Women in political positions in the Parliaments of the world have almost doubled in the last 15 years. In 1997, Sweden was the only country in the world that had 40% women in their Parliament, and now there are more than ten countries with that number. About 30 countries have more than 30% women. The world average is about 21%. Pakistan ranks 57 out of 140 countries. Considering other extremely low our rankings are in areas of women’s empowerment and safety, at least this is one area we can boast about and celebrate on International Women’s Day. The top positions are taken by Rwanda at 56%, Andorra at 55% and Cuba at 45%, while Philippines and UK are close to Pakistan. USA, with its claims to be the greatest nation in the world and leader of gender equality, holds the 77th position.
The performance of our women Parliamentarians has been exceptional. They have headed significant Committees, proposed legislation, asked pertinent questions, performed well as Committee members. They have been visible, hardworking and vocal. Women were frequently seen on television representing their parties.
The Women’s Caucus clearly made a mark for being the first institutional mechanism to bring together women of all parties, enabling women to prove that they could go above party divisions when it came to pro women legislation.
By doing so, they have shown their solidarity with all women of the country rather than competing with each other as is so common among the male members. We expect that the caucus will take on a wider range of issues in the next term, but the women members made good use of it this time.
Although different forms of quota systems have pushed up the percentage of women in various political houses in the last decade, the number of directly elected women is also increasing. More than 100 countries now have quota systems, Saudi Arabia recently passing a 20% quota for their Consultative Assembly.
In most of the countries that have a quota system the results are mixed. The research shows that the elite of the countries try to by pass the quota regulations and then make excuses not to implement the rules properly. Some countries have worked out an incentive system for more effective implementation. In Burkina Faso, if a party elects 30% women their funding from the government goes up by half. In East Timor, more media time is given to parties that have more women.
In Pakistan, although parties make the lists of women to be selected on reserved seats with all seriousness tension remains between the male and female members. In the last term, several comments from men undermining women were heard as they considered them members without a constituency. This discriminatory attitude has to be dealt with within parties. Many countries, like Tunisia, have quotas for party candidates. Fifty percent quota resulted in 20% seats in the elections. This quota system however has been manipulated more. Women are given seats that the party knows they would loose, which undermines the purpose of this quota.
Some parties do not give women tickets to run, saying they would be brought in through the party list so the opportunity should be given to a male candidate. They need to realize that quotas are only a transitional phase and are aimed at grooming women and getting men used to having them as their representatives.
In Pakistan just as parties will be assessed on the level of women’s issues they bring up in their election campaign, they will also be assessed by how many women candidates they would field in their constituency.