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Women in Democractic Politics in Pakistan

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The private roots of public participation:
Women’s engagement in democratic politics in Pakistan

Dissertation – MA Gender and Development
Marion R. Mueller, September 2004

This paper contributes to the discussion about the involvement of women as decision-makers in democratic political processes. It questions the conditions that are necessary to promote such involvement and that open up spaces for the translation of women’s representation into political influence. The context of the devolution of power process in Pakistan shows that it is not enough to only set up democratic institutions to achieve women’s political effectiveness. Instead there is need for significant support through the state, political parties and civil society. To personalise the political is necessary for successfully being able to achieve policy outcomes that reflect women’s interests.

Table of contents

Abbreviations & Foreign Words 4
List of Figures and Tables 5

Acknowledgements 6

1. Introduction 7
Choice of case study 8/ Methodology 9/ Dissertation structure 10

2. Locating women’s engagement in democratisation 11

3. Imagining the political: women and the nature of the state 16
The framework of the state 16/ Defining access: affirmative action policies in Pakistan 16/ Devolving power to the grassroots 18/ Personalising the political: the presence of women councillors 20

4. Institutionalising the political: political parties and women’s involvement in the political system 22
Party membership structures 23/ Women’s wings and party manifestos 24/ Caucusing across party lines 24/ Personalising the political: the presence of policy making 26

5. Associating the political: civil society and women’s political engagement 28
Advocating for equity: the women’s movement 28/ Other forms of association 30/ Citizens lobbying for change 31/ Personalising the political: balancing the issues 32

6. Conclusion 34

Appendix 37
List of Interviewees 39
References 40

ANP Awami National Party (leftist party)

CEDAW Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women

ICPPR International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights

JI Jamaat-i-Islami (religious right-wing party, dominant MMA coalition partner)

MMA Muttahida-i-Majilis Amal (coalition of religious right-wing parties)

NRB National Reconstruction Bureau

NWFP North West Frontier Province

PML Pakistan Muslim League (Muslim conservative party)

PPP Pakistan People’s Party (socialist party)

Foreign words

fatwa religious ruling or legal statement in Islam issued by a mufti or an religious law specialist, fataawas (plural) often are misused by local elites

jirga committee of tribal elders and village/ clan leaders watching over the enactment of rules

nazim Major

naib-nazim Vice-Major

purdah system of seclusion between women and men

List of Figures

Chart 1: Percentage of women in Pakistan’s Legislatures

Chart 2: Modalities for composition of the different tiers of local government:

List of Tables

Table 1: Number of councils on different levels with percentage of women’s representation

Table 2: Vacant reserved seats for women councillors on the union council level, according to provinces, after the local government elections 2000/2001

Table 3: Representation of women according to number of seats held


My special thanks go to Tahira Abdullah, Naeem Mirza and Sarwar Bari for taking time out of their busy schedule and providing me overall guidance on this paper. Thanks also to the staff of Aurat Foundation Peshawar for their help in logistics and translation, and their never ending input on new ideas and critical perceptions. Much credit goes to Noor Marjan and all the other women and men who have given their time and told me of their personal experiences in political activism in Pakistan, and to my family in Hayatabad who just once more made me feel at home.

I would also like to thank the Sector Project ‘Strengthening Women’s Rights’ of the German Technical Cooperation (GTZ), which has financially enabled me to undertake my field research in Pakistan. And I am indebted to my supervisor, Anne-Marie Goetz, for her helpful insights and feedback on my work, as well as to Mark Robinson, who provided valuable comments on the outline of my paper.

My special thanks however go to Nigar Ahmad and Rukhshanda Naz of Aurat Foundation Pakistan for providing me with the opportunity to gain insight into this challenging and exciting topic, and for their overall support and their trust in my work.

1. Introduction

‘In the dust and strife of life in Parliament I often longed for the peace and leisure of the days in purdah. But there could be no turning back, no return to the secluded and sheltered existence of the past. I had to continue on this new road on which the women of my country had set out (…). And who can deny that this is a richer, fuller and more rewarding way of life?’ [1] Shaista Suhrawardy Ikramullah, Member of the first Constitutional Assembly of Pakistan, 1948

‘Our society is a male-dominated society and not interested in women’s issues and we [women] are very uneasy in these surroundings. But at the same time we are very confident. If the law remains and we do not have to get out of the assembly, we will not go back without any reason. Everyone says that you should resign and go back to your home (…) but we will in all walks of life resist this attitude.’[2] Samia Rahel Qazi, Member of the National Assembly of Pakistan, 2004

After a military putsch in 1999, the Pakistan government under General Musharraf announced its intention to bring the country back to democracy following a plan to devolve power to the grassroots. Under this plan, significant legal and administrative reforms were introduced and elections were held accordingly. In the local government elections in 2000/2001, around 40,000 women were elected on the local government level. And since the general elections in 2002, women hold 21.6 percent of seats in the National Assembly and 17 percent in the Senate. Pakistan now has one of the highest percentages of representation of women in national governance in South Asia ahead of Bhutan with 9.33 and India with 8.84 percent (Bilal, 2004:17). What, however, does this mean for a country that is known for its rigid patriarchal structure and as one of the most restrictive contexts for women’s rights?

Examples from other countries show that within a process of democratisation to bring about the development of democratic politics, it is not enough to set up democratic institutions. Likewise, an increase of women’s representation in political office, for example through affirmative action, does not necessarily translate into policy outcomes that include women’s interests (e.g. Goetz, 2003; Molyneux & Razavi, 2002; Rai, 1996). The quotations above show how the highly gendered and patriarchal structures of society and of state systems in Pakistan obstruct women’s political voice and agency. This is the case despite the period of 56 years that lies between the two statements. However, even if the two women’s interests might differ considerably, the quotations also reflect the fact that both women are inspired by their opportunity to access political office and, in their very own way, claim the project of representing women’s issues in politics. By asserting this claim they start to resist existing gendered norms and likewise initiate a first step towards a process of change from within these norms. It is this contradictory linkage between women’s voice, women’s political presence and their opportunities for influencing the establishment of a gender equity agenda that is the concern of this dissertation. With the intention of contributing towards the discussion on women’s involvement in political decision-making, I will ask the following question:

What conditions are necessary to promote the involvement of women in democratic processes and open up spaces for the translation of women’s voice into political influence?

Taking the introduction of affirmative action in Pakistan as a starting point, I will show that it is a variety of factors that have to be taken into account for the definition and analysis of women’s political effectiveness. I will point out mechanisms and structures within civil society, the political system and the state that have to be supportive towards a gender equity agenda. My analysis will show that it is only if these factors are in place, that women’s interests can successfully be translated into political influence.

Choice of case study
The specific socio-cultural context of Pakistan and the long years of resistance towards women’s political participation make the introduction of affirmative action in 2000 very interesting for the study of women’s political participation. The local government system will be taken as an entry point for looking at women’s access, presence and influence in the latest democratic project of Pakistan. Composed of four provinces – Punjab, Sindh, Balochistan and the North-West-Frontier-Province (NWFP) – the country exemplifies considerable cultural and ethnic diversity. Additionally, geographic, demographic and economic differences lead to broad political inequalities. For a better illustration of socio-cultural and region-specific circumstances (e.g. tribal culture) I have selected the North-West-Frontier-Province (NWFP) as an example in parts of this paper. This choice is made as not much other academic writing on this province is available yet.
Due to a limited availability of space, a comparison of the case of Pakistan with other countries that have introduced similar affirmative action measures for women in local government had to be abandoned. It nevertheless has to be mentioned here that a comparative analysis with Uganda would have been appealing because of similar experiences in terms of military regimes and patronage systems as well as in the choice of introducing affirmative action measures. A comparison with neighbouring India, because of its cultural and historical similarities that influence women’s participation would also have yielded insights. These comparative projects, though, have to be left for future research.

