Breaking the glass ceiling in Pakistan

A young hindu woman in Pakistan, where a UNDP-led project helped to create the country's first-ever Women's Political Caucus.
A UNDP-led project helped create the first-ever Women’s Caucus in Pakistan. (Photo: UNDP)

Pakistan has a relatively high proportion of women in Parliament compared to other countries in South Asia, with women accounting for 19 percent of representatives in the upper and lower houses.

Nonetheless, women in Pakistan still face many difficulties in accessing decision-making positions at the local, provincial and national levels, and they are excluded from crucial political, social and economic processes. Such under-representation has a direct and negative impact on the health and education of women across the board.

Highlights

  • Pakistan's Women's Parliamentary Caucus is working to promote gender-sensitive legislation and reform discriminatory laws and practices.
  • The caucus was created in 2008 as part of the UNDP-sponsored project Strengthening Democracy through Parliamentary Development.
  • The current representation of women in Pakistan's legislature is 19.9%.

"Whenever women wanted to raise issues of mutual concern, parties or party leaders were always there to impose their own political priorities, which usually conflicted with the larger agenda of gender-equality," explained Nafisa Shah, Secretary-General of the women's caucus.

To address this challenge, in 2006 UNDP supported the creation of a Women's Parliamentary Caucus. Today, 93 women members of parliament from five mainstream political parties in Pakistan are working together to advocate for gender-sensitive legislation and amend discriminatory laws and practices.

The results have been impressive. Most notably, the Caucus floated two important bills on the floor of the House that eventually became Acts of Parliament: the Bill on Domestic Violence and the Bill on Sexual Harassment.

The Caucus is now deliberating on the implementation of these laws and devising mechanisms to implement them more effectively. The results of this process will then be passed on to the Advisor to the Prime Minister on Women Development, a member of the Caucus herself.

“A glass ceiling restricting women’s political rise is starting to break, albeit one crack at a time,” said Toshihiro Tanaka, country director of UNDP in Pakistan.

UNDP has helped the Caucus to write its own constitution, tapping into its own technical know-how and network of experts in democratic governance. It provided members of the Caucus with information about similar caucus constitutions from other national Parliaments and facilitated the consultative process within the Caucus.

UNDP also established a fully-equipped Secretariat in the Parliament, where the Caucus now meets, and works to help the Caucus pass legislation by developing legislative proposals and designing advocacy and lobbying initiatives.

Additionally, UNDP assisted with the creation of an interactive website where Caucus members can share with their constituents information about key developments in their programme and overall gender dimensions that arise in parliamentary business.

With the help of UNDP, the Caucus is now devising a strategic plan to lay out priorities for the next four years. As part of this plan, UNDP, with the support of other donors including USAID, UNIFEM and the Asian Development Bank, will facilitate the Caucus’ expansion into regional governing bodies.