Leadership: Women as Political Actors in Pakistan

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Women as Political Actors in Pakistan

After listening to the podcasts of Masuma Hasan and Fattima Bhutto, consider their positions on Benazir Bhutto’s influence in Pakistan: do you think that she helped the women of Pakistan? If so, how? If not, why not?

Is Pakistan's version of quotas—the reservation system—beneficial to women? Why or why not? What are some of the challenges facing women as political actors in Pakistan?

In answering the questions, think about the effect of different kinds of representation, supply and demand factors, etc.

Julia Berman
United States

Reservation System

Masuma Hasan makes it clear in her interview that she believes strongly in the reservation system Pakistan now has for female representation. She discusses the two factors bringing Pakistani women into the political fold: One aspect is evolution, which shows that as a country developes and progresses, women will become bigger political players. The other aspect, Hasan argues, is that the government must (as Pakistan has done) create the conditions for women to enter politics (demand factors). The 33.5% local quota and 17.4% state and regional quota have, in her view, put Pakistani women on the right path.

Fatima Bhutto disagrees completely with Hasan and the reservation system. She argues that women have traditionally been in powerful roles in Pakistan (eg before the reservation system) and the system in fact disempowers them. The women in higher levels of government are appointed by their party in proportion to seats won, and the women chosen are "weightless" and "benchwarmers." The women brought to office have no constituency and no mandates. Bhutto makes the case that many of these women are vapid socialites who have no true political will, and therefore hurt women's progress.

I agree with Bhutto on this -- to beat the dead horse we've discussed in class time and time again, descriptive representation is, in my eyes, no progress at all when the woman behind it is anti-women or stands for nothing substantial. Women like this make it too easy to dismiss women in general as legitimate political actors.

Challenges

In Masuma Hasan’s interview she discussed many of the difficulties involved with women as political actors in Pakistan. Some of the major challenges include voter fraud, low literacy rates, intimidation factors and the cost of an ID card. Masuma Hasan makes it very clear that the women of Pakistan are forced to deal with violence near the polls on voting days. This violence is often times committed by extremely conservative groups, who feel as though women should not be allowed the vote. This intimidation factor leaves women feeling scared for their own well being at the voting polls and results in less women turning out to vote. Aside from violence at the polls, “one of the greatest problems which women face in respect to participation in politics, is that of mobility” (Masuma Hasan). Hasan demonstrates that in order to have political participation one must have mobility in order to move from the home to the voting polls. The challenge of lack of mobility has been a large barrier that women as well as men face during election periods in Pakistan.
Personally, I feel that the greatest challenge these women had to overcome was the Hudood Ordinance which was enacted in 1979 as part of the military ruler’s “Islamization” process. This ordinance made it so that extramarital sex was illegal as well as accusing someone of having extramarital sex. This made it impossible for women to prove an allegation of rape, as the law required four adults to witness the act of penetration. Essentially men could rape the women of Pakistan with little to no consequences. This ordinance was finally changed in 2006 by the Women’s Protection Bill. Many politicians and religious scholars often debate this controversial topic; one argument is that women fearing conviction under “Section 10(2)”, merely bring charges of rape against their male partners, which would result in the male being accused and the female being “exonerated of wrongdoing due to reasonable doubt rule”. I have a hard time believing that this law was created to protect men’s rights, and feel that it was enacted in order to suit men’s interests in taking advantage of women.
Despite these challenges, Masuma Hasan seems to be confident that advancement in terms of women’s involvement in government in will continue to occur. She strongly believes that the effects of women’s participation in politics are starting to be seen, and that more women are participating in politics within Pakistan.

Taranjot Sidhu
United States

I have to agree with Julia on the subject of the reservation system in Pakistan. While it sounds like a great idea to begin with, it is clearly not practiced in a way where it could create a positive, non-sexist country for the future. The reservation system on the local level seems fair, yet on the state level it seems to lose its functionality. By appointing socialite women themselves, the parties are undermining the capable and qualified women that could actually make a difference in the government. Furthermore, with the placement of unqualified women in these positions stigmatizes women as being inferior and once again indirectly reestablishes sexism even more strongly.

Next, we can look at the differences of opinions between Masuma Hasan and Fatima Bhutto. This, like we discussed in class, could be due to their age difference. Fatima Bhutto in only 26 years old and has a career as a columnist; clearly she will be more outspoken and radical with her opinions. Her disagreement with the former prime ministers ways can be due to her exposure to modern day politics around the world as well as the completely different environment she has grown up in compared to Hasan. Masuma Hasan on the other hand is much older and had her Ph.D long before Fatima was even born. She is much more dedicated and patriotic to her country and its policies and leaders. She has seen the country go through much turmoil and has seen Benazir Bhutto rise and fall from power.

One thing they both seemed to agree on was the progression of their country. They believe it will continue to occur, it may be slow but overtime it seems that they see women being equally represented in their government in the future.

The reservation system is fair in theory but clearly less fair in practice.

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