Women’s Parliamentary History
The formation of a non-partisan Women’s Parliamentary Caucus (WPC) in the Parliament of Pakistan, under the leadership of Dr. Fehmida Mirza, Honourable Speaker of the National Assembly, is a milestone in the country’s parliamentary history and a boost to the cause of women’s rights in Pakistan. With its membership open to all women parliamentarians, today it has in its fold some 90 legislators out of a total of 76 women Members of the National Assembly and 17 women Senators. The Members take keen interest in the proceedings of the Caucus which has enabled this rather young forum to mature in an exceptionally short time.
The genesis of WPC’s formation can rightly be traced back to the heroic struggle of Pakistani women in pursuit of their legal, political and social rights. So strong and effective was this movement that in the country’s 62 years of history, it often altered the course of the nation’s political journey, when women leaders emerged as the most popular voices of the oppressed, down-trodden and the marginalised majority of Pakistan. The fact that against the three longest military tyrannies of Field Marshal Ayub Khan, General Zia-ul-Haq and General Pervez Musharf, women leaders like Mohtarma Fatima Jinnah, Begum Nusrat Bhutto and Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto have symbolised the people’s resistance, speaks for itself.
On the social front, women community leaders have also remained instrumental in promoting education, health and economic freedom among their less fortunate sisters. In this regard, the services of Begum Rana Liaqat Ali Khan, wife of Pakistan’s first Prime Minister, and the first woman Governor of any province in the country, surpass any other contemporary of her times.
It is thus that upon its formation, the Caucus attributed its creation to the legacy of Mohtarma Fatima Jinnah, Begum Rana Liaquat Ali Khan and Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto. In addition, the Caucus also dedicates itself to all women rights activists, who have remained in the fore-front of women’s movement in Pakistan.
Women remained among the heralds of the Pakistan Movement. The Founder of the Nation, Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah gave great importance to women’s active role in the political arena and encouraged their participation in the freedom struggle. As a result, many women came to the political limelight, such as Mohtarma Fatima Jinnah, Begum Ranna Liaqat Ali Khan, Begum Maulana Mohammad Ali Johar (who was appointed to the Central Working Committee of the All India Muslim League), Begum Jahanara Shahnawaz (who represented the Indian women at the 2nd Roundtable Conference in London in 1932), her sister Gaitiara, Anwari Begum, Fatima Begum, Lady Hidayatullah and many others.
Infact, Mohtarma Fatima Jinnah became a leading icon of the Pakistan Movement. Dr. Dushka Syed, a noted academic writes:
However, this forceful political participation in the freedom struggle could not be translated in effective parliamentary presence even after achieving a free Pakistan. The culture of keeping women in seclusion regardless of class, colour, creed or religion was deep-rooted in the Indo-Pak subcontinent and needed some kind of an “affirmative action” on part of the Government, ensuring women’s presence at the key decision-making levels. The idea of reserving special seats for women was thus introduced in the political fabric of the Sub-Continent when in the “Government of India Act 1935”, a quota of 3% seats were reserved for women against the popular demand of 10%. The interesting aspect however was that under this Act, only women could vote for women’s seats. The Principle of women’s representation in the Parliament was finally introduced in this part of the world.
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