Women’s empowerment is a complex and evolving concept that is constantly being defined and re-defined. It is said to be about women’s increased access to material resources such as land, money, credit and income, availability of decent employment opportunities that involve good working conditions, access to power through representation in political and decision- making bodies, the freedom to make choices in life, enjoyment of basic rights granted in the constitution and international agreements, equal access to quality education and health facilities, mobility to be able to access various facilities, and control over one’s body, sexuality, and reproductive choices. These are the areas, where women are often exploited and the concept of empowerment is believed to be related to women’s equality, rights, and fulfillment. If women are empowered, it will lead to a better family, economy, society, and nation. However, in Pakistan women are less empowered, and often their human rights are violated.
In this background, one significant development occurred during 2002, when women’s quota in governments at the federal, provincial, and local level was raised. Now article 51 of the constitution guarantees women representation in assemblies. At least 60 of the total 342 seats in the National Assembly (17%) are reserved for women. The reserved seats for women are allocated to 4 provinces in the following manner: Punjab (35 seats); Sindh (14 seats); Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (8 seats); and Balochistan (3 seats). Women members in these seats are elected through an indirect proportional representation list system, whereby political parties submit their lists of women candidates for reserved seats to the Election Commission before the election. Following the finalization of election results for general seats, the reserved seats are allocated to the political parties in proportion to the number of general seats obtained by these parties in each province. The provincial assemblies also ensure a similar percentage of women representations.
Along with their parliamentary contributions for the nation, women parliamentarians need to work for further empowerment of women in Pakistan. The most critical areas impacting women’s legal rights in Pakistan today lies in developing legislation affecting women’s general rights as citizens and family members; women’s economic rights and opportunities to earn an income; ensuring women’s safety as they enter public domains, and establishing new laws protecting women from harmful and discriminatory traditional practices. Implementing the laws is important, but implementation only becomes a concern once the laws exist.