My analysis in this paper draws on academic literature on women in politics and policy-making. My empirical analysis is based on published academic work and also relies to a considerable extent on primary sources. These include official studies, NGO reports and newspaper articles. The assessment made is constrained by the nature of the available information. Thematically related publications on governance reforms and on women’s political participation are accessible mainly in form of donor project reports or project-related publications and lack academically grounded analysis. Data is patchy and there is a huge gap in record keeping.

To access information relevant to recent developments and to support my theoretical understandings of the topic with a discussion of the experiences of people actually involved in the promotion of women in politics, I visited Pakistan between 28th June and 3rd August 2004. Twenty discussions in Peshawar, Islamabad and Lahore were held in English, Urdu and Pashto, partly with English or German translation. The information processed in this paper relies in part on these discussions, as well as on a thorough perusal of recent articles in local English-language newspapers and on other documentation collected in Pakistan. Impressions gained during my personal work experience in Pakistan and in South Asia between 1998 and 2003 additionally contribute to my writing in this paper.
While I am fully aware that these sources of information are not necessarily statistically valid, I will have to rely on them for the purpose of this paper. Moreover, as an advocate for women’s rights I am aware that my personal observations are inextricable from the bias of my white European background. Despite this I hope that this dissertation will contribute towards the study of women’s political participation.

Dissertation structure
The dissertation comprises 6 chapters. Chapter 2 introduces the concept of women’s political effectiveness within the context of democratisation. Chapters 3, 4 and 5 will illustrate in what ways the nature and support of the state, of political parties and of civil society contribute towards an inclusive democratisation process and the establishment of a gender equity constituency. Chapter 6 concludes.
2. Locating women’s engagement in democratisation
Generally, the political empowerment of women has been on the international agenda for decades. Supported through the Beijing and Beijing plus 5 conferences, the CEDAW convention as well as the ICCPR, there has been a concerted effort by feminists around the world to increase women’s representation in political institutions and the overall political process. It is hoped that the establishment of democratic mechanisms providing women access to public office will create not only the space for women to become legitimate political actors and confirm the right of women to belong to the public sphere but moreover will lead to an effective representation of women’s interests. Understanding effective political representation as the capacity of women political representatives to engage with a feminist agenda and consequently to influence an engendered decision-making within political institutions and the community (Goetz, 2003), in this chapter I will draw the framework for my analysis.

Since the early 1990s, there has been support for democratic decentralisation within the developmental debate. It is expected that democracy and local government will enable socially excluded groups, the poor, women, etc. to participate in decision-making processes. Changes in organisational structures should achieve an opening up of space for these groups to assert their agency (Luckham et al, 2003). Under decentralisation thereby often different and subsequently linked forms like deconcentration of administrative structures, distribution of fiscal resources and democratic devolution of power and responsibilities are summarised. The form of decentralisation that is chosen by political regimes depends on the motives or intentions of those regimes. These can range from an idealistic aim to establish deeper democracy, for example through strengthening of state-civil-society relations, to more cynical attempts that lead to establishing a constituency for the ruling party or military government (Crook & Manor, 1998).

More recent research on democratisation and decentralisation extensively reviews the different contexts for the success or failure of democratic processes and focuses on the impact of decentralisation on poverty reduction, service delivery or even local accountability (Robinson, 2003). Yet the discussion of democratisation more rarely includes a focus on the institutionalised barriers that prevent a true engagement of women’s voice and agency as part of a pro-poor policy agenda. Waylen accordingly observes that ‘institutional democratization does not necessarily entail a democratization of power relations in society at large, particularly between men and women’ (1994:329). To put it in other words: it is often overlooked that women’s access to democratic institutions does not automatically lead to women’s influence in decision-making. Due to cultural reasons women might for example not be able to participate in decision-making let alone to voice their demands. Yet where access to political office is guaranteed but not supplemented with the opportunity to exercise the right of participation, it means only little in practice. It therefore can be assumed that a systematic engagement with political institutions is needed to dissolve traditional institutionalised patterns and prevailing patriarchal structures in a transformative process towards the recognition of gender equity concerns in policy making and implementation.

Such a process of the engendering of governance institutions consequently implies several steps: First it means a re-structuring of those institutions at every level to introduce accountability to women as citizens. Such a process needs to imply the recognition of concerns of choice, but also control and autonomy to an extent where women are enabled to voice opposition (Rai, 1996; Molyneux & Razavi, 2002). Acknowledging the opportunity of influencing processes and decision-making adds value to women’s participation as political activity. Secondly it means critically assessing and effectively challenging rules, procedures and priorities that exclude women from participation in decision-making and that also exclude the incorporation of women’s interests into the development agenda. Changes in patterns of exclusion are a necessary prerequisite for the facilitation of women’s voice in civil society and the organisation of women’s citizenship agency (Mukhopadhyay, 2004). Finally it is important to define women’s interests as based on various influential factors, like race, class, age, ethnicity. Women’s interests, at different times or phases of their lives, might conflict with each other and be subjected to constant re-negotiation within a specific socio-cultural and historical context (Wieringa, 1994). Likewise we cannot assume that women would unanimously agree on or support gender issues and it is possible that state policies, attempting to reflect women’s interests, do benefit one group of women while harming another. Molyneux identifies this dilemma as ‘conditionality of women’s unity’ (1985:234) while Jeffery summarises the diversity in women’s voice and agency:

‘In brief, the question is not whether women are victims or agents but, rather, what sorts of agents women can be despite their subordination. We need to explore the distinctive ways and diverse arenas in which women deploy their agency, the different people over whom they may exercise it, and the agendas that orient and direct it. Only then can we determine what is key to feminist agency and imagine how women’s agency might translate into feminist political activism.’ (Jeffery, 1998:223)

Goetz outlines a framework for analysing the determinants of women’s political effectiveness through a ‘voice-to-representation-to-accountability’ relationship (2003: 29). This framework enables to analyse the capacity of institutions located within the arenas of the state, the political system and civil society to put gender equity interests on their agenda. According to Goetz it is essential to measure to what extent these institutions influence women’s chances to assert their voice and how far such institutions provide accountability to women (2003:39). Hence derived from this framework, women’s political participation can be seen as an interrelated process between access to political office; political presence and claiming of citizenship agency; and an engendering of governance institutions through political influence (Mukhopadhyay, 2004:21; Goetz, 2003:41). This definition of women’s political participation as acting out of agency towards political influence will provide the starting point for the assessment undertaken in this paper.

Institutional arenas such as the state, the political system and civil society are predominantly organised along patriarchal structures and are reproducers of gender differences and inequalities (Shaheed, 2002; Waylen, 1996). In a discussion on women’s political representation it therefore becomes necessary to single out the gendered dimensions of political contestation in all these arenas:

The state, according to Waylen (1996), has to be seen as an arena composed of institutions that are distinguished from each other and that are the outcome of a context of specific political and historical conjuncture. Consequently the state cannot be seen as a homogeneous category but is, with a certain extent of autonomy, permeated by society and by social processes. In this regard it is also that the state, through its provisions of rights and resources, creates influence on the voice and agency of its citizens and on the degree of their demands of state accountability (Goetz, 2003, Waylen, 1994). According to Goetz, there are several factors that have to be examined to find out how far the state has the capacity to support the rights of excluded groups, such as women, and to challenge unjust rules within its own bureaucracy: the institutional setting of the state, the ability of state institutions to realise gender equity policy commitments in practical terms and the level of decentralised political and administrative state structures (2003:61). When analysing state capacity to enforce gender equity concern it is necessary to look at the state-society power relations and particularly the state’s ability to keep autonomous from the conservative agendas and gender biased interventions of influential social groups (2003: 60-61).

