Political empowerment of women and their participation in legislation. A case study of Pakistan 2000-2013

Research Paper (postgraduate), 2014

17 Pages






Election 2013




Abstract: The Importance of political empowerment, political participation and mobilization of women in the Democratic Government are much realized in the world and in Pakistan. Women are more than 50% part of the Pakistan’s population that is not being utilized in the national development due to social norms, their low skill, less education and less empowerment in the arena of politics. Any democratic system cannot be successful with just 50% of the population while the other 50% is marginalized. The traditional norms about women's activities as noted by different theorists have been remained generation to generation unquestioningly. The general statement in Pakistan is that the political activities belong to the "Public Sphere" and women by nature belong to the “Private Sphere” and “Politics” is something unfamiliar to their nature. This study will explore the underlying restrictions which have hampered the growth of equal opportunities for women to play their role as an active agent of society.

Key Words: Political participation, Empowerment; Political Mobilization, Patriarchal Society, Social Norms, customs, social laws, Low level of socio economic indicators.


Quaid Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah once said in 1944 “No nation can rise to the height of glory unless your women are side by side with you; we are victims of evil customs. It is a crime against humanity that our women are shut up within the four walls of the houses as prisoners. There is no sanction anywhere for the deplorable condition in which our women have to live. You should take your women along with you as comrades in every sphere of life.” (Shami, p. 141)

Pakistan, the situation of women empowerment is not better despite the fact that numbers of women increased in legislators has not showed qualitatively good result in the lives of the women so for. They are facing many problems to their political empowerment and political participation in Pakistan as well as all over the world. The socio economic factors are such factors which are considered as barriers to their advancement. “It is generally said that mobilization of women depends on their identification of interests which may vary due to class structures of the society, but on the other hand autonomous state apparatus had provided a space for the mobility to both privileged and under-privileged to get their targets”. (Ali, 2012, pp. 221-228) In 2008, the rate of women representation in political process remained 17.7% in the world. This symbolic participation and representation shows that women have to do much struggle to cover this long distance for the ideal equivalence in politics. The need of equal political participation of women in policy making in order to promote gender fair government is always felt. Many efforts are being exercised to increase women’s political participation and representation through legislative measures like special quotas which are being implemented at a remarkable rate in the political process of Pakistan. The quotas of women representation and participation are increasingly viewed as an important policy measures for women’s access to decision making bodies and legislatures. The choice of a quota system is to recruit women in order to decrease their isolation and assure the empowerment and participation in politics. Quotas system will be applied as temporary measures until the barriers are not removed for women’s political empowerment and participation. Many developing countries also have legislated quotas at the national or sub national level to ensure gender fair government like Pakistan. And political parties also have voluntarily adopted some form of quotas like other many developing countries. At the same time some serious questions bilk in mind about the quotas system to the political empowerment of women as quotas themselves, will remove all the barriers and hindrances in the way of political participation and representation. It seems important that quotas may be easy on grass root mobilization of women and the active women’s political participation in political organizations. The women’s quotas have enlarged the constituent political developments of women’s status in Musharaf regime.

The numbers of women in legislatures is not an indicator of quality but their impact and efficiency makes a difference. The status of women in Pakistan is different because of uneven socio economic development in the rural and urban populated areas. Usually, women’s situation vis-à-vis men are of systematic subordinated. Men and women’s activities and responsibilities are divided into outside and inside of home. Consequently, women’s mobilization is controlled and restricted. Men are given more opportunities and are facilitated better education than women outside the home. So this situation is leading to discrepancy of men and women that becomes the basis for male power in social, economic and political participation. Women have much little role in the formulation of economic and social policies. Their leaving out from decision making bodies does not provide them opportunities to raise their concerns and to promote their political empowerment and participation in political process. Governance systems of Pakistan are also male dominated. It is very significant for women to argue for their empowerment to make decisions in politics and legislatures. There are no restrictions on women’s participation in politics in the constitution of Pakistan; nevertheless, their participation in the political parties as well as in the political structure at the local, provincial and national level remains insufficient due to religious, cultural and structural barriers. The General elections of Pakistan 2002 saw an extraordinary numbers of reserved seats for women in the parliament of Pakistan. “Besides the increase in reserved women seats in the Assemblies from 2 to 20% women now also constitute 33% of the Union, Tehsil and District Councils”. (Election Comission Report, 2002). Government of Pakistan launched National Policy of “Development and Empowerment in 2002, which targeted to empower women in Pakistan economically, socially and politically. Increase in the number of seats for women in the National and Provincial assemblies, and Senate in Pakistan is the result of these policies. Yet women in Pakistan are not authorized to take decisions even about their own life. Enhancing the women empowerment in the traditional society like Pakistan is the need of hour (Khan, Maan, Zafar, Hashmi, & Akhtar, 2010, p. 48).

The objective of the study will be to highlight the importance of women’s representation and participation in decision making; the transformational changes while women’s political participation. This paper intends to enhance women’s political participation and democratization of political parties and highlights the main causes of the lack of women’s Political participation in Pakistan. Considering the scope and objectives of the study, both the primary and secondary data approaches are adopted. The study will be based on descriptive and analytical methodology and draws on qualitative and statistical evidence published in reports by international organizations and journals.


