Formation of WPC

Initial Efforts

"I have always maintained that no nation can ever be worthy of its existence that cannot take its women along with the men. No struggle can ever succeed without women participating side by side with men. There are two powers in the world; one is the sword and the other is the pen. There is a great competition and rivalry between the two. But, there is a third power stronger than both, and that is of the women."
Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah; 25th March, 1940

The Women's Parliamentary Caucus, established in November 2008, is considered to be one of the major success stories of the 13th National Assembly. This cross party forum of women parliamentarians was the first of its kind in the parliamentary history of Pakistan and is seen as a watershed moment for women parliamentarians in undertaking a meaningful participation in the business of the Parliament.  The Women’s Parliamentary Caucus has made a significant contribution to the 13th National Assembly being judged as the 'most gender sensitive' and 'gender responsive' by the legislative watch groups including FAFEN and the Aurat Foundation.1

Historically, women have played a major role in the struggle for Pakistan supported under the leadership of the father of the Nation, Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, who was a strong believer in the power of women and took them along, side by side, in all his endeavours and decision making.2 In Pakistan the women have been fortunate enough to have remained part of the legislative assemblies since their very existence.

Women have been part of the Parliament both through direct elections as well as through special reserved seats as provided by the Constitution of Pakistan.3 Constitutional measures to provide reserve seats were taken in light of deep rooted cultural mind-sets that continued to exclude and dis-empower women, socially, politically, and economically.

In 2006, at a workshop organised by PILDAT, women MPs complained of “not being taken seriously”, not only by their male colleagues but also by the Speaker of the National Assembly and the Chairman of the Senate. They publically complained that their calls to attention notices were ignored and the time allocated to them on the floor of the House was always less than the male parliamentarians.

The number and percentage of reserved seats has varied historically. Article 52 of the Constitution provides for 17% reserved quota for women's seats in the national assembly while Article 59 provides for 16% reserved seats for women in the Senate of Pakistan.4 Quotas were introduced during the 12th National Assembly5 when the Constitution was amended to provide 17% quota of reserved seats for women in the national and provincial assemblies. The year 2002 was a watershed in women’s political representation in Pakistan. For the first time, they got 17 percent representation in both the national and provincial assemblies based on nominations by their parties. In addition to the given 17% quota in National and Provincial Assemblies6 and 16% in the Senate, the women were also elected to the assemblies on general seats through direct elections. In the 13th National Assembly, women's representation increased further and brought the highest ever number of women to the national Parliament, i.e. 22.5% in National Assembly7  and 16.3% in the Senate.8  With the passage of time, more women are involving themselves in politics and returning to the parliament on both special reserved seats as well as on general seats. The progress has been slow but steady.  

The 13th National Assembly brought the election of the first ever woman Speaker, not only in the history of Pakistan but also in the entire Muslim world where parliamentary democracy is practiced. Speaker, Dr. Fehmida Mirza had been a parliamentarian since 1997, through direct elections, and has seen and faced the challenges women parliamentarians encountered in the male dominated House. The election of Dr. Fehmida Mirza, a seasoned politician known for her progressive outlook, together with the presence of the highest number women parliamentarians, changed the dynamics of the House in the five year tenure of the Assembly.  

Formation of the First Ever Women's Parliamentary Caucus (WPC) in Pakistan

With a 22% presence in the 12th National Assembly (2002 – 2007), and despite emerging as strength through their pro-active participation in the Business of the House, there was a sense of dissatisfaction amongst women members.9 In the 13th National Assembly, with a woman Speaker in place, a sense of confidence in the female leadership within the fraternity of women parliamentarians increased. 'Women’s voices got stronger with the presence of a woman Speaker.'10

The Women’s Parliamentary Caucus was created on the initiative of women legislators who saw the need for a non-partisan forum for women’s issues which cut across party linesThe Women’s Parliamentary Caucus was created on the initiative of women legislators who saw the need for a non-partisan forum for women’s issues which cut across party lines

Immediately after assuming her office, Speaker Fehmida Mirza, who was well aware of the issues and challenges of women parliamentarians, increased opportunities for women MNAs to establish themselves in their parliamentary legislative, representative and oversight roles. Equal prospects in contributing to the legislative business were ensured and women MNAs were appointed as chairpersons to the most crucial Standing Committees, including those of Defence and Finance.11

Deliberate efforts to strengthen the role of women parliamentarians were made. In this process, the first ever Women's Parliamentary Caucus (WPC) in the parliamentary history of Pakistan, was established. The idea was to organise a 'critical mass' of women parliamentarians in order to facilitate them in playing a key role in raising issues of critical importance and legislating on them.12

Within a few months of being in office, the Speaker brought women members of the national assembly together and built consensus to form the Caucus. Her non-partisan conduct enabled her to win the confidence of women Members National Assembly (MNAs) across the board. This led to the convening of the first meeting of all women parliamentarians by the Speaker on October 20, 2008. The meeting, attended by 58 women MNAs had a one point agenda _ to establish a Women's Parliamentary Caucus. Two objectives were put to the women parliamentarians:

1.    To attain a broad based consensus amongst all women members of the parliament on an agreed agenda for women’s socio-economic and political  development; and

2.    To enable women parliamentarians to work beyond and above party lines for advancing the women empowerment agenda of Pakistan.