In a democratic political system, political parties are the core mechanism for channelling political demands (Molyneux & Razavi, 2002:29). Goetz accordingly identifies political parties as one of the most important institutions for transmitting citizen’s voice into political decision-making (2003:50). For her it is the degree of institutionalisation of political parties that reflects the prospects for democratisation in developing countries: only coherent party structures and a clear political vision will be supportive towards the inclusion of the interests of socially excluded groups in policy-making (2003:54). Norris (2004) observes that in an interactive process, demands for political representation through a gender advocacy lobby create influence on party politics and that in turn the strategies of political parties influence advocacy agendas of the gender advocacy lobby. However, in many places women activists have experienced great difficulty in accommodating themselves to the often inhospitable environment of political parties and their policies. This means that the nature and support provided through political parties towards women’s political participation can be taken as indicators of an inclusive political system. According to Goetz, to understand how far it is possible to push ahead the gender equity agenda through political parties, factors like the structure and the level of institutionalisation of political parties, their membership structure and the way in which policies are addressed in party manifestos have to be examined (2003:39, 53).

Civil society, is ‘….the key proving ground for establishing the legitimacy of gender equity policy goals, and for building a feminist constituency’ (Goetz, 2003:42). Civil society thus has to be defined in such a way that it includes several ‘informal’ forms of organisation often chosen by groups who do not have access to formal or public institutions. Feminist writers on women’s political participation (Tripp, 2000; Ali, 2000; Molyneux, 1985) suggest that it is important to look at the examples of women’s movements within their specific socio-cultural contexts and at their capacity to assert voice and likewise challenge gendered and institutionalised perceptions of the role, rights and needs of women. According to Goetz, the supremacy and commitment of the women’s movement reflects the location of the gender equity lobby in civil society and its capacity to include people’s demands and interests. The autonomy and mobility of the women’s movement, moreover, provides insight into the available political and cultural scope for associational life as created by the state (Goetz, 2003:39). On the level of civil society there are other factors that impact women’s influence in political decision-making, such as the numbers and the positions that women occupy within civil society associations or the overall character of women’s associations (Goetz, 2003:42). By assessing these factors it is possible to observe the way in which civil society organisations provide space for the articulation of women’s voice, how far they promote women’s interests and how far they show themselves responsible for the realisation of a gender equity agenda (Goetz, 2003:45).

Overall, it is important to understand that the process leading from women’s access to political institutions to their acting out of agency towards political influence is not linear and is intrinsically linked with the socio-cultural background conditions in which women live. This also means that the analysis undertaken in this paper and located within a specific socio-cultural context can only in part be derived from a blueprint of an existing conceptual framework for women’s political effectiveness. Additionally, in any religiously or culturally conservative context, the attempt to change long prevailing, patriarchal structures is most likely to provoke resistance on the part of the defenders of traditional norms and values. The scope of such resistance prescribes women’s actual room for manoeuvre on gender issues and can demobilise women’s voice and agency. My attempt to discover the private roots of public participation consequently needs to personalise the political in considering ‘the inner workings of social and political life’ (Tripp, 2000:220) and needs to carefully listen to the voices of those who are the actors within the political project of democratisation: the women themselves. Or, as Rai states,

‘Democratization (…) has an exciting potential for the lives of women. Whether this potential is realized or not will in large part depend upon whether and how issues arising from women’s experiences in both the private and the public spheres are addressed.’ (1996:242)
3. Imagining the political: women and the nature of the state

The framework of the state
A review of the political history of Pakistan shows that from its inception in 1947 the country has gone through 8 general elections (Pattan, 2003) and is now in its 12th legislature (PILDAT, 2004). In 57 years of existence Pakistan has experienced 25 years of military rule and dictatorship. Frequently interrupted attempts to restore the country to democracy have so far only resulted in no elected prime minister being able to stay in office long enough to hand over power to an elected successor (Constable, 2001:16). Because of this turbulent history, the overall framework of the state in Pakistan, according to Shaheed, is articulated through:

‘….the development of a centralised state structure and the denial of co-cultural leadership; the instrumental use of Islam as a legitimising ideology by the elites; the continuation of the feudal structure and its attendant attitudes that permeate society; the concept of modernisation and functional inequality adopted by the state; and the militarisation of society.’ (2002:12-13)

Additionally, corruption and autocracy on the part of the country’s leadership, and a state of indebtedness, have led to a lack of effective public institutions and a civic life dominated by a small elite population that contributes to an absence of a culture of democracy and public accountability (Constable, 2001:15). Some scholars see these as the factors that have diminished people’s general trust in democratic governance (Graf, 2003; Pattan, 2003).

Defining access: affirmative action policies in Pakistan
Women have always been present in the formal political history of post-independence Pakistan, though their presence has always been restricted by the traditional and patriarchal structures of the society. As a result, the number of women taking political office has been persistently low and dependent on affirmative action measures and on patronage by the political leadership. The constitution of Pakistan guarantees the equality of all citizens before the law including the equality of political rights for women and men[3], Pakistan since 1995 has been a signatory to the CEDAW convention which was ratified in 1996. In 1983 the first Commission on the Status of Women was set up (Graf, 2003) and made a permanent statutory body in 2000 (Aurat Foundation, 2003). The first Ministry for Women’s Development was initiated in 1989 (Graf, 2003). The allocation of resources to the Ministry and the influence and decision-making power of both institutions varied with the different governments but were generally very limited in scope. In 2002 the Ministry for Women’s Development brought out a national policy for development and empowerment of women. The document, however, does not mention issues related to women’s rights and women’s political participation (Aurat Foundation, 2003).

Chart 1 shows the percentage of women in Pakistan’s National Assembly from 1947 until the latest general elections in 2002.

Chart 1: Percentage of women in Pakistan’s Legislatures
[pic]Source: PILDAT, 2004:16

The limited affirmative action methods that were introduced between 1947 and 1999 to a large extent failed to achieve valuable political participation of women at decision-making levels. Even though the number of women in Parliament at times increased, for example due to a reservation of 20 seats in 1985 over the period of the 7th and 8th legislatures, or the fact that the Prime Minister was a woman herself, this did not produce an effective improvement in women’s status on any level of the Pakistani society. Quotas for women in government services had been introduced at times (e.g. under Benazir Bhutto) but did not exceed 5 percent (Graf, 2003). Moreover affirmative action measures introduced on the national level, rarely included measures to improve women’s participation at the level of local government. The reservation of additional seats for women served only to fill these seats but did not encourage a general increase in the numbers of women competing for them. It can largely be said that constitutional guarantees as well as Pakistan’s commitments to international laws were not being successfully realised by the respective state governments. This was the situation until in 1999 General Pervez Musharraf assumed power in the country.

