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Pakistani Women Object to ‘Women Only’ Legislatures


Pakistani lawmaker Nighat Orakzai.
ISLAMABAD -- Prominent women politicians in Pakistan have rejected a proposal from a leading Islamist party for separate national and provincial parliaments for women, on grounds that it would remove them from the country’s political and economic mainstream.

The proposal, mooted by Jammat-e Islami senior leader Sirajul Haq, calls for establishing "women only" assemblies in Pakistan's capital and four provinces.

Nighat Orakzai, a lawmaker in the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, says that the idea contradicts Pakistan’s constitution as well as the rights given to women by Islam.

Referring to Haq, who is a senior minister in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, she told Radio Mashaal, "I call on the country's chief justice and the election commission to take note of this proposal and to hold him accountable. I want to tell the world that the women in Pakistan today know their rights. But someone now needs to work on the men to change their thinking."

Orakzai's Pakistan People’s Party is known for championing women rights and is often backed by other secular political parties on women’s issues.

Jamila Gilani, a former lawmaker with the Awami National Party, deplored the move as retrograde and impractical. "Today women are part of the social fabric and most professions. There are women doctors and engineers. How can they be separated from all these professions?"

She said that Pakistani women will strongly resist being pushed out of legislatures. "We need to help the women move forward instead of insisting on holding them back." She added, "Eventually they [the Islamists] will insist on even building separate graveyards for women."

Aysha Gulali, a lawmaker with the Tehreek-e Insaf political party, said her party does not endorse the proposal, despite its alliance with Jammat-e Islami in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa's provincial administration.

Calling the proposal at odds with prevailing trends, she said, "Even in [conservative Muslim nations such as] Saudi Arabia efforts are being made to bring women into new professions. This idea is just one person's opinion. I think women need to be supported to build on the very positive role they now play in Pakistani society."

Haq is undeterred by such opposition, contending that the 20 percent of seats currently reserved for women in the Pakistani parliament is not enough to guarantee their rights.

He told Radio Mashaal, "If the women can have their separate parliament with its own speaker, they can make better laws for themselves and protect their rights better."

"We cannot discuss all their problems in the current assemblies," he said.

Jammat-e Islami is one of Pakistan's leading Islamist parties. It has never won an election but remains a powerful force in the society. The pan-Islamist faction is known for its discipline, and attracts members from educated professional middle classes.

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