women in getting a rightful share of their inheritance, but that too could not be implemented as the bill faced resistance. She said it might be too much to expect PML-N to take up issues like the Hudood Ordinance, which is highly discriminatory, but entrusting women with political offices, even if only symbolically, was something they could have done without much friction with their political ideology.
In the light of experts’ views and the evidence, Truth Tracker finds that the promise of empowering women stands broken.