Creating A Women's Vote
A Campaign for Putting Women on the Political Agenda
of Pakistan during the Election of 1993

by Shahnaz Ahmad(1)


This campaign that we had for putting women on the political agenda of Pakistan was a very challenging experience, and I am very happy, that today, I am able to share that experience with you.

I will share the process, so that you are able to go through with me and experience what we did. I'd like to outline some of the achievements, the lessons we learned (because this was a new experience for us), and also the gaps and things that remained to be done.

Rationale

Basically, the RATIONALE for this campaign was that the empowerment of women in society is only possible: (1) if their concerns are adequately reflected in the laws, policies and development priorities of the country; and (2) if they begin to play a greater role in the political and economic decision-making processes at both the macro and micro levels.

Goals

This being the premise for launching that campaign, the OVERALL GOALS thereby became: (1) to make political parties recognize women as a constituency, and pressurize them towards a commitment to address themselves to women's problems, interests and claims; and (2) to make women play a more active role in this process.

Objectives

The SPECIFIC OBJECTIVES were: (1) to bring women's issues on the manifestoes and agendas of political parties; (2) to make election candidates address themselves to women's issues and state their future programmes for women; (3) to make women in political parties aware of the issues concerning women; (4) to make women aware of the importance of their vote and the issues of concern to them; and (5) to get women to express their concerns to political party leadership through their candidates.

Activities

What were the activities specifically undertaken?

1. Sending suggestions for manifestoes to the different political parties on the following issues: legal rights, violence, political participation/representation, education, water, health, population, employment, control and ownership of resources, agriculture, forestry, housing and physical planning, media.

This campaign may have been our organization's brainchild, but it was not just our effort because it could not have worked if we didn't link up and network with other organizations.

The manifestoes were drafted with the help of concerned individuals and experts in women's development. These were, then, sent to 30 political parties.

Then we held dialogues with the main political parties for the incorporation of these suggestions.

The two main political parties of Pakistan also approached us when they were drafting their manifestoes.

2. Setting up steering committees: as I said earlier, it was not possible for our organization to accomplish this by itself, so we set up Steering Committees in five (5) major cities. These Steering Committees were comprised of representatives of NGOs Women's Rights and Human Rights groups, development organizations, trade unions, media, activists, academics, concerned individuals, outreach organizations, etc. Their functions were to help in developing the agenda and devising strategies for carrying out the programmes.

3. Interaction with NGOs. We involved other NGOs/groups, individuals in all activities undertaken by Aurat Foundation, as well as participated in meetings/seminars activities of other organizations e.g. the Women's Action Forum's political seminars, Bedari's awareness-raising meeting, Human Rights Commission of Pakistan's election monitoring, etc.

4. Preparation and Distribution of Materials. Barely two months before the elections, we prepared the following: pamphlets on the reason for the Campaign and the importance of women's vote; pamphlets on issues such as legal rights, violence, political participation, health, education, and water; posters on the importance of women's vote and women's issues; cassettes containing songs (with popular tunes) and messages on the importance of women's vote and issues.

We distributed the materials through organizations (NOGs, CBOs, Labour Unions); given to political parties, at political meetings, political party booths, through community development workers. Songs were played at political party booths, in public transport vehicles, busy market places; and posters displayed at busy public places, meetings, t.v., etc.

5. Awareness-raising through Media. In the print media, the articles were contributed by Aurat Foundation and some input by steering committee members. Media picked up the Campaign, but were mainly interested in events, which involved the political party candidates. Conversely, we also participated in Newspapers Forums.

On radio, we participated in the interviews and discussions on the issues of women's vote. They played our songs; they relayed our messages and these were tremendous.

On T.V., we had these very bold programmes on women's issues. Bold, because some of the issues discussed had never before been discussed in television. Discriminatory legislation is a very big issue for us in Pakistan. Friends, colleagues and experts in their own field spoke on that.

We participated in interviews, our posters were flashed from time to time. We gave inputs into other programmes such as puppet shows.

During interviews of political party candidates, we sent in questions on women's issues and some of these were picked up.

6. Dialogue with Women from Political Parties. This was not a confrontation, but rather it was talking to them about the issues that women need to vote on. It was talking to them and asking them about what they can do. So basically, it was sensitizing them on main issues relating to women and also pressurizing them for raising their voices within the party.

7. Face-to-face with Political Party Candidates. We had, for example, politicians in the Women's Court, where we had candidates responding on what they plan to do with regard women's issues. In Islamabad, we had the Citizen's Voice for Women's Issues, where there were panel discussions and panels of interviewers asking party candidates about these issues.

This was really the setting of a tradition, having political party candidates reply to specific questions on women's issues and we'll see to it that this continues.

Then, we had meetings in constituencies – a corner meeting, for example, where a certain political party candidate is interested in meeting groups.

A Lot of times, political party candidates were just names; people did not really come face-to-face with them and so, they can get away with the whole lot. They usually addressed big gatherings in which no one was really interested.

