Women’s Parliamentary Caucuses as agents of change
19 May 2014 by Marc-André Franche
Nation-building processes cannot work and development goals cannot be achieved if women are denied meaningful political participation. To ensure this, Pakistan’s Parliament introduced in 2002 a 17 percent gender quota in all legislative houses.
But despite accounting for 22 percent of the federal parliament, from 2002 to 2007, women could not achieve much in terms of lawmaking except the Women’s Protection Act. In the subsequent mandate of 2008-2013, however, women made more progress, overseeing policy implementation and raising important issues in all Houses.
Gender quotas alone, as global experience has shown, cannot transform the quality of women’s representation. They won’t work unless they are adapted into women’s direct representation, in which more women would win elections rather than taking up reserved seats.
Compared to around 13 women in 2002, 16 women won general seats in 2008, while only 8 won National Assembly seats in 2013. This downward trend reflects the shrinking space for women in the electoral process, despite a numerically larger parliamentary presence. Urgent measures are needed to create a level playing field for women in the electoral process.
In 2002, women parliamentarians mostly worked in isolation, without enough sharing of inter- and intra-party experiences. But by 2008 they had begun to work together on important issues. They raised their voices collectively on issues that affect women’s lives, transcending party politics.
Having organized a Women’s Parliamentary Caucus (WPC), they achieved seven landmark legislations on women’s rights, including for domestic violence prevention. In addition to legislation, they also highlighted a wide range of women’s issues on the floors of the Houses.
In the current mandate, they have gone a step further. Pakistan now has four Provincial WPCs in addition to a federal one. Today, 85 women Parliamentarians and about 130 women MPAs from more than 20 political parties are working together to advocate for legislation that takes gender into consideration.
The Punjab Women’s Caucus has already launched an ambitious strategic roadmap for this year that includes work on domestic violence, acid attacks, marriages and divorces of Hindus and Christians and necessary amendments to the sexual harassment bill. Caucuses in Sindh, Balochistan and Khyber Pukhtunkhwa have begun work on their agendas. All the WPCs are in the process of establishing their secretariats, with the help of UNDP, which will be equipped to provide gender analyses of policies and laws.
This presents a very optimistic future scenario. It is hoped this collective thinking among women parliamentarians would go a long way in shaping the caucuses. The challenge is to keep up the cross-party spirit and build on the spaces the former caucus created.
We call on all international and national development partners to join in supporting the Caucuses and the legislative houses to achieve sustainable development and gender equality.