THE crimes and transgressions committed against women by men in Pakistan, in fact sometimes by the machinery of the state itself, are in their broad brushstrokes all too well known. But broad brushstrokes, while reflective of the reality, are all too often reductive and erase nuances that are of importance in terms of understanding the whole picture. Consider, for example, that notwithstanding Balochistan’s deeply patriarchal society, the provincial assembly unanimously elected on Thursday MPA Rahila Hameed Durrani of the PML-N as speaker of the house — she is the first woman in the province to have secured the post. A couple of days earlier, on Tuesday, PTI candidate Dr Meher Taj Roghani was elected deputy speaker of the assembly of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, a province that, like Balochistan, is overwhelmingly dominated by conservative attitudes. Once again, she is the first woman to have taken up this particular mantle of honour in the province. Having won by a margin of 40 votes against her PML-N rival Arbab Akbar Hayat, Dr Roghani’s victory is resounding. Behind achievements such as these stand those who have been the path-breakers; a prominent example is that of Dr Fahmida Mirza who served as the country’s first woman speaker of the National Assembly in the last PPP tenure from 2008 to 2013.
Such examples of women’s participation in the political process are encouraging, and do indicate some measure of the political parties’ concern for and ownership of the struggle for gender equality. However, far more needs to be done and indeed, can be done, to bring about a sea change. One concrete step to bring female politicians out of the shadows, for example, would be for the political parties — in particular the big ones with an appreciable footprint in the country — to field female candidates for the general seats so that in time the system of reserved seats is no longer required. The parties need to repose trust in the women amidst their ranks, thereby sending out the signal to society that where public representation and the political process are concerned, gender need not be relevant. As everywhere else, a change in social attitudes can be brought about by leading through example from the highest levels of governance and political activity; it is in the hands of the country’s major political parties to make this urgently needed reorientation a priority. In doing so, they can truly demonstrate their oft-voiced commitment to gender equality.
Published in Dawn, December 27th, 2015