For the last 18 years, women in Pakistan’s political circuit have been key participants in the National and Provincial Assemblies as members on reserved seats, leaving no stone unturned to defend their party leadership. However, beyond that, it appears that their performance has remained rather nominal in terms of addressing social issues and participating in special legislations.
A similar fate has also been observed in the Punjab Assembly, where the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) currently holds 35 reserved seats, the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N) reigns over 33 seats, while the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and Pakistan Muslim League Quaid (PML-Q) preside over one and two seats respectively, for female members.
According to the data obtained from the Punjab Assembly, a total of about 3,000 various resolutions and notices have been submitted by the women to the Assembly Secretariat, out of which more than 600 have been tabled in the House but only 107 of them were approved.
Interestingly, the resolutions submitted and tabled by the women MPs did not include any resolution on women’s rights to issues pertaining to gender minorities.
Furthermore, it has also been observed that most women in government and opposition have remained unaware of parliamentary rules and assembly policies even after three years. The main reason for this is said to be the lack of training programmes and workshops by political parties and the Assembly Secretariat to train and educate members. Owing to which, it is alleged that a majority of women have been coming to the House just to for the sake of attendance.
When PML-N Information Secretary Punjab Uzma Bukhari was asked about chasing women’s rights issues, she maintained that the PML-N has been working to encourage women in the House and highlight their issues. “Our MPAs have submitted resolutions on women’s issues and violence against them. They have done a wonderful job, but their resolutions have not been able to be tabled for debate.”
Speaking further she said that women are brought in the House on reserved seats mainly for women’s issues so that they can become advocates of women’s rights in the House. “In the first parliamentary year, I submitted a record number of resolutions in the Punjab Assembly and also participated in the record affairs in the Assembly. However, in the second parliamentary year, I was banned due to which I could not participate in the Assembly business effectively. However, my performance in the third year is in front of everyone,” she asserted.
Punjab Assembly Opposition PML-N member Hina Pervaiz Butt was also of the opinion that PML-N has always played a leading role in terms of advocating for women’s rights. She said that she has been active in the assembly business from the first day and continues being so to date.
In contrast, member of the ruling party in the assembly and chairperson of the Standing Committee on Home Affairs Musarat Jamshed Cheema, said that the PTI is the only party considered a champion of women’s rights inside and outside the House.
“There is no place on or off the Assembly floor where the PTI has not been fighting for women’s rights. It is true that I am the number one in the business of submitting the most resolutions and talking about important issues, but I have also done significant work for women’s rights,” she said.
Whereas, as per PML-Q’s Khadija Omar, bringing women in the House on reserved seats is the policy of PML-Q. “PML-Q has been speaking at every forum for women’s rights,” she argued.
Sania Ashiq, the youngest female member of the PML-N, who has been the most silent in the Punjab Assembly, says that this is the first time she has come to a special seat in the Assembly. “I am in the process of learning from my seniors and my performance will be better in the coming years,” She told The Express Tribune.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 8th, 2021.