PESHAWAR: “No one considers us with status commonly accorded to an elected member of the provincial assemblies (MPAs) neither are we granted the funds we deserve being assembly members. The sole reason for all of this is because we joined assembly on women’s reserved seat,” these remarks were expressed by Nighat Orakzai, an MPA elected on women’s reserved seat on a PPP ticket in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) assembly in an interview with Apni Awaz.
The statistics show that women’s representation in the national and provincial assemblies has increased over the years but critics raise questions about the role and contribution of women lawmakers elected on the reserved seat. According to the political experts KP assembly’s record for pro-women legislation has been very poor during the past few years.
The KP assembly consists of total 124 members of which 22 are women. None has come on a general seat after winning the elections as all women members have been elected on reserved seats for women. Reserved seats are meant to increase the women’s participation in the assemblies but some critics say the move has been counterproductive with most of women members’ least interest in the process of legislation.
Orakzai, a seasoned politician and three-time elected member, also criticises the performance of her women colleagues, saying,
“The current (KP) assembly is worse as compared to the last two assemblies as most of the members are new and are not aware of the decorum, rules and business of the house.”
Speaking to Apni Awaz, Shaukat Yousafzai an MPA of Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) said, “A majority of the women in the house come without a proper preparation and homework that is why they can’t participate in speeches, resolutions and discussions.”
He further said, “There are only a few women who remain active and come to the session with proper preparation. They take an active part in the assembly just like any male member asking questions so fast that they even give tough time to the government.”
In Pashtun culture, women are generally confined within the four walls and going out and working is considered almost a taboo adding to the challenges facing women in the workplace.
Meher Taj Roghani, the first woman Deputy Speaker of KP assembly spoke to Apni Awaz, saying, “Women’s participation in politics is more challenging as compared to other professions. Women politicians not only face obstacles from the people but their own families also do not approve of women’s participation in politics.”
“If women are absent from assemblies men will never pass bills which assert women’s rights,” she added.
While talking to Apni Awaz, Abdul Rauf Yousafzai, a senior journalist, who has reported and seen the assembly proceedings closely, said, “The current assembly of KP, in comparison with other provincial assemblies, haven’t done any legislation demanded by the civil society and the people for a long time,” adding that legislation for women’s rights is the need of time.
Blasting the performance of the women members of KP assembly, Yousafzai said, “The bill for Women’s rights and protection has been postponed for the last three years whereas similar bills have been passed and implemented in other provinces and for the last one year, the draft remains with a women member of assembly from Jamat-e-Islami, yet to be edited and drafted in view of Islamic teachings.”
It’s worth noting that the bill draft from KP assembly has been rejected by Islamic Ideological Council of Pakistan, declaring it un-Islamic.
Notwithstanding the criticism on the women lawmakers, Roghani mentions some of the positive developments on the legislation front,” We have achieved success in some cases as dowry has been banned and all unnecessary spending on weddings have been declared illegal as a result of our legislation.”
Amna Rafeeq, a senior lawyer at the Peshawar High Court also sees the glass half full, saying “Many
commendable resolutions have been passed which include legislation on domestic abuse, legislation on women’s harassment at workplace and formation of a special ombudsman to hear women’s complaints and take action on them.”
She continued, “If we take a closer look at the situation, for the last ten years this is the first time that you can feel the women’s presence in the assembly. Many of the halted bills have been passed which were not related to the women’s rights alone.”
The women members of the assembly have formed a special committee named caucus. The purpose is to strengthen the voice and they can do legislation for women’s rights in the house. A total of 194 bills have been presented in the assembly since 2013.
Nighat Orakzai said, “The female members not only face problems from the male members of their own party but also strong resistance from the conservative and extremists elements from society.”
“We the women members receive threats from Taliban and other militant organizations since we are soft and easy targets for them. In spite of all this, we are never going to give up.”
She requests all parties to let women come to assemblies by contesting elections rather than only being elected on reserved seats. The reserved seats, she suggests should be eliminated with the passage of time. The ladies who are elected through general election will be more confident and equal to men in every aspect.
Women lawmakers like Roghani believe that women in politics have a more daunting task ahead as they are not accepted in the power corridors that feels threatened by the rise of women contenders. They stress upon the more active participation of women in the politics for making women voice heard and registered.
Edited by Hasan Khan