24 February | 2024

Lahore, Pakistan

Good time to increase women’s participation in politics, elections

‘Despite having a strong track record in assemblies, female lawmakers still encounter entry-level challenges that their male counterparts do not’

On International Women’s Day, most nations recognize that the one day set aside for women is not a reflection of their status in society but as a day of commemoration on which they can periodically gauge how far they have come in their pursuit of empowerment and gender equality. This is a year of general elections in Pakistan, and President Dr Arif Alvi has already announced date for elections of Punjab Assembly.

Temperatures for public mobilization and campaigning appear to be rising on both ends of the political spectrum as political parties are already in electioneering mode. This is a ‘good time’ to increase women’s political representation and electoral participation. The national constitution does not differentiate between genders, but women in legislature are aware that this is not how politics actually work.

Despite having a strong track record in the assemblies, female lawmakers still encounter entry-level challenges that their male counterparts do not. There are still barriers for women who want to get involved in public politics, despite the fact that names like Fatima Jinnah, Benazir Bhutto, Kulsoom Nawaz, and now Maryam Nawaz have contributed to building a solid foundation for the acceptance of female leaders in Pakistan. Reforms in the legislature have attempted to resolve these representational issues, but results have been patchy.

‘Female voters can select political groups that increase representation of women in provincial and national politics’

Practically, political parties are cautious about backing female candidates who run against males on general seats because they expect that they will lose. In recent times, Pakistan People’s Party, the Pakistan Muslim League-N and the Awami National Party have shown confidence on their candidates contesting on general seats.

In the current National Assembly, Shazia Marri, Dr Nafisa Shah, Shaista Pervaiz Malik, and Syeda Nosheen Iftikhar are among the few who got elected on the general seats. We are aware of the complex and challenging norms that limit women’s social advancement in a nation where males predominate. In a democracy like Pakistan, women can strengthen their political influence by exercising their right to vote.

The female voters can select political groups that increase representation of women in provincial and national politics. Their votes ought to be cast for political parties that put forth more female candidates, designate more female cabinet members, support female candidates in the elections, and broaden their social bases to include more women from rural and less affluent backgrounds.

Pakistan has evolved thanks to reserved seats and the increasing participation of women in governance. Regarding appropriateness of limits, a long-running argument is still relevant today. Reservations have facilitated development of female role models, cultural acceptance, public recognition, and political discussion of women’s problems. To increase the number of female politicians in powerful positions of decision-making, the next stage is to move away symbolic representation for women.

Securing women’s political, economic, and social rights can significantly contribute to the national development and shared wealth. Women’s political and electoral participation is the cornerstone of gender equality and a requirement for a just and equitable future, from the suffragettes to contemporary feminism. We are aware that the repressive systems that marginalize women will take time to dissipate.

In spite of the difficulties, women and girls must keep fighting patriarchal powers. Despite the obstacles, Pakistani women have managed to achieve some degree of political freedom. To strengthen their standing in elected bodies, they should keep moving forward with a sharp emphasis on substantive representation and winning voter support.