One has to appreciate Express Tribune for allowing a number of new writers with a platform on their Opinion pages. Other well established newspapers like Dawn, The News and The Nation have their Op-Ed pages dominated by a select type of writers who have literally “leased” space in these newspapers, irrespective of their angling, bias or tilt. It is probably because of this reason, Express Tribune has quickly become a very popular newspaper in the country with a very interactive platform on their website.
Unfortunately, every now and then an article appears on ET’s Opinion pages which is grossly inaccurate, bordering on bias. Ms. Tazeen Javed is a respected blogger in the Pakistani social media space. Her article titled “Women and political parties” has been published on 25th February, 2012. The article’s premise is that “If political parties are scrutinised, most female politicians are either siblings or children of the party heads or are married into the political families. There are hardly any role models, if any, of women political workers who assumed a leadership position after serving their parties over a number of years. Political ascendency on meritorious grounds is a novel phenomenon in Pakistan but more so in the case of women political workers.” She has cited MQM’s Nasreen Jalil and ANP’s Bushra Gohar as women holding important political positions.
Ms. Javed has completely ignored the PPP in her analysis it seems. When the Women’s reserve seats were established after 2002 elections, a term of “Biwi-Bahu-Beti Brigade” was coined. It was because the PML-Q , PML-N and MMA brought in majority of relatives to the reserved seats. PPP was also criticized but without reason. PPP was the only party whose women representatives in the legislature didn’t belong to the “Biwi-Bahu-Beti Brigade”.
Even right now, Shehnaz Wazir Ali, Sherry Rehman, Fauzia Wahab, Mehreen Bhutto, Rukhsana Bangash, Fouzia Habib, Mehrunnisa Afridi, Farhat Khan, Belum Hasnain, Fakhrunnisa Khokhar, Nasim Akhtar Chaudhry, Shakeela Sheikh Rasheed, Shagufta Jumani and numerous in the Sindh Assembly as well as Punjab Assembly are not those who are in the Assemblies because of their relations. These women are their because they have been part and parcel of the party in one form or the other for many years now.
These women do not belong to the "Biwi-Bahu-Beti Brigade" and are committed workers
On the other hand, those directly elected on general seats can be considered those who are related to someone important in their electorate, but that is because of the dynamics of local politics than anything else!
It is a curious paradox. The reasons can be as varied as politics being a classist business in the country to a general lack of women’s access to public spaces. If political parties are scrutinised, most female politicians are either siblings or children of the party heads or are married into the political families. There are hardly any role models, if any, of women political workers who assumed a leadership position after serving their parties over a number of years. Political ascendency on meritorious grounds is a novel phenomenon in Pakistan but more so in the case of women political workers.
With the exception of Bushra Gohar and now Nasreen Jalil, no other party, barring the ANP and the MQM, has women holding pivotal positions in their parties and they, too, need to do a lot more. For example, the MQM’s Rabita Committee has a disproportionate number of men. Further, certain regressive elements in the ANP still bar women from exercising their right to vote — as late as November 2011, when all the eight contestants of the constituency KP-61, Kohistan decided not to allow women to cast their votes.
The importance of being out and about in politics is obvious to anyone with a passing interest in it. The women’s rally staged by the MQM last weekend showed us that politics is far too important a business to be left to men alone.
Pakistan is a country where women are losing ground in public spaces and confining themselves to fit to certain patriarchal norms and boundaries set down for them. In that context, the rally and its message that a strong Pakistan is dependent on independent women was a timely reminder that women need to reclaim the spaces that have receded.
The MQM may have wanted to show the world that Karachi is still their home and other political upstarts have a long way to go before they lay any claims to the city but what also comes across from this is that women as voters and citizenry are important and must be viewed as such by other political powers. The large numbers that turned up also showed us that women should be taken seriously and that many of them want to engage in the political process.
It is about time that political parties realise that women are a political constituency and their concerns need to be addressed and fought for, not only in parliament but also in the party ranks. This is election year, so should we not demand all parties to include issues important to women in their election manifestos and genuinely try to bridge the gap that exists?
In politics, the importance of constituency cannot be overstated. The MQM rally brought to the fore the fact that the constituency of women across ethnic, racial, tribal and class exists and needs to be catered to by all political parties.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 25th, 2012.