Pakistan was the first Muslim country to have a female Prime Minister. Top cabinet ministries, including finance and foreign, have gone to women politicians. However, these landmarks achieved at the national level have not translated into political empowerment for women on the provincial level. Balochistan, for example, is heading for a local government election next month without a single woman candidate. The two main parties have dismissed the idea of a woman as mayor. Balochistan has 12 women members of the Provincial Assembly on reserved seats while one is elected, compared to 65 males on general seats. No minister or advisor to a minister is a woman.

Women quotas were introduced in Pakistan in 2002 to include more women in the legislation and policy-making process. There was plenty of cynicism regarding these reserved seats, with the major criticism being that they would be unfairly captured by the elite and not empower competent women at the grassroots level. Indeed, though women legislators have been lauded for some of their legislation and lobbying for good causes, they are still dependant on their parties for “selection.” This takes away influence from them. There is little room for initiative, questioning party politics and policies. Furthermore, the fact that more men stand on the general seats than women, the election process remains male-dominated. There are unfortunately, very few women leaders who have been voted into office. And in a province like Balochistan, traditionally marred by illiteracy, tribalism and patriarchy- things look even grimmer. The mayoral election in Balochistan next month, in which no woman has been allowed to compete for office, is just one example. The overwhelming attitude is that in the presence of so many competent men, there is simply no room for women. In other words, women are competing for intellectual superiority on an entirely different plane- one where there are no men.

How will the political scenario in Pakistan become more favorable to women? Are reserved quotas helping or feeding into the attitudes that women can’t do without affirmative action to fight on the same professional planes? If it is the latter, then what are the alternatives? At least one of the answers must lie in a fundamental upheaval of the patriarchal mindset, which can come from early education alone. And as the news goes, a militant group in Panjgur, Balochistan’s western district has recently threatened 23 English language learning centers to shut down and proclaimed them “haram.” Amidst this kind of armed oppression, how can we expect middle and lower class women to rise much further than the four walls of their homes, much less into policy-making quarters?