Women in politics: gaining ground for progressive outcomes in Pakistan

Women in politics: gaining ground for progressive outcomes in Pakistan

This paper is an analysis of findings from a study of women’s political voice in Pakistan under the A4EA Research Programme. It is based on mixed methods, drawing together archival and secondary sources, qualitative interviews with activists, politicians and key informants, and the findings of an online survey with women parliamentarians. Section 1 unpacks the history of women’s struggle for political inclusion, explaining how activism led by the women’s movement prepared the ground for the military regime to restore and increase a quota for women in all elected bodies. Section 2 examines how women elected to the Senate, National Assembly and provincial assemblies view their own accountability as politicians, the strengths and limitations of women’s caucuses as a means to push for progressive policies, and their own vision for political empowerment.

Set against discussions with other stakeholders, the section concludes that women may be less empowered than their male counterparts in politics in terms of exercising their voice, yet they aspire to becoming mainstream politicians and view themselves as accountable to a broader electorate. Section 3 places the political participation of women in a broader context of progressive policymaking since Pakistan’s formation in 1947. It identifies three ‘golden periods’ for such policies, each characterised by strong political backing for reform on women’s issues. It concludes that only when women appeared in larger numbers in the assemblies, and caucuses were formed in 2008, were they able to exercise sufficient voice and push for political support to address sensitive religious and cultural norms through progressive legislation.

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