Empowerment is defined as a “social action process that promotes participation of people, organizations, and communities in gaining control over their lives in their community and larger societies. With this perspective, empowerment is not characterized as an achieving power to dominate others, but rather power to act with others to affect change”. (Stein, 1997, p. 7) This is observed that women are being taken as secondary to men in their social role by many of the philosophers. “Plato, Aristotle, Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, Rousseau and many others used different arguments to arrive at the common conclusion that politics is essentially a male prerogative and women are not physically or mentally fit to participate in politics on equal terms with men”. (Barro, p. 2) In

Women's empowerment is a multifaceted and evolving concept that is continually being defined re defined, elaborated, sharpened and clarified. It is deeply interred linked with gender equality and equity which appear to be the ultimate goals of women's empowerment. It has been associated with the structural transformation of society through land and labor reforms, educational opportunities access to resources, autonomy, the right to access to resources, autonomy, the right to women's own control over their bodies, sexuality and reproduction. It is a soft concept which can signify different things in varying and multiple contexts: thus it eludes a clear and concise definition. This concept has been explained by the former Indian Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi in these words: “To be liberated, women should feel free to be herself not in rivalry to man but in the context of her own capacity, women should be more interested, more alive and more active in the affairs of society not because they are women but because they constitute half the human race” (Jain, 1991, p. 93).

Women empowerment in economic field means recognizing their rights of acquiring land, better living standard and working in formal and informal sectors. Normally, women can hardly own land and even if they do, they cannot maintain an effective control over it. The customs and traditions normally restrain women from owning land and the situation is further intensified by their dependence upon the male relatives. The fear of violence and social censure force women to withdraw their demand for their inheritance and thus they themselves are reluctant to struggle for their rights. The state and its laws are perceived as abstract and distant entities, not easily accessible to women. Resultantly, distribution of inheritance is heavily dependent on local traditional systems which are often prejudiced against women. There is no institutional and legal framework for agriculture, fishery or forestry in the country and so the gender discrimination is widespread. Women have no access to higher services. The majority of women have to work in villages because of transport problems which diminish their chances for better income. When women work in the house they are paid nothing and are taken for granted while if they perform such duties outside the house i.e. factories, offices or any other organization, they can have a handsome remuneration. Even their work in the field is counted as a part of house hold duty and is therefore not counted in data collection. Similarly, in the fisheries industry, women works go unrecognized and is not paid for, in spite of be fact that they have to work in terrible conditions. (Omvedt, 2005, pp. 46-47)

Social empowerment includes equal access to education and health care for women; Women tend to get menial and low-paid jobs even though they may be more time and energy consuming. Mostly, women are not aware of opportunities, assets and services. They generally have neither ownership nor control over resources. Women have a restricted mobility and their skills are not always marketable, and their voices are not given proper attention. These factors result in diminished opportunities for women to empower themselves economically. The informal sector also shows a preponderance of women, which is characterized by a part time, temporary, insecure, and contractual work. Women's economic empowerment is inhibited due to lack of attention in policymaking and those eager resources granted. The national and global debates on poverty and labor also pay no heed to their voices despite the fact that women are increasing in the labor force, especially in the informal sector. Women of all age groups are far more unemployed as compared to men. When an economic downturn occurs they become the first victim and lose their jobs while are often given the least priority in hiring as well. No laws have been constituted specifically relating to equal compensation for equal value of work, or for protection of labor rights for domestic and home based workers. The lack of recognition of their contribution, mobility constraints, insufficient knowledge about opportunities, and the cultural view of women as low status dependants are major reasons for the low rate of women's participation in the formal sectors. Even the working conditions in the formal sectors of employment also discourage the participation of women.

Political empowerment includes women's representation on elected bodies. Political empowerment is a road believed to be the road to women's equality, rights and fulfillment, while the instrumental view respects women's political empowerment as the means to involve in political matters, showing interest in political process. The empowerment of women in terms of their mobilization as an aspect of political participation would be the litmus to show that how away it is from the reality. It could be visualized that diversity in the approach of gender development may be the outcome of the political patterns of the non western democracy, as stated by the Lucian W. Pye. He stated that “in the Non Western society political and non political spheres are diffused and people’s mobilization is happened along with the primordial factors rather than the instrumental ones and all political behavior is strongly colored by the considerations of communal identification”. (Pye, 1958, p. 471) Economically empowerment of women ensures empowerment in decision making within a household; it can be argued that the same power can be translated into participation in democratic politics in the community level.

Political participation is the term that is much difficult to explain because it is used in broad meaning of administration today. Political empowerment is unsuitable to may be related to economic empowerment with political empowerment in the terms of participation in political decision making. And the level of political participation is also concerned with empowerment. Political empowerment of women is the part of overall empowerment practice. Political participation is a major path to women's political participation and empowerment in the decision-making process or increased decision making power that will lead to women's empowerment in the true sense of the term of women empowerment. In other words, increased decision making power gives greater opportunities to influence matters that affect our lives in the community and the society at large scale. In the broad sense, participation in political process goes far beyond voting and election to public office. When it goes to decision making or in ministerial positions as law making and governmental bodies, women are a distinct minority. Indeed, their role in public life is also limited to casting votes during elections. They are remained away of the opportunities to participate in the decision making process. They are only passive observers when the decisions are being made for their welfare. The challenge that is much faced by women today is to increase their participation in the political sphere that they may get position and hold the situation and become active part of the process of decision making.


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Political empowerment of women and their participation in legislation. A case study of Pakistan 2000-2013
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Political participation, empowerment, political mobilization, patriarchal society, social norms, customs, social laws, Pakistan
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Akram Zaheer (Author)Shafqat Jabeen (Author), 2014, Political empowerment of women and their participation in legislation. A case study of Pakistan 2000-2013, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/341908


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