In the meeting, the Speaker drew the attention of the participants towards the struggle and ideals of three legendary women leaders of Pakistan: Maadr-e-Millat13 Mohtrama Fatima Jinnah, a great woman leader and sister cum close confident of the Quaid Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah. She was also the first woman Presidential candidate in Pakistan; Begum Rana Liaqat Ali, an active social and political woman leader who was also the first woman provincial Governor of Pakistan and a strong ally of the Quaid; and Mohtrama Benazir Bhutto Shaheed, one of the most charismatic woman leaders and the first woman Prime Minister of Pakistan.  Dr Fehmida Mirza, while seeking the consensus for establishing this forum, asked the women parliamentarians to draw inspiration from these role models and to derive strength from each other as a collective voice. The women MNAs were convinced and they agreed to endorse the Speaker’s proposal for constituting a Women’s Parliamentary Caucus. The meeting concluded on a consensus vote of the members authorizing the Speaker to take the lead and necessary steps to formulate the Caucus.

A Steering Committee was constituted by the Speaker to draft the by-laws of the proposed Caucus. The Rules were vetted by legal experts and approved by the Members. On November 21, 2008 the Speaker called the first formal meeting of Women MNAs in which a Resolution to formally launch the first Women's Parliamentary Caucus (WPC) was passed under the Patronship of the Speaker. MNA Dr Nafisa Shah was elected as the Secretary of the Caucus to work under the direct supervision of the Patron and in close coordination and cooperation with the Caucus members. The Working Council consisted of the women MNAs from all parliamentary parties in the House.

Dr. Fehmida Mirza’s role has been critical in helping female MPs.  Her election as Speaker gave confidence to women parliamentarians who previously felt they were not given equal footing to the men in assembly proceedings and second for spearheading the move to bring women in parliament together to push for issues with a greater collective voice than they had been able to achieve before.

The Caucus initially comprised of women Members of the National Assembly.  After the Senate elections in March of 2009, the membership of WPC was also extended to the 17 newly elected women Senators. Since then, the WPC became truly representative of both the Houses of the National Parliament. On August 13, 2009, a seal of approval was received by the WPC from the National Assembly which passed a unanimous Resolution recognizing and congratulating the Speaker on its formation.14

Objectives of the WPC

The WPC objectives are quite socially progressive which are centred around ending discrimination, outreach to CSOs, NGOs, Academia, the Media and has imbibed a commitment to the follow up of international commitments Pakistan has made on women’s issues.

The WPC primarily intended to provide a united platform for women parliamentarians to share and discuss their challenges as parliamentarians; to raise a collective voice on issues of concern, to prioritize women’s agendas, and to come together to play a key role in supporting and monitoring the implementation of gender responsive legislation.
The resolution was unanimously passed by the women Members of the National Assembly on 21st November, 2008, and established the WPC’s mandate as follows:

1)    To attain a broad-based consensus among all women members of the Parliament on an agreed agenda for women development, empowerment and emancipation, enabling them to work beyond and above party lines for the uplift of the women of Pakistan.
2)    To enhance the role of women parliamentarians in proposing gender sensitive legislation, reviewing and amending discriminatory laws and policies;
3)    Ensure effective parliamentary oversight of implementation of international and regional commitments, national policies and programmes;
4)    Facilitate exchange of views and information sharing on critical areas of concern, particularly social discriminatory practices, both nationally and internationally;
5)    Liaise and build working relationship with key state and civil society institutions and organizations in order to contribute towards national and international efforts for promoting women’s rights, empowerment and gender equality;
6)    Review Rules, procedures and processes in order to ensure women’s continued access to, and participation, in the Parliament;
7)    To jointly work for the achievement of the social indicators so that the Millennium Development Goals are within reach;
8)    To connect with women parliamentarians across the globe by forming and strengthening alliances;

References:

[1] FAFEN. 2013. Five Year Performance Report of the 13th National Assembly.
[2] Prof. Dr. Dushka Syed. Women in Politics – Problems of Participation: A Case Study of Pakistan.   
[3]For a synopsis of the Constitutional history regarding women's presence in the Parliament, please refer to: PILDAT. Women Representation in Pakistan Parliament. Background Paper.  2004. http://www.pildat.org/Publications/publication/Women/WomenRepresentationInPakistanParliament.pdf
[4]Constitution of Islamic Republic of Pakistan, 1973
[5] 2002 - 2007
[6] Article 51 of the Constitution of Islamic Republic of Pakistan for the National Assembly and Article 106 for the Provincial Assemblies
[7] There are 77 women MNAs (17 directly elected and 60 reserved seats) in the House of 342;    
[8]There are 17 women senators in the House of 104 Senators; (16 on reserved seats for women and one elected on general seat).  
[9]Aurat Foundation. A Five Year Report On: Performance of Women Parliamentarians in the 12th National Assembly  (2002-2007).
[10]Ibid   
[11] FAFEN. Five Year Performance Report of the 13th National Assembly. 2013.
[12] Brochure of the Women's Parliamentary Caucus
[13] Maadr-e-Millat means 'Mother of the Nation'
[14] http://www.na.gov.pk/en/resolution_detail.php?id=30
[15] The Women Parliamentary Caucus Rules, 2008   
[16] IPU. ‘Equality in Politics: A Survey of Women and Men in Parliaments.’2008. http://www.ipu.org/english/surveys.htm#equality08