But when you get them into this kind of forum, their strengths and weaknesses are highlighted.

8. Community Level Meetings with Women. We used drama and use of cassette tapes with messages. And then, we had discussions on issues and the importance of voting.

Achievements

Very quickly, going to our achievements, i.e., what did we accomplish?

1. Our suggestions were incorporated in the manifestoes (see table below).
2. The foundation was laid for process of dialogue with the political parties. As a result of that we had gender-sensitizing workshops in which we invited development NGOs and political parties, participated in meetings on discriminatory legislation, and participated in demonstrations on women's issues.
3. We were able to set a tradition of public interviews on women's issues with political party candidates.
4. In a few villages women casted their vote after hearing the songs; and support was generated from the men who had distributed the material.
5. Materials developed on issues has long term value and are being used in literacy classes in some local government programs.
6. Forced a certain response from political parties, and consequently, government:

a. quick response to cases of violence against women
b. appointment of women judges in the High Court
c. opening of women's police stations
d. initiation of move to set up shelters
e. move to review discriminatory laws by Law Ministry with the involvement of NGOs.

Suggestions Incorporated in Manifestoes of Political Parties

Legal Rights

  • Signing the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW);

  • Setting up a statutory Permanent Commission on the Status of Women; and

  • Reforming the personal laws to meet the demand of current socio-economic realities, and expediting the process of justice in the family court

Violence

  • Legislative action will be taken to protect women from all forms of violence (including domestic violence, custodial violence, sexual harassment, public humiliations and prostitution/trafficking of women);

  • Supportive administrative measures will include establishment of a country wide network of:

    • legal aid and counselling centres;

    • shelters for victims of violence;

    • expansion and upgrading of the women police force, improving conditions of women's prisons and providing state counselling for women prisoner

Education

Closing the gap between male and female education.

Water

Recognizing that the lack of clean water is a denial of the citizen's basic right to life, and is the most important demand of peasant women of Pakistan, high priority will be given to this issue.

Health

Taking the life cycle approach to female health, to improve the health status of women and girls as well as their access to health care services. Greater financial and human resources will be generated to focus on an effective rural, primary and preventive health care delivery system through the linking up of maternal health care facilities with family planning services.

Population

  • Provide family planning services through the existing infrastructure of health service outlets;

  • Media will be used to motivate the adoption of safe contraception measures by both men and women;

  • Raise the female age of marriage which has a strong impact on growth rates.

Employment

A National Employment Policy will be formulated for women workers in the formal and informal sector, to:

  • extend the legal cover of an adequate minimum wage, acceptable working hours, health and maternity benefits to casual, temporary and piece-rate workers;
  • encourage through incentives, a reasonable maternity package and day-care facilities at larger workplaces;
  • facilitate hostel accommodation for working women in all the cities;
  • establish Small Business Guidance Centres, starting with the existing infrastructures, e.g., polytechnics, vocational institutes, girls high schools / colleges.
Control and Ownership of Resources Female-headed households, which are usually the poorest of the poor, will be given priority in allotment of all land-sites and housing schemes.
Agriculture Squatters Settlements. Recognizing the alarming increase in the emergence of Katchi abadies, and the serious health hazards and difficult living conditions for the inhabitants, especially women and children, steps will be taken to prove basic amenities (e.g, garbage removal, immunization and insecticide spraying) and facilitate the establishment of modem sanitation systems, on a self-help basics, modelled on projects such as OPP.

Our Strengths

What were our strengths?

1. Outreach capability.
2. Feeling of ownership of the campaign, especially among members of the steering committee.
3. Use of dialogue rather than confrontation. It was the aspect of dialogue which had helped us to continue the process.
4. Neutrality and non-partisan stance helped us to gather support from both political parties and government machineries. We projected issues rather than names of organizations and individuals.
5. Strongly motivated teamwork.

Lessons Learned

Some of the lessons that we learned:

1. Don't waste time going through the legitimate process. Establish contact directly at the top which we did with the Information Minister and Chief Minister of N.W.F.P.
2. Don't waste time requesting others to write. Do it yourself.
3. Do not plan events with politicians close to the polling date.
4. Look for allies within the parties to provide links, provide information and build pressure.
5. Send manifesto suggestions directly to person in charge.

Still to be Done

Gaps – What needs to be done?

1. We realized that the women did not have an understanding of the political system itself and of the roles of parliamentarians. The reasons for not supporting a candidates were very personal, e.g., unable to give job to son.
2. Basic requirements were not fulfilled, i.e., they had no I.D. Card and Registration. They had the motivation but were unable to vote.
3. Need for awareness raising in areas where women were traditionally not allowed to vote.
4. Women within political parties need a flow of information in written form for different levels.

Note

1. Ms. Shahnaz Ahmad represents AURAT Foundation, which is an activist NGO engaged in information and training in Pakistan. This paper was presented at the First Asia-Pacific Congress of Women in Politics, held 21-23 June 1994 in Manila, Philippines.

 


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