November 2, 2023
By Maryam Missal
On Thursday, South Asia Partnership Pakistan (SAP-PK) in collaboration with Aurat Foundation (AF) conducted a national convention on women’s effective political participation for democratic governance in Lahore.
The event aimed to promote gender equality and create awareness in society regarding women’s constructive role in the political activities of the country. The organisers thought this programme sought to build a more peaceful, inclusive and prosperous Pakistan under the collaborative programme ‘Jazba’.
Jazba is a SAP-PK project that works to enhance inclusive democratic processes, and participation in the advancement of women’s rights and at-risk populations, such as minorities and transgender communities.
Jazba strategizes to influence voters and constituents to articulate democratic demands based on evidence, inclusion and mobilisation. As well as to influence national and sub-national governance structures to respond effectively to the demands and needs of their voters.
The event started with an inaugural speech by the director of SAP-PK, Muhammad Tehseen, he encouraged the participants of the convention to reach out to their local governing bodies and demand their social, political and economic rights and to make those rights a part of their manifesto.
“Access to politicians should be made easier and we should hold them accountable first rather than targeting the establishment,”
said Tehseen in his inaugural speech to the convention.
Participants from all across the country were in attendance at this convention and the audience was full of different ethnicities, and religious and gender identities.
Voice of Women Leaders
The convention then led to a panel of women politicians from four provinces and Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) who shared the challenges they have faced in their political journey and what changes they are hoping for in the democratic structures of Pakistan.
Rubina Asif, a local politician and social worker from Punjab’s town of Nankana Sahib, shared her story with the audience about how she was not backed by her own family in the early years of her political career.
Criticising the current active political parties, Rubina said that currently, all those who sold their narrative on the terms that they would empower women now lack women representation in their parties.
“The political parties which were credited as women empowering parties in the past, do not have women representation in their executive core leaderships,”
said Rubina while sharing the challenges she is currently encountering in the political landscape of Pakistan.
Another female politician, Nusrat Aara, from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), shared with the audience that she was not able to run in the coming election as the party tickets are now too expensive for a middle-class woman to participate in the general elections.
Nusrat believes that KP as a province has progressed massively in recent years but still, KP’s women are not given the same ground in politics as men. “When we step into the political grounds we are stopped by the cultural norms, religious fatwas (declarations) and even our honour is questioned,” she said.
Adding to her stance, she said, “But when it is time to mobilise the voters, we are called upon and asked to bring workers to their Jalsas,” she further questioned if this was the ultimate destiny of female politicians in Pakistan.
Neelam Sarwar, a founding member of the Women Action Forum (WAF), in response to the concerns raised by women politicians, said that these women have suffered at the hands of patriarchy and gender stereotypes.
Women’s Effective Participation in Democratic Governance
Demands were raised during the next panel, where mainstream parties rallied behind a 13-point charter of demands. Participating parties encompassed the Pakistan People’s Party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (Fazl), Jamaat-e-Islami, National Party, Awami National Party, Qaumi Watan Party, Mazdoor Kissan Party, and Khaqooq Khalq Party.
Representing the PTI, Mohinder Pal Singh affirmed his party’s unwavering support for all demands, including advocating for free, fair elections and greater representation of women in assemblies through democratic processes.
Ch. Manzoor Ahmed of PPP commended SAP-Pakistan for undertaking a task typically shouldered by political parties, while Naeema Kishwar of JUI (F) stressed the significance of democratic struggle and greater political participation for women.
National Party leader Yasmin Lehri emphasized that women’s respect lies not in confinement but in providing an environment conducive to identifying and nurturing their talents. She underscored the importance of affording women equal opportunities for societal prosperity and enlightenment, lauding the role played by SAP-Pakistan in empowering women from remote areas, particularly Balochistan.
Haqooq-e-Khalq party leader Dr Aaliya echoed the call for general elections and amplified women’s participation, emphasizing her party’s staunch advocacy for women, students, peasants, and labourers. Adeeba Akram of Mazdoor Kissan Party also threw her weight behind SAP-Pakistan’s charter, stressing the urgency of timely elections for the country’s democratic and political landscape.