Devolving power to the grassroots
Shortly after the coup the Supreme Court of Pakistan legitimised the military action under the ‘doctrine of state necessity’ provided that elections were being held within the following three years (Shah, 2002:67). With the intention of bringing the country back to democracy, General Musharraf announced his commitment to devolve power to the grassroots under a ‘Devolution of Power Plan’. This included the devolution of political power, decentralisation of administrative authority, deconcentration of management functions, distribution of resources to the district level and diffusion of the power-authority nexus[4]. The new system introduced on the local level was a three tiered system ranging from the union over the tehsil/town to the district level[5] (Mirza, 2002). Under the Local Government Ordinances 2001 and the Legal Framework Order of 2002 a 33 percent seat reservation for women on all levels of local government and 15 percent of seats in the Provincial Assemblies and the Parliament were introduced. Launching a historical momentum for the participation of women in Pakistan’s politics (Naz, 2004), the local government elections in 2000/2001 increased the number of women representatives on the local level to 36,105 (Mirza, 2002:2). In the general elections held in 2002 a further 74 women took office in the National Assembly[6], 17 women in the Senate and a total of 128 women in the four Provincial Assemblies (Bilal, 2004:4). A countrywide survey conducted after the elections in 2002 shows that there was great optimism regarding women’s representation in politics and expectations among the people that this would have a positive impact on the democratic development of the country. Such expectations were found to be especially high among women (Pattan, 2003:11).

In Pakistan, most forms of decentralisation have so far been introduced through military governments. Civilian governments, meanwhile, have not shown much interest in establishing devolved democratic support mechanisms. Including the elections in 2000/2001 there were five local government elections held under military rule and two under civilian rule. A constitutional protection of local government has never been established (Graf, 2003) and no government has shown relevant political will towards local level democracy. Instead, matters of local governance always have been perceived as provincial matters, and this has led to huge structural differences between the four provinces. This is especially noticeable in the case of women’s participation. Except for the elections of 1998, where in one of the provinces (Balochistan) women’s representation rose to over 25 percent, the percentage of women representatives has remained at 5 to 12 percent, which is extremely minimal. In the North-West-Frontier-Province and in Sindh no local government elections were held between 1987 and 2000/2001 (Mirza, 2002).

Generally the features of the different local government systems can be summarised as a) never achieving full functionality; b) each system was unique in concept and did not take on board lessons learned from past attempts; and c) most of the systems so far have been used to introduce a civilian constituency to provide a military regime with a semblance of democratic legitimacy (Yazdani, 2004:13). Overall, no attempt of decentralisation in Pakistan has promoted any significant change or a true shift in power relations on any level, neither between the ruling elite and the poor, nor between men and women. Also since the elections of 2000/2001 have taken place there are relentless problems reported in the functioning of the latest local government system which lead many women councillors to conclude that they are not able to respond adequately to the demands of their communities. Lack of resources and problems experienced in the delivery of services – according to 50 percent of the councillors – led to frustration with their role as public representatives (Pattan, 2004). Many among them simply feel overburdened and some have decided not to run again for the next elections (Graf, 2004:54).

Personalising the political: the presence of women councillors
Naz (2004) shows in her review of the Local Government Ordinance in the North-West-Frontier-Province that it is the present structure of the law that places serious impediments on women councillors. First of all, it completely omits a definition of women’s roles and responsibilities. In practice this leads to women being automatically assigned to issues concerning women or social welfare. This shows a feminisation of women’s needs and interests. In Graf’s (2004) interviews some councillors even state that they believe they have been elected to look after the concerns of women due to the traditional purdah (seclusion) system. Another assumption made is that women only use social welfare services (Naz, 2004) but are not interested in for example infrastructure development or transportation issues. A second obstacle is that the law does not ensure the presence of women councillors in council or committee meetings, which leads to women simply not getting involved in important processes like the budget planning. Another, rather paradox result is that due to the lack of official support for women’s participation, male councillors think they can launch a legal complaint against women who do actively participate in the meetings of their councils (Naz, 2004; Graf, 2004).

Complaining that she is the only woman attending the union council meetings, Samina Naz describes another set of problems that hold back women’s participation in local level decision-making:

‘We are actually six women in our council, but none of the others is attending the sessions. One of them got married after the election and her in-laws do not allow her to come. One died. A third lives too far away to attend the sessions and she has three children as well. The fourth initially was from the support panel of the Nazim (Major), when she found out that he was acting illegally she started to advocate against him. He threatened her so she now is afraid to come. The fifth has a beauty parlour in her house and she is earning good money with it. She does not want to lose this way of income.’[7]

Such conditions, together with the gendered structure of the local government system, are common impediments to women’s participation on all levels of the system, all over Pakistan (Graf, 2004; Pattan, 2004; Mirza, 2002). Definitely the public participation of women has been visibly increasing at all levels of local and national governance. But, as Samina’s statement shows, women still face tough resistance in asserting their voice within what is possibly the most critical social institution: the family or the family clan. In fact, and we will also see this in the following chapters, women’s mere presence in public office actually leads them into a confrontation with the highly political project of challenging the patriarchal structures of Pakistan’s society. The women councillors are expected to effectively contribute towards the development of their area; however, their performance depends on conditions like their personal economic or educational background or the encouragement they get from their families especially in combining political responsibilities with their reproductive role. If, however, the democratisation process is to have any significance for women’s demands and be inclusive of women’s interests, women’s political participation has to be acknowledged as a permanent crossing of boundaries between the private and the public spheres. It is only then that both the private and the public sphere will experience a process of transformation.

Yet, according to our framework, the responsibility for including of women’s interests into policy agendas has to go far beyond a sole state responsibility. In the next chapter I consequently will take a look at the political system and political parties as its major representatives. Despite the local government elections were actually supposed to be on a non-party base in the latest elections in Pakistan an open competition among political parties about women candidates and voters was taking place on all levels (Graf, 2004). The next chapter will analyse in what ways political parties exercise their ability and political will to support the above discussed process of transformation towards a gender equity agenda.
4. Institutionalising the political: political parties and women’s involvement in the political system
One of the assumptions that goes along with the introducing of affirmative action is that political parties will automatically cultivate women candidates as the reservation of seats for women in governance institutions will provide an incentive to increase women’s party membership. This, however, is not true. Instead, women meet stiff resistance from political parties. They do not get access to or influence in decision-making procedures and they are rarely fielded as candidates for non-reserved positions. In Pakistan, only a limited number of women have been able to enter this arena with the aim of improving women’s position from within the party structures (Bari, F. & Khattak, 2001).

At present more than 70 political parties are registered in Pakistan. One third of them are religiously oriented, two thirds regionally based, and the majority of them do not have any representation in the country’s national or provincial Legislative Assemblies (Zia & Bari, F., 1999:29). Overall, there is not only a great absence of formal professional political leadership (male and female) but the structures of the major political parties of the country are inefficient and poorly institutionalised (Shaheed, 2002). The number of political parties that have women in their Central Executive Councils is said to be only two or three with not more than two women members each (Yazdani, 2004; Zia & Bari, F., 1999). Even despite the fact that a recent survey shows that, with few exceptions, the political parties in Pakistan support the reservation of seats for women (Yazsdani, 2004:23), none of them has worked out any concrete support structure which would provide on-the-job training, financial assistance or proper access to (male dominated) party networks and structures. How far such a restricted attitude is internalised, especially in right-wing party structures, becomes clear in the statement that Samia Rahel Qazi, herself a party representative and member of the National Assembly, makes against reservation of seats for women:

‘The Jamaat-i-Islami[8] is strongly opposing this large number of women in the parliament because, according to our opinion, a nomination through a quota is against basic democratic rules. We think this totally is a military ruled democracy. Additionally, many women who are now in office have no political background or training and because we do not have strong political institutions it is not possible to bridge this gap. We think that a few properly trained women should go to parliament, there is no rule in Islam or in the constitution against this. But, it is the basic duty of women to make their home more peaceful and more prosperous and train the human being as the basic unit of the society, within their homes. Women took the decision to go for politics in such a large number only because it was introduced by law and we are very much law obeying people. However I do not think that it is true that when women come into politics there will be a change in women’s condition.’ [9]

The statement indicates the paradoxical situation many women party members have to face when trying to balance the highly gendered agendas of their parties with their own commitment and their sense of their own value as women politicians.

