April 21, 2022
By Rehan Piracha
Recent appointments to the newly-formed federal cabinet have started a debate on the inadequate representation of women and minorities in the government sphere.
While the appointment of the five women to the federal cabinet has been seen as progressive, they are primarily from the two major parties of the coalition, no parliamentarian from any religious minority community was named for any cabinet posts.
Federal Minister for Information Marriyum Aurangzeb and State Minister for Finance Dr Aisha Ghaus Pasha are both from the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz while Federal Minister for Climate Change Sherry Rehman, Federal Minister for Poverty Alleviation Shazia Marri and State Minister for Foreign Affairs Hina Rabbani Khar are from the Pakistan Peoples’ Party.
None of the other coalition parties -Jamiat Ulema Islam-Fazl, Muttahida Qaumi Movement, Balochistan Awami Party – included in the cabinet, had recommended any women candidates from their parties. There were reports that JUI-F may nominate Shahida Akhtar Ali for the constitutional post of the National Assembly deputy speaker but this eventually went to a fellow male party member Zahid Akram Durrani.
Interestingly, the women cabinet members all have had prior experience as ministers in provincial and federal governments.
Marri has held the portfolio of Sindh Information Minister, while Pasha was Punjab finance minister. Khar and Aurangzeb have both served as federal state ministers for finance and information in previous tenures of their party governments.
The outgoing Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf government, led by Imran Khan, also only had three women – Zartaj Gul, Shireen Mazari and Zubaida Jalal – in the cabinet.
Speaking to Voicepk, former parliamentarian Bushra Gohar expressed dismay at the inadequate representation of women in the new federal cabinet.
“There should have been a minimum 33 per cent representation of women in the Cabinet,” she said.
The former parliamentarian pointed out that no women were considered for any constitutional positions. “A woman should have been nominated as a Speaker or Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly,” she said, adding that women should be considered in being President and governors of the provinces as well.
The ruling party and its coalition partners have several other experienced women politicians in the Parliament who should have also been included in the Cabinet, Gohar said when asked whether there was a lack of qualified women members for cabinet posts.
According to Bushra, Kishwar Zehra, Dr Nafisa Shah, Mehnaz Akber Aziz and Shahida Akhtar Ali were all strong contenders for cabinet posts.
Senior journalist Hamid Mir believes that the inadequate representation of women and minorities in the federal cabinet is the result of political compulsions.
“It’s a coalition government for a short term and many parties have limited space to accommodate its party members on cabinet posts,” says Mir.
In his opinion, Dr Nafisa Shah, Mehrin Bhutto and Senator Krishna Kumari from PPP, Shazia Khawaja and Romina Khurshid Alam from PML-N, and Dr Shehnaz Baloch from BNP-M and Rubina Irfan from BAP were good enough to become ministers.
Mir says political uncertainty still dogged the fragile ruling coalition.
“The coalition partners have been fighting over ministries for the last two weeks,” he pointed out. However, Mir urged the federal government to include more women and minorities in the next phase of cabinet expansion.
At the same time, Bushra Gohar also lamented the exclusion of minorities from the cabinet.
“It is very concerning that religious and ethnic minorities have been excluded from the cabinet,” she said. Pashtun and Baloch nationalists have also been excluded. Instead, the pro-Taliban and anti-Pashtun JUI-F has been given more space in the cabinet, she alleged.
Speaking to Voicepk, Peter Jacob, Executive Director of the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ), said any affirmative action like the appointment of women and minorities to cabinet posts should be guided by practicality and ground realities.
“Some political parties have a conducive environment for women while others are still striving to build an enabling environment for female party members,” he said.
But Jacob said he was not disappointed with the exclusion of minorities on cabinet posts saying ‘tokenism’ was not an answer to affirmative action.
“The present coalition government is faced with many challenges and any cabinet member has to be prepared and effective in the discharge of his duties,” Jacob told Voicepk.
In his view, there were a number of parliamentarians from minority communities who should have been considered for cabinet posts because of their experience and capabilities.
“The PPP should have considered Mahesh Kumar Malani, who was elected MNA on the general seat from Tharparkar, as its nominee for a cabinet post,” Jacob pointed out.
“Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif should consider a parliamentarian from the minority community to head the still vacant and important Human Rights Ministry,” he said.
Besides, he said, the prime minister could appoint capable and experienced technocrats and professionals from minority groups as advisors in the cabinet.
PM AWARE OF GENDER IMBALANCE
Meanwhile, PML-N’s MNA Mehnaz Akber Aziz said Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif must have been cognizant of the inadequate representation of women and minorities in his cabinet, but ultimately it was up to the coalition parties to nominate women as their party representatives in the cabinet.
“We have the political compulsions to include representatives from all of our coalition parties but it’s for parties to decide on more women representation,” Aziz told Voicepk.
She welcomed the inclusion of women in the cabinet but said their number was not representative of female members in Parliament.
“There are many highly qualified women in the National Assembly on reserved as well as on general seats,” she said, adding that such women lawmakers, as well as members from the minority community, need to be taken into consideration in the cabinet expansion.