Human Rights Eye

Women, Politics and the Media

The participation of women and their involvement in electoral process is a significant marker of the maturity and efficacy of democracy in any country. It can be defined not only in terms of the equality and freedom with which they share political power with men, but also in terms of the liberty and space provided for women in the democratic framework of electoral politics. Despite the statutory pronouncement, women in the Pakistan continue to be utterly under-represented in the legislatures, both at the national and the provincial legislatures. Female representation in the Pakistan’s Parliament is still less than the world average of 20%, lower than the “critical mass” required for gender parity in political decision-making and legislation.

The sidelining of Pakistani females from electoral partaking stems largely from political parties, as national political parties and provincial political parties discriminate not only in terms of seat allocations in the electoral fray, but also in the party rank and file and chain of command. This can be accredited to a great degree to the competition structure of political parties in the Pakistani culture, which is laden by inherent male supremacy and a patriarchal approach that disregards women from the electoral process. In contrast to the poor allotment rates of seats to women by political parties in the electoral process and marginalization within the party structure, female voters have seen a noteworthy expansion in the late 1990s as voter turnout figures of general elections held in the last decade show. The participation of women in politics in a wider outlook encompasses interaction in a wide range of activities like participating in trade unions, cooperatives, women’s collectives, informal and formal political processes.

The electoral involvement of females in Pakistan is a much-debated subject with an extensive range of views and differing opinions. On the one hand, some theorists claim that the electoral process in Pakistan is oppressed with male patriarchy and dominance that act as inhibitions to women participation. The lack of political voice and poor representation of women in parliament is a result of exclusions on gender basis. On the other hand, there are theorists who disagree with this argument and sense that the increased participation of women in electoral competition around and after 1990s as voters and sharing of political power at the grass-root level disclose that electoral politics in Pakistan is no more gender exclusive but is fairly inclusive. They feel that due to the strength and willpower of women’s movements in different parts of Pakistan, as well as government regulated quotas, female presence in the political arena is increasing, particularly in terms of voting patterns and decision-making power, as well as in access to positions in public office.

In the contemporary times, media and women participation – either political or economic – serves the foundation for developed democratic societies. Despite media’s key role in strengthening governments’ accountability and sustainability, the power of a modern democratic state is primarily arbitrated by the performance of its four arms. These four arms include the elected representatives, bureaucracy, judiciary along with media. Media in this setting acts a bridging-institution amongst governments, political parties, candidates and voters etc., as it delivers the messages of the politicians according to their desires and intents to the voters. Thus, projection of women in the media as active political participants and leaders can significantly boost their political participation. In countries with high illiteracy rates, radio and television can play an important role in promoting women political confidence and participation. Media can be an effective pedal to magnify women voices and detect strategies to better facilitate their impact on decision-making processes.

Generally, election laws and media laws craft a framework for media’s role in electoral process. Mostly, the formal rules, regulating media coverage of candidates look as if gender-neutral. Reality is somehow different; media protocols and practices may indirectly be disadvantageous for women. For instance, in societies with very limited controls over media, as is occasionally in the developing and under-world countries in particular, women may face informal discrimination demonstrated in their failure to get on air at all. Even when airtime is judiciously controlled, the charges of promotion may be beyond the reach of women candidates. Women are most likely to receive equal broadcasting time in countries that provide the same amount of free airtime to all candidates and place limits on paid political advertising. Some countries even provide extra airtime as an incentive for political parties to nominate and support women candidates. Nonetheless, there the media may propagate stereotypes of women in their conventional characters rather than conveying a positive image of women as political leaders. Women candidates may get coverage focusing more on their personal qualities or their responsibilities as wives and mothers, rather than on their political positions.

Though, media in ever increasingly evolving in Pakistan and is pretty much different what it was few years back. Media has also changed the dynamics of the politics. Different forms of media have restructured the ways of conventional political communication. Although, the part of this prodigy is increasing gradually with every passing day, but political participation and election campaigns are still quite an ambiguous phenomenon. The role of media has been swiftly transformed over recent years in Pakistan, as well as across the globe. It has also significantly influenced women’s political participation. As far as polls and electoral campaigns are concerned, different media podiums such as television, radio, newspapers, magazines and social media sites are being used by politicians to improve citizen engagement particularly women’s participation in voting process.

Nevertheless, media also seems to be hijacked by the same patriarchal mindset existing in the country. It does provide women a platform to represent themselves, but the way the media portray women, how they deal with subjects of special concern to women, and whether they convey effective voter education messages can have a major impact on women’s participation in an election. This is true in all elections; elections in developed, developing and under-developed countries. Under these circumstances, social media is an opportunity for the women to get their voices heard, make a difference, and strengthen social mores and behaviors which eventually foster the political participation of excluded indigenous peoples, particularly women and youth to take progressive actions.

About the author

Saddam Hussein

The author Saddam Hussein is a Research Economist at Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE), Islamabad. He graduated from the School of Economics, Quaid-i-Azam University (QAU) and also holds Master of Philosophy degree in Public Policy from PIDE. Hussein writes regularly for national and international print media, frequently appears on TV for expert analysis and conducts training workshops on a wide range of thematic area.