Party membership structures
Political parties in Pakistan include different categories of women members, of which the most prominent category is made up of women who are relatives of prominent or active male members of political parties. A second category comprises those women who came in through mainstream politics. Many of them belong to more affluent political families and keep a distance from their fellow women party members on the worker level or in the party’s women’s wing. A third category comprises women active at the community or professional level. They are invited by the parties to join as they are able to mobilise more support among women on the local level and are active during election campaigns or at political rallies (Zia & Bari, F., 1999:31). Women who participate in party politics out of their own interest and choice are low in numbers. Because of a lack of membership structures, many women do not define themselves as affiliated with any specific party. Instead, they support parties that their families are affiliated with (Yazdani, 2004; Shaheed, 2002) or that offer them the most interesting incentives. Shahin Akter’s statement reveals the confusion that exists among many women:

‘I myself have contested elections on behalf of the Jamaat-i-Islami, they asked me for it and I got my votes from them. However myself I gave my vote for the Pakistan People’s Party because my brother is involved with them. Now they have asked me to found a women’s wing for them in my union. But how can I do so now as my husband, who is a member of Awami National Party is coming back from abroad.’[10]

Women’s wings and party manifestos
On national and provincial levels, all the major political parties except the Awami National Party have introduced women’s wings, which usually have a separate hierarchy and structure. It is mostly the party leaders who nominate women for relevant positions and by and large none of the women’s wings have any relevant decision-making power or autonomy (Zia & Bari, F., 1999). Women’s wings do not take any initiative in enhancing women’s understanding of the political process or of politics more generally. They likewise cannot be seen as providing support to their members in asserting their interests or in pushing forward a women’s equity agenda. Party manifestos show a similar picture. Whereas in the elections of 1988 and 1993 the political parties had promised concrete steps towards women’s inclusion in the national development process, the manifestos of 1997 were much more vague and only the Pakistan People’s Party had included a section that solely dealt with women rights and development (Shaheed, 1998:299, 301). The same is true of the manifestos of 2002, where women, under the section of political reforms, are encouraged to take part in all walks of life (Pakistan Muslim League-Q manifesto). More generally, the reservation of seat for women is supported (Pakistan People’s Party manifesto), and even more generally, under the section for fundamental rights women are guaranteed equal rights with men in the political field (Awami National Party manifesto). All manifestos mention women in relation to health, education or economic empowerment.[11] To overcome the poor performance of political parties in terms of women’s participation, the foundation of a separate women’s party in which women would have sole decision-making power was discussed among feminists at the end of the 1990s (Shaheed, 1998:304). Yet it does not become clear from the literature if such a party was ever set up or if such discussion is still going on.

Caucusing across party lines
In the elections of 1993 and 1997 a cross party caucus mobilisation of women was initiated by a national level NGO with the aim of educating women party members and women voters about the political process and the importance of their contribution. This initiative promptly led to political parties addressing women’s issues and while some of them integrated a women’s agenda into their manifestos (see above), others chose at least to address women as a vote bank or for election rallies. For some more progressive parties like the socialist Pakistan People’s Party the inclusion of women in rallies at that time was not unusual. For the conservative and right-wing oriented Jamaat-e-Islami, however, it meant setting a new trend as for the first time the daughter of its leader (Samia Rahel Qazi) appeared in public, appealing to women to actively participate in political affairs through their representation in the National Assembly (Shaheed, 1998: 301-302). In 1997 the political education programme started to mobilise women of different political parties to participate in various seminars, workshops and discussions. Reports of experiences with the programme show that whereas it is easy to find an entry for discussion across party lines on general gender issues such as problems women face in their parties, differences rapidly surface between the representatives if it comes to issues of women’s rights and traditional laws in Pakistan (Zia & Bari, F., 1999). The Jamaat-e-Islami, for example, has supported civil society activities and taken up the issue of violence against women in their election campaigns but still strongly opposes any amendments to the Hadood Ordinances. Women representatives of the party, like Noor Marjan then, have to distinguish women’s interests from the interests of their parties:

‘The women members of the Provincial and National Assembly are just defending the party interests because they want to advocate against the military government. I also try to advocate for women’s interests in my party, for example on the Hadood Ordinances. You know some people in Jamaat-e-Islami they just start shouting if it comes to this topic, but in fact they are just defending a decision taken by another military dictator. And, if I say that I will not talk on the Hadood Ordinances because I am from the Jamaat-e-Islami it is not the solution of this problems. I am trying to advocate to the provincial level representatives of the party that they will talk to the party leadership. There is a big gap between the grassroots and the leadership of the party on those issues.’ [12]

Such examples show how malleable, even though resistant, notions of ‘tradition’ and religion are. Political parties in Pakistan have at times found it expedient to claim feminist ground by showing that they can and do have active women members and front women candidates. On other occasions, and mainly influenced by conservative elites of the local level, they block policies that would support women’s mobility and decision-making power. It is political institutions frequently undertaking these opportunistic shifts in their priorities that contribute to the persistent lack of legitimacy of political leadership.

Personalising the political: the presence of policy making
Many women activists feel that party politics do not matter much or at least less than local level politics and that it is actually the reign of family clans and traditional leaders that is reflected within the party structures. [13] Indeed after the last elections, 76 percent of women members of legislative assemblies and about 82 percent of Nazims (Majors) were found to be close relatives of members of the National or Provincial Assemblies (Bari, S., 2004). A closer examination of the situation in the North-West-Frontier-Province also shows that the jirga system, introduced about six hundred years ago through the Pashtun tribes, has grown into a strong political institution. Composed of tribal elders and other influential leaders, the jirga committees watch over the enactment of rules and regulations on all levels of society in accordance with traditions and customs (Shah, M. 1992:26). Jirgas are exclusively male institutions that neither allow women’s participation nor acknowledge women’s interests (Government of NWFP, 2003: 118). The jirga system also prevails among settled urban Pashtun populations in other geographical regions, e.g. Karachi. According to Shaheed (1998) male-dominated tribal and feudal structures exert a strong influence on the political system and on women’s political participation. Because of their strong institutionalisation within society, they can actually be seen as an important factor in determining Pakistan’s political leadership.

Reports from the 1997 and 2000/2001 elections and the 2004 by-elections show that conservative factions of society, represented through jirgas, together with political parties, tried to stop women from voting or standing for elections (Shaheed et al, 1998: 72; Aurat Foundation, 2001). Initiated by traditional leaders, in the districts of Swabi, Dir and Mardan, in 2000/2001 written agreements were made across party lines whereby party activists worked to stop women from putting themselves up for office. Religious authorities issued fatwas or imposed threats (for example, the annulment of marriage certificates or the refusal of proper burial ceremonies) on those women and their families who were found to be casting their vote or standing for elections (Aurat Foundation, 2001). Examples like these show to what extreme extent women’s attempts at political participation were challenging traditional power-configurations. Tripp accordingly observes that

‘As new contenders for power and resources, women face serious limitations that have to do with the way in which deeply ingrained ideologies, pre-existing patterns of authority, and long-standing interests seek to maintain the status quo and keep political power in the hands of male elders.’ (2000:218)

These examples also indicate that even if influential people and political parties on the national level are committed to women’s participation in politics they do not necessarily exert influence on traditional institutions at the local level.

