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Out of my head

October 3, 2018

Whither the women?

Opinion

October 3, 2018

“No country can truly develop if it locks out half its population,” Justine Greening, the former UK secretary for international development.

Go the official Pakistan government website and you’ll find 33 ministries listed. A quick scrutiny of these tells me this: of these 33 ministries, three have no working links, namely the Ministry of Postal Services, the Ministry of Privatisation, and the Ministry of Water Resources. The first two have no links at all and the water resources ministry expressly tells me (and that too in bold capitals): “FORBIDDEN - You don’t have permission to access / on this server” (with the country parched for water and dams on everybody’s minds, is that some kind of subliminal messaging, I wonder?).

The energy ministry link on the main page doesn’t work, but you can get at its two divisions, Power and Petroleum, by googling them. Eight ministries appear to have no one in charge – not a minister, an adviser or a minister of state. These are: the Ministry of Kashmir Affairs and Gilgit-Baltistan, Ministry of Narcotics Control, Ministry of National Food Security and Research, Ministry of States and Frontier Regions, Ministry of Statistics, as well as the above-mentioned postal services, privatisation (according to Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry, the PM is heading this, but there’s no way to confirm), and water resources ministries.

So you’ve got 34 ministries (counting the two energy divisions). Plus, you’ve got the advisers for the Establishment Division and for institutional reforms and austerity. So, a minimum of 36 slots (or 28, depending on how you look at it, with eight ministries having been left to their own devices). The Imran Khan cabinet currently has 27 ministers/advisers/ministers of state (Abdul Razak Dawood is pulling double duty).

Of these 27, only three are women. Only three. That’s a ratio of 1:9, a mere 11 percent. Take in something like the Economic Advisory Council, which has 15 members (down from the original 18 in the wake of the Atif Mian royal cock-up) and the ratio becomes worse. Much worse. Because all EAC members are male. So, excluding the overlap with the federal cabinet, you only have three women out of 38 people in the most important positions in the country. A ratio of just under eight percent. (Needless to say, not a single woman serves on the Supreme Court of Pakistan either).

Not that previous regimes were standard-bearers for inclusiveness and women’s empowerment, but surely we can do better than this. Much, much better. In fact, if this is New Pakistan and change is the catchword, then we must do better than this. It shouldn’t be mere tokenism, and it shouldn’t be merely symbolic and it needn’t be. This country is full of women of substance and high achievers. We’ve had prime ministers, ministers, ambassadors, state bank governors, corporate CEOs, bank presidents, leading scientists, senior bureaucrats, lawyers, doctors, and so on. Women who have led with distinction and courage, and who are often better than their male colleagues and counterparts.

New Pakistan already missed a trick in not appointing somebody like Justice Nasira Iqbal as the president of Pakistan (she was reportedly in the running). She was the ideal candidate – educated and erudite, elegant and eloquent, highly successful in her chosen field, and above reproach. Imran Khan could have so easily demonstrated to the country and to the world that Pakistan is a modern, progressive nation. A nation that stands for and by its women. A nation that not only holds women in the highest regard but is also willing and able to elevate them to the highest position in the land. Instead, IK opted to kick a loyal party worker upstairs,

So, that boat has sailed. But could we now at least, as a starting point, have women filling the eight empty positions in the federal cabinet (which, by the way, currently has eight unelected individuals serving as ministers of state/advisers – a subject for a whole other column). That would be justice. That would be change. That would be progress. Let’s unleash the power and potential of our women.

The writer is a freelance columnist.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @KhusroMumtaz

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