Pakistani Politics still remains a largely male-dominated arena despite advances towards gender equality in several other spheres of public interest. According to a report by the Inter-Parliamentary Union, as of 1st June 2014, only 20.7% of the seats in Pakistan’s Lower House of Parliament, and 16.3% of those in the Senate are held by women. These too are mainly due to the reservation of seats for females in certain constituencies; and most of the people who eventually occupy these positions do so because of feudal backgrounds and powerful dynastic families.
Nevertheless, a female presence in the halls and chambers of power still represents a beacon of hope. Below is a list of some prominent contemporary personalities that have managed to make headlines in recent times for one reason or the other.
Shireen Mazari has been part of the parliament since May 2013 and is currently the Central Information Secretary of PTI. She was the Director-General of the Institute of Strategic Studies, a research think-tank based in Islamabad. She also served as the spokesperson for the Foreign Affairs of PTI until she resigned in 2012, only to rejoin a year later. She was then nominated as a member of the National Assembly.
She has been the editor of The Nation, and a columnist for The News International. Keeping with her academic status, she also served as the Associate Professor of Military Science and then as the Chairperson of the Department of Defense and Strategic Studies at the Quaid-e-Azam University.
She earned her undergraduate degree from the London School of Economics and Political Science, along with a double M.Sc. in Military and Political Science. She was also awarded her Ph.D in Political Science by Columbia University in the United States.
She is one of the few people in the public limelight that continues to oppose Drone attacks. She is also highly critical of the Foreign policies that Pakistan holds in regards to America, who she believes is exerting unwarranted power over the internal affairs of the country.
Hina Rabbani Khar
Hina Rabbani Khar took over as the Foreign Minister of Pakistan in the July of 2011. With this appointment, she became the youngest person to ever hold the office, and also the first female and 26th person to do so.
She received her B.Sc. (Hons) degree in Economics from the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) and her M.Sc. in Business Management from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst in the United States.
She became the Minister of State for Economic Affairs in 2004. In 2009 she successfully presented the federal budget for the year 2010 and hence became the first female politician to ever present the budget in the National Assembly. She began her tenure as Minister of State for Foreign Affairs but in the wake of Shah Mehmood Qureshi’s resignation, she became acting Minister of Foreign Affairs in the February of 2011. She was later formally sworn in.
Fehmida Mirza served as the Speaker of the National Assembly, being the 18th person and first woman to do so. She is presently representing the Badin constituency in Sindh, and is hence one of the few females to be elected from a non-reserved constituency.
She earned her medical degree from Liaquat Medical College, Jamshoro, Sindh. She is a physician and did her house job in gynecology and pediatrics. Also, prior to venturing into politics, she ran her own advertising agency.
Firdous Ashiq Awan
Firdous Ashiq Awan is presently a member of the National Assembly from Sialkot. She has served as the Minister of Information and Mass Media Broadcasting, Federal Minister for National Regulations and Services, and Federal Minister of Population Welfare.
She received her M.B.B.S degree from Fatima Jinnah Medical College, Lahore. She also holds a Diploma in Hospital Management from the South Atlantic University in the United States.
Sherry Rehman was sworn in as Pakistan’s 25th Ambassador to the United States in November 2011. Before this appointment, she served as the Minister of Information and Broadcasting.
While serving as an MNA, she was the driving force behind all five PPP bills tabled in the National Assembly: the Women Empowerment Bill, Anti-Honor Killings Bill, Domestic Violence Prevention Bill, Affirmative Action Bill and Hudood Repeal Bill. All of these had strong repercussions for the women of the country. She also moved two other significant bills: the Freedom of Information Bill and the Press Act, which prevents journalists from being arrested under the 1999 Press Ordinance.
The International Republican Institute labelled her “Democracy’s Hero” and she is among the “100 Most Influential Asians” according to Ahlan, UAE magazine. She also chairs the Lady Dufferin Foundation Trust, which is aimed towards healthcare for women and children in Sindh.
She was the first Pakistani to be awarded for independent journalism by the British House of Lords in its Muslim World Awards Ceremony in 2002. She devoted twenty years of her life to journalism and served as the editor-in-chief of Pakistan’s The Herald for ten of these. She was also a member of the Council of Pakistan Newspaper Editors (CPNE) until 1998.
It is not Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s sons or nephews that are taking charge of PML-N but his daughter, Maryam Nawaz. She is now accepted as the unopposed future leader of the political party. For the last 15 years she has also been managing the Sharif Trust and serves as the chairman of the board of Sharif Medical and Dental College.
She received her degree from Punjab University, and a master’s in English Literature from the same institution. She is working towards a Ph.D in Political Science from the University of Cambridge, and the topic of her thesis is “Post 9/11 Radicalization in Pakistan”.
Marvi Memon served as the Operational Director of the Inter-services Public Relations and a member of the National Assembly from Punjab. In the July of 2011, she presented a white paper on corruption which listed a 135-point chronology of reported cases of corruption in 2010.
She was awarded her Bachelor of Laws degree by London School of Economics and Political Science, along with a double B.Sc. (Hons) in Economics and International Relations. She holds the distinction of being the youngest female CEO of a multinational in Pakistan. Besides her political affairs, she worked at Citibank and Pakistan Television Corporation, and aided the launch of Trekker.
Farah Ispahani served as a member of the National Assembly and Media Advisor to the President of Pakistan. She is the PPP International Media Coordinator and chairperson for the PPP Scholars wing.
She is a member of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Information and Broadcasting and Youth Affairs, and the Human Rights Committee. In the May of 2012, her National Assembly membership was revoked due to her dual nationality.
She has a degree in Political Science from Wellesley College in Massachusetts, USA. She has a strong background in journalism, and has worked with CNN and ABC as well. She was the Managing Editor and Executive Producer for the Urdu language program, Beyond the Headlines, on the Voice of America. She did very well as the Editor Special Reports for The Herald, and was also the Editor of magazine, Zameen. She is presently a Public Policy Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center.
Kashmala Tariq was a member of the National Assembly, and highly critical of the patriarchal atmosphere in the Parliament and the feudal, conservative mentality that prevented many of her proposed bills on women’s rights from coming into effect. She introduced a bill on honor killings and an amendment to the Hudood Ordinance, but both were heavily opposed. In 2006, as member of the NA Select Committee on Women’s Protection Bill, she suggested the categorization of spousal rape as a criminal offence, but her efforts were again thwarted.
When it comes to women’s rights and corruption cover-ups, she had a bone to pick with her own party as well. She was elected to chair the Commonwealth Women Parliamentarians from 2007 to 2010.