The political system, exemplified through political parties, resembles a large and interwoven network of patriarchal and traditional structures. To untie it is a long-term and extremely difficult project which, if at all, can only be managed by a gender advocacy lobby based within the system itself and on the levels of state and civil society. In the next chapter I will assess the capacity of civil society in Pakistan to support the establishment of a gender equity agenda. I will illustrate to what extent the women’s movement and other forms of associations as representatives of the gender advocacy lobby enable women to assert voice and challenge gendered structures within the state and the political system.
5. Associating the political: civil society and women’s political engagement
The patriarchal structure of power relations and the institution of purdah (seclusion) have always been serious impediments to women’s activism in Pakistan. They lead to women being restricted to the private sphere and denied access to the public arena and formal associations (Shaheed, 1998). Additionally, state politics, civil society and social relations are entrenched in conservative religious ideologies and traditional norms and practices. Within these restrictive circumstances, however, there have been various forms of activism around women’s issues – one of the most important is the women’s movement.

Advocating for equity: the women’s movement
There are predominantly two key events in the history of pre-Independence Pakistan that have shaped the current form of the women’s movement: the active participation of women in the Pakistan Independence Movement in 1947 and women’s activism against the repressive politics and so called Islamisation measures under the military government of Zia-ul-Haq (1977-1988) (Abdullah, 2002). An extraordinary volume of feminist writing is focusing on how the women’s movement, despite its principally democratic orientation and its serious estimation of Muslim identity, was forced under the Zia regime into a primarily reactive position towards government policies (Ali, 2000; Shaheed, 1998; Zia, 1998). And indeed this highly problematic relationship between the state and civil society activists has continued ever since. Any constructive links that had been established between women activists and women politicians in times of democratic leadership were repeatedly undermined by disruptive decades of martial law or by politicised religious approaches taken by the state. Advocacy efforts on gender issues have consequently always been confronted by the strategic question of whether women’s activism should take place within the framework of Islam or whether it should be advanced through a secular understanding of women’s and human rights. Hand in hand with this question goes another: should women’s rights issues be addressed within a framework of existing social and cultural relations or should they challenge patriarchal and structures and unjust institutionalised practises (Zia, 1998:407)? That as a consequence women activists have mainly taken an oppositional approach is hardly surprising. Previous military regimes have always emphasised women’s role within the domestic sphere and left open no space for political association. State institutions under all governments, moreover, have increasingly utilised an orthodox interpretation of Islam to argue against women’s involvement in political decision-making. Sadar Ali observes that:

‘by far the most serious problem confronting the women of Pakistan lies in the stubborn reluctance of the state to address issues relating to the status of women within a secular framework while all the time operating in what is essentially a secular domain’ (2000:60).

This dilemma can at present be observed in the communication on women’s rights issues – like the Hadood Ordinances – between women activists and women politicians of the religious party coalition MMA, on the federal level but also and especially in the North-West-Frontier-Province. It is their conflicting perception of accountability relationships – to democratic principles on the side of the activist lobby and to the higher cause of Islam on the side of the religious coalition – that enables neither of the two factions to outline an effective and joint advocacy strategy that would be responsible to the cause of women’s rights.

Also in reaction to the difficulties of finding one strategic direction within the women’s movement, in the 1980s many of the leading figures within the movement started to set up their own NGOs. In this way, they hoped to create new space for dialogue on gender and human rights issues. This decision was also partly due to an overall shift in international donor funding priorities following the increasing involvement of the Women in Development (WID) approach. Critics of this decision speak of an ‘NGO-ization of the women’s movement’ and perceive it as major reason for the erosion of the movement’s integrity (Bari, F. & Khattak, 2001:237). In fact, the only larger association of voluntary organisations that presently acts as platform and lobby for women rights is the Women’s Action Forum (WAF) founded in 1981. WAF is at times joined by a varying range of non-governmental organisations advocating on gender and human rights issues, however only when they feel safe to support its secular approach (Abdullah, 2002). Trying to keep independent of any autocratic or theocratic influences on its decision-making and strategising of agendas, WAF does generally not accept any funding. Yet, this also means that WAF is left dependent on its associates’ will to support its strategies. At times these circumstances put constraints in WAF’s opportunities for setting up a sustainable administrative structure necessary for the creation of successful advocacy strategies.

Generally, women activists have found it an uphill task to unite women on the grounds of advocacy for gender equity concerns as it remains difficult to mobilise women on the basis of common interests which may not be strongly contested. Whenever there has been any organised debate on the national level, the women’s advocacy lobby has failed to mobilise women from the grassroots on particular issues. Despite occasional efforts to change this situation, the leaders of the women advocacy lobby have remained largely urban educated middle class women who in the socio-cultural context of Pakistan’s rural areas are literally not able to enter rural women’s lives. Also there is no significant base of younger women who would want to join the movement to offer support and suggestions for new directions (Abdullah, 2002).

Other forms of association
Generally, it is impossible to find any concrete information on the present number of non-governmental and community-based organisations and the few available figures are patchy. Some data of 1999 mention 10 to 20 thousand registered NGOs all over Pakistan (Zia & Bari, F., 1999), and more recent data indicate 30, 000 non-governmental organisations (Abid, 2002). A large number of NGOs focuses on social welfare activities and only a few NGOs take up gender and advocacy issues or follow a rights-based approach. The representation of women workers is more visible in the NGO-sector than in any other, and women have positions at the management and policy-making level, in the general bodies and on programme levels. Women’s participation and influence in other forms of associations or unions has been persistently low and their attempts to lobby along gender issues (e.g. women workers’ rights) barely exist. Only a few women can be found in leadership positions: Zia and Bari F. (1999) mention only two women as heads of workers unions.

The described relationship between the women’s movement and the government, no matter whether military or democratic, reflects also the overall relationship between the state and civil society. To be better able to control the movements of organisations, especially those promoting an advocacy or rights based approach, various governments since the mid 1990s have tried to introduce a bill which would impose significant restrictions on NGOs (Abdullah, 2002). So far the bill has been re-drafted several times but not been finally approved (Aurat Foundation, 2003). Additionally, especially in the North-West-Frontier-Province, NGOs working in the field of rights-based advocacy have been threatened and attacked by militants who for the most part identify themselves as associated with religious groups (Aurat Foundation, 2003). Since the end of the 1990s and under the influence of the Beijing conference that put women’s political participation on the agenda, women activists in Pakistan have increasingly realised that any significant gains on the gender equity agenda would also mean a focus on creating a sustainable impact on the agenda of political parties. This decision has resulted in more effort being put into legislative interventions and a lobbying process towards women’s effective political participation through affirmative action (Zia & Bari, F., 1999; Mirza[14]). When in 2000 the 33 percent seat allocation to women on the local government level was announced, it represented a large degree of success of these advocacy activities.

