Balochistan’s First Female Deputy Speaker

The election of Dr. Fozia Marri as the first ever Deputy Speaker of the Balochistan Assembly is one of the best decisions the current government has made during its five-year term. No matter how much of a cosmetic measure it may look, the appointment of a female member on such an important position holds much significance for a backward province like Balochistan. This is more important for the political empowerment of women given the current composition of the Balochistan Assembly which is dominated by conservative tribal chiefs and orthodox religious leaders.

It is remarkable to see the new Speaker from the the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (J.U.I.), which has often voiced opposition to women’s participation in politics, work with a female Deputy Speaker. Expecting some immediate change in the state of women’s rights in Balochistan with the appointment of Dr. Marri as the Deputy Speaker is utterly unrealistic. Cynics may describe her election as a mere symbolic action taken by the government to pose as an advocate of women’s rights. Such “symbolic decisions” are not a bad idea as long as they inspire young girls from the backward region to have a dream to hold a high public office in a heavily male-dominated institution, province.

Women’s development has not been the top priority of the Pakistan People’s Party-led coalition government in Balochistan. Women in the province enjoy less freedom and fewer opportunities than the women in the rest of Pakistan. Their issues range from access to education, health facilities to more serious challenges such as child marriages, honor killings and barter of girls among rival tribes. It is the government’s responsibility to create a climate in which women feel secure and confident to come out of their homes to attain education and opt for various career paths. This is indeed a very slow and challenging process but it is impossible to achieve equal rights for women until they, not the male members of the society, start defining women’s rights, interests and needs.

Few women in Balochistan are blessed to have obtained higher education and found excellent employment opportunities. These women indeed owe a great responsibility to their compatriots elsewhere in the province. They should stand up, even more prominently than the male members of the society, for the rights of the women. It is unfortunate that the seats reserved for women in the Balochistan Assembly are often ‘distributed’ among the spouses or relatives of powerful politicians. Several members of the current assembly also represent that breed of politicians who have come out of a system hit by nepotism and favoritism. More unfortunate is the fact that these women also did not sufficiently play their role to battle for women’s rights. Either the indifferent attitude of the current female members should change or these faces have to be replaced with women who are known for their political sagacity rather than the family they come from.

Dr. Marri is left with too little time to serve on his revered position as the next general elections are fast approaching. But whatever time she has to perform her duty, we truly hope that she will remain an example of a confident and committed female legislator of Balochistan. She should end her term with a note that women in Balochistan are capable of delivering on highly demanding positions.

Also, with the Balochistan High Court’s rejection of former Speaker Mohammad Aslam Bhootani’s application against his removal, the constitutional crisis seems to be over. Chief Minister Nawab Mohammad Aslam Raisani says he sympathizes with Mr. Bhootani over his failure to oust the provincial government. It is too early to say that Bhootani would let his dismissal go away. He will hopefully move the Supreme Court against the no-trust motion passed against him. A new crisis will emerge only if the Supreme Court opposes the removal of the former Speaker and the appointment of a new one.

This editorial was originally published in The Baloch Hal on January 3, 2012


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