Aug 31, 2018

Balochistan: Minority and Women’s Voices Underrepresented in New Government

Following the 25 July 2018 general elections in Pakistan, it is now the time for the new Prime Minister, Imran Khan, to appoint cabinet members. Although the turnout of minorities and women in the polls during this election cycle seemed to have been higher than in years past, their ability to participate in this year’s election was still significantly curtailed and the election process as a whole was marred by irregularities and violence. When it comes to the appointment of Imran Khan’s new cabinet members, there is a very obvious underrepresentation of minorities and women. If Pakistan’s leadership has a genuine intention of embarking on a path of democratization, it must be willing for such voices to be seen and heard in leadership.

The article below was published by The Daily Times

Lack of gender parity and diversity in newly-revealed provincial cabinets has been slammed by opposition politicians and rights activists. There are no women ministers in the cabinets of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and Balochistan. In Punjab, the 23-member cabinet has only one female minister. Yasmin Rashid has been given the charge of health ministry.

Moreover, there is no representation of religious minorities in federal cabinets and those of Punjab, KP and Balochistan.

Women leaders of the opposition parties have criticised Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) for the gender imbalance in the cabinets. In a tweet, Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) leader and former opposition leader in Senate Sherry Rehman said, “No women in either the KP or Balochistan cabinets? Only one out of 23 in Punjab too. Disappointing”

Sindh cabinet is an exception, which has two women and one Hindu minister. Shehla Raza and Azra Fazal Palecho have been handed over the ministries for women development and health respectively. Since the latter happens to be the sibling of Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari, activists are of the opinion that the selection is not made on merit but on basis of Palecho’s relationship with the PPP Co-chairman. Former PPP MPA Sharmila Faruqui disagrees. “Women politicians should not be undermined just because they are related to a senior leader in the party. Azra Fazal has been selected on merit and she has been involved in welfare activities in the health sector,” she says.

PPP MNA Shazia Marri says the exclusion of women from the new cabinets is alarming. “I am not ready to buy that they could not find any competent women ministers. If women are not given important positions in decision-making entities, the country will not be able to move forward in terms of gender equality,” she told Daily Times.

About absence of minorities in the provincial cabinet, Shazia says for the religious minority groups to have equal status, their involvement in the mainstream is important. “Pakistan’s constitution grants equal rights to citizens belonging to minority groups and their exclusion from government is an act of discrimination.”

Women rights activist Shad Begum says it was hoped that with the PTI’s government, things will change for the better because the party has been promising to fix all that’s wrong with the country. “We were hoping to see a female president or chief minister, but the new federal and provincial governments are male-dominated. It’s disappointing that with the new government of PTI, there are lesser women in government positions than before.”

Shad says women voted in record numbers in the recently-held general elections and some women in KP and Balochistan who previously voted according to their men’s wishes voted for the party of their choice this time because they wanted to change the condition in which they live. But it seems that women empowerment is not a priority for the new government, she said, adding that lack of women decision-makers might put the ongoing pro-women initiatives on the backburner.

Shad says this trend will change when the deserving women politicians start speaking up and lodge protest within their parties if they are ignored and not given important positions despite merit.

While commenting on non-representation of minorities, she says the religious minorities have been victims of faith-based killings and the wave of terrorism in the past many years and the least the government can do for them is give them representation at the national level.

The activists urged Prime Minister Imran Khan and chief ministers of all four provinces to include women as well as minorities in their cabinets in the next phase of appointments.

Photo courtesy of Beluchistan @ Flickr