Citizens lobbying for change
The citizens’ campaign for women’s representation in local government was formed to mobilise the civil society for support for the election process. Through awareness raising and active lobbying, the idea of a 33 percent allocation of seats for women was discussed with communities at the local level all over the country. Now, many observers agree that the campaign is seen as one of the driving factors that motivated so many women to run for public office and this even in remotest places of the country. One of the organisers of the campaign reports:

‘We came to know through that campaign that when you take up some cause and mission it can bring change to the phenomena of activism and voluntarism (…).Women for the first time came in fast majority to the public arena and started to unleash their potential in an organised manner, for us this was a cultural shift and a turning point in Pakistan’s history. After that turning point the entire political complexion of the society changed.’[15]

The example of the citizens’ campaign shows an interesting linkage between the establishment of democratic institutions and collective social activity. Whereas a relatively constrained women’s movement had for a long time demanded a 33 percent allocation of seats, it was only after the government’s decision on the issue of affirmative action that suddenly a large number of civil society activists joined together to formulate and promote a common demand. In fact, the opportunity of women to access political office provided the ground for an increase in civil society activism. Moreover, the emergence of the campaign as a social movement for women’s public participation symbolises a breakdown of the traditional separation between the private and the public spheres.

Personalising the political: balancing the issues
We have seen that it is within the above set parameters of state policies, religion and traditions that women’s advocacy groups have to define and negotiate women’s interests. Such actions in turn immediately challenge the patriarchal structures of the society and the state. As member of a conservative political party Noor Marjan describes how after she had joined an advocacy organisation her confidence to voice her demands improved dramatically. She explains how this influenced her relations with her party colleagues:

‘I belong to the Jamaat-i-Islami (JI), but I have a lot of hard discussions with my party colleagues. This is especially when they talk about women’s participation being against our culture and that it destroys and disorganises our family. This is how JI is addressing poor people. But then at the provincial level, where they have a lot of privileges and names and reputation they are ready for women in politics. That is not correct. JI is lacking behind in addressing women’s issues. Actually they are betraying their uneducated voters. I was sitting at the polling station in the by-elections and I asked the women which party they would vote for and they told me that they would be voting for the Quran. This is because the MMA had cleverly chosen a book as voter symbol. And as they came in power they did nothing for women. I don’t want them to follow westernised theories, but they must address women’s rights issues and lacks in legislation as this is against our religion. There is also a great need to train the women in the local councils. They are elected now, so they have to learn how to address women’s issues.’[16]

Civil society activists state that affirmative action provoked a tremendous change in the complexion of societal structures. It has also provoked a serious challenge to traditional gender relations. And indeed, Noor Marjan’s statement shows how women exercise agency and attempt reform even within relatively hostile institutional environments. She represents a number of women in local government who are now slowly joining hands with women’s activist groups. And it is she and other women like her who, through being “elected activists”, have created for themselves the space to take up the extremely difficult task of lobbying the structures of the political system and the civil society from within. Women like Noor Marjan show that there are changes taking place within the configuration of women’s personal lives. Tripp’s observations support this assumption. She writes:

‘There are no short cuts here. These are painful struggles that have to be endured and worked through. In the process, there are often more losses than victories. But ultimately when change begins to occur in the daily lives of people, then we know it has truly begun to take hold’ (Tripp, 2000: 239).

However, it is also important that civil society groups start in parallel to lobby for changes in formal institutional structures. This clearly is a new and great challenge for women’s activist groups. By actively including local women representatives and their opinions in further planning and advocacy strategies, they get the opportunity to review their own internal accountability structures. Also it means demanding the state to show responsibility towards constitutional and international commitments to improve women’s participation in political decision-making processes. Progress in these attempts within the area of civil society will at the same time be driving factors towards the establishment of a democratic society in Pakistan.
6. Conclusion
In this dissertation I have worked on the assumption that women’s political influence and effectiveness does not automatically arise through the setting up of democratic institutions. Following a framework developed to assess women’s political effectiveness, for the context of Pakistan, I have illustrated that there is a range of factors that determine women’s access, presence and influence in political decision-making. I have described how, for the specific context of Pakistan, these factors are located within the arenas of the state, the civil society and the political system. I have also argued that it is the arena of ‘the personal of the political’ and of social life that has to be taken into account to understand fully the way that women chose to act out agency towards political influence. My analysis shows that at present, in the case of Pakistan, the support available to women’s political effectiveness within these arenas is very limited. Instead it is their very patriarchal structures and conservative nature that creates impediments to an establishment of a gender equity agenda.

The women’s movement and other gender activist associations within civil society find it rather difficult to establish an uncontested way of uniting women on advocacy issues. While keeping up its demands for gender equity, the women’s movement has to maintain the difficult balancing act of keeping its autonomy in relation to the agendas of various political regimes and also to the proponents of Islam without risking being dismissed as an anti-Islamic forum. The success of this balancing act each time provides the movement with an opportunity for mobilising support for advocacy along gender equity issues. The citizens’ campaign for women’s representation in local government for example facilitated many women’s access to political structures on the local level. Yet different ways of catalysing women’s political presence into influence in policy making still have to be found.

At the centre of the political system, the political parties have so far not felt any necessity to advocate policies that would bring them anywhere near a commitment towards a gender equity constituency. Strongly influenced by traditional power holders and following their own patriarchal structures, they prefer to ghettoise women’s issues through separate women’s wings, their manifestos also do not state of a progressive agenda along issues of gender equity. Most political parties prefer to see women as their voters or as signatories to their policy decisions but they do not intend to include women in the process of policy-making. Yet in the prospect of the next government that might be held on party basis, political parties need to come up with strategies and policies addressing women’s concerns. This also means to link up with civil society activists and get their support for the development of a joint strategy.

If the state is serious about claiming affirmative action policies as a step towards gender equality, policy makers at the same time have to understand that recognition of women’s political rights needs to be accompanied by measures setting in place mechanisms that support women in demanding these rights. Instead, as the examples show, the devolution of power to the grassroots has, mainly strengthened the longstanding, unequal power-relations between feudal/tribal leaders and the poor as well as between women and men. Policy decisions have led to a truly tremendous increase in women’s presence, however, if women’s political participation should not remain symbolic only, the states political will to facilitate linkages throughout the arenas of the political system and the civil society and its ability to guide the devolution of power process are inevitable. Yet it is still to be seen in what ways these requirements will be realised and it is probably to early to come to a final conclusion about these developments. Nevertheless it could be an interesting future research, especially after the next local government elections scheduled for 2005.

Despite this highly critical assessment of the present situation for women’s political effectiveness, the women’s comments, quoted above, show that some change has come about, if not in the lives of all women but in those of quite a few. It is often small steps such as the attempts of women councillors to advocate for change from within their conservative environment that indicate the beginning of a slow but steady process of translation of women’s voice into a transformation of the social and political culture of Pakistan. Farooq Sultan Azam enthusiastically tells me that after her time in office as a district councillor, in the next provincial elections she will run for a seat in the Provincial Assembly. She says that now she feels empowered to do this. Says Farooq,

‘You know, everything involves political manoeuvring in a women’s life from start till her death. All the roles of women, as a mother, daughter, grandmother, is politics. This political role however is denied in our society (…) The society is suppressing women and poor people but if they stand up and decide to face all the problems with the passage of time the problems will subside and no longer be important.’[17]

Chart 2: Modalities for composition of the different tiers of local government

| |
|Election modalities according to the Local Government Ordinances |
|Under the local government ordinance of 2001, women’s representation is institutionalised on the three tiers of local government, |
|the union, tehsil and district levels. The union council is the primary tier of local government and comprises 21 seats out of |
|which seven are reserved for women. The structure of the union council shows that out of 21 seats, six are reserved for women, |
|which actually is 28.57 percent and not 33 percent: |
| |
|8 general Muslim seats |
|4 women Muslim seats |
|4 general workers/peasants seats |
|2 women workers/peasants seats |
|1 minority seat |
|1 Naib Nazim (deputy mayor) seat |
|1 Nazim (mayor) seat |
| |
|The tehsil/town council is the intermediate and the district council is the highest decision-making level of the local government |
|structure. Both are constituted according to the number of union or tehsil/town councils. The elections for the union councils |
|were held on the basis of adult franchise, with separate electorates, a multi-member constituency and on a non-party based |
|candidature system. Councillors on the union level were elected directly. The elections for tehsil/town and district councils were|
|held indirectly by the electoral college, comprising all the members of the union councils that were elected as returned |
|candidates for their respective councils. |
| |
|Nazims and Naib Nazims (mayor & deputy major) contest elections as a panel of joint candidates. |
| |
|The office term is three years and by-elections are supposed to be held once a year to fill seats that fall vacant or remain |
|vacant. |

Source: Mirza, 2002

Table 1: Number of councils on different levels with percentage of women’s representation

|Level |No. of councils |Total seats |Seats reserved for women |Women’s seats as % of |
| | | | |total |
|Union council |6 022 |126 462 |36 066 |28.5 |
|Tehsil council |305 |8 192 |1 749 |21.3 |
|Town councils |30 |773 |161 |20.8 |
|District councils |96 |8 806 |1 988 |22.6 |
|Total | |144 233 |39 964 |27.7 |

Source: Bilal, 2004: 31

Table 2: Vacant reserved seats for women councillors on the union council level, according to provinces, after the local government elections 2000/2001

|Provinces |Union Councils |Seats |Elected |Vacant |Coverage in percent |
|Punjab |3,453 |20,718 |20,007 |711 |96.6 |
|Sindh |1,094 |6,498 |5,87 |620 |90.5 |
|NWFP |957 |5,742 |3,963 |1779 |69.0 |
|Balochistan |518 |3,108 |2,374 |734 |76.4 |
|Total |6,022 |36,066 |32,222 |3844 |89.3 |

Source Mirza, 2002: 30

Table 3: Representation of women according to number of seats held

|Women elected on reserved seats in all councils |35,963 |
|Women elected on seats reserved for minorities |126 |
|Women elected as Nazims/Naib Nazims |16 |
|Total number of women in local government |36,105 |

Source: Bilal 2004:31

List of Interviewees

Farooq Sultan Azam, Pakistan People’s Party, District Councillor Mardan, Aurat Foundation, Regional Office, Peshawar, 29.07.04. (interview conducted in Urdu, translation into English by Farzana Aziz)

Samia Rahel Qazi, Jamaat-i-Islami, Member of the National Assembly, Leader of the JI Women’s Wing and Vice President of the JI Political Cell for Women, Jamaat-i-Islami Women’s Wing Office, Islamabad, 19.07.04. (interview conducted in English)

Maheen, Saleem, Legislative Watch Team Aurat Foundation, Federal Office, Islamabad, 07.07.04. (interview conducted in English)

Naeem Mirza, Co-Resident Director, Aurat Foundation, Founding Member of the Women’s Action Forum (WAF), Aurat Foundation, Federal Office, Islamabad, 07.07.04. (interview conducted in English)

Noor Marjan, Jamaat-i-Islami, District Councillor, Mardan, Aurat Foundation, Regional Office, Peshawar, 27.07.04. (interview conducted in English)

Samina Naz, Union Councillor, Peshawar, Aurat Foundation, Regional Office, Peshawar, 26.07.04. (interview conducted in Urdu, translation into English by Shabina Ajaz)

Shahin Akter, District Councillor Peshawar, Aurat Foundation, Regional Office, Peshawar, 26.07.04. (interview conducted in Pashto, translation into English by Shabina Ajaz)

Tahera Abdullah, Founding Member of the Women’s Action Forum (WAF) and the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), Yummi’s Café, Islamabad, 06.07.04. (interview conducted in English)


Abdullah, Tahira (2002, unpublished paper), The Pakistani Women’s Movement, Islamabad.

Abid, Salman (2002), ‘Moqami hakoomat aur Pakistani aurat’ (English: Pakistani women and local government), in: Abid Salman, Pakistan ka niya siasi nizam our mokami (English: The new political system in Pakistan and the role of local government), Jamhoori Publications. (NOTE: The article selected for the purpose of this dissertation was translated into English by Salman Abid.)

Aurat Publication and Information Service Foundation (2004), Citizen’s Campaign for Women’s Representation in Local Government in 2004, Report, Regional Office Peshawar, Aurat Publication and Information Service Foundation.

------------------------------ (2003), Developments on Women’s Rights Issues During the Military Government’s Third Year, in Legislative Watch, Newsletter Issue Nos. 20 & 21, July & August, Aurat Publication and Information Service Foundation.

------------------------------ (2001), Gross Violations of Women’s Electoral Rights in Swabi, Mardan and Dir, NWFP, Aurat Publication and Information Service Foundation.

Bari, Farzana & Saba Gul, Khattak (2001), ‘Power Configurations in Public and Private Arenas: The Women’s Movement’s Response’, in Weiss, Anita M. and Gilani Zulfiqar S. (eds.), Power and Civil Society in Pakistan, Oxford University Press.

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[1] Ikramullah, 2000: 168
[2] Interview with Samia Rahel Qazi, Jamaat-i-Islami (JI), Member of the National Assembly, Leader of JI Women’s Wing and Vice President of JI Political Cell for Women, JI Office, Islamabad, 19.07.04.
[3] Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan: Articles 25, 27, 34, URL:
[4] The National Reconstruction Bureau/ NRB, URL:
[5] For a more detailed description of the local government system and on women elected in local government, please see appendices.
[6] Out of 74 women, 60 women were elected on the reserved seats for Muslim women and one woman on the reserved seats for Minorities, 13 women were elected directly. This actually increased the number of women in Parliament from 15 to 17 percent (Bilal, 2004:4).
[7] Interview with Samina Naz, Union Councillor Peshawar, Aurat Foundation, Regional Office, Peshawar, 26.07.04.
[8] The Jamaat-i-Islami is the most dominant representative of a coalition of religious parties, the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal (MMA), currently the most central opposition on the federal level as well as in NWFP.
[9] Interview with Samia Rahel Qazi, Jamaat-i-Islami (JI), Member of the National Assembly, Leader of JI Women’s Wing and Vice President of JI Political Cell for Women, JI Office, Islamabad, 19.07.04.
[10] Interview with Shahin Akter, District Councillor Peshawar, Aurat Foundation, Regional Office, Peshawar, 26.07.04.
[11] Interview with Maheen Saleem, Legislative Watch Team Aurat Foundation, Federal Office, Islamabad, 07.07.04.
[12] Interview with Noor Marjan, Jamaat-i-Islami, District Councillor Mardan, Aurat Foundation, Regional Office, Peshawar, 27.07.04.
[13] Interview with Tahera Abdullah, Founding Member of the Women Action Forum (WAF) and the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), Yummi’s Cafè, Islamabad, 06.07.04.
[14] Interview with Naeem Mirza, Co-Resident Director Aurat Foundation, Federal Office, Islamabad, 07.07.04.
[15] Interview with Naeem Mirza, Co-Resident Director Aurat Foundation, Federal Office, Islamabad, 07.07.04.
[16] Interview with Noor Marjan, Jamaat-i-Islami, Councillor District Mardan, Aurat Foundation, Regional Office, Peshawar, 27.07.04.
[17] Interview with Farooq Sultan Azam, Pakistan People’s Party, District Councillor Mardan, Aurat Foundation, Regional Office, Peshawar, 29.07.04.

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