“Increasing women representation in parliament is vital”

Kashmala Tariq member of Pakistan Parliament and women’s rights activist who led a delegation of MPs to Sri Lanka recently said in an interview with Daily Mirror that both Sri Lanka and her own country should go ahead and tell the West that they have come a long way in achieving peace and managing gender issues. She also stressed for 30 percent women representation in Parliament of every country in the South Asian region.  Following are the excerpts of the interview.

Q: How do you evaluate your visit to Sri Lanka and talks with parliamentarians including the Speaker?

As you know I have been named for the chair of Commonwealth Parliamentary Union and four countries in the region including Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Maldives and my own country Pakistan are backing my candidature. Therefore the main topic during my meeting with the Speaker and others were based on this. Speaker of Sri Lankan Parliament Chamal Rajapaksa assured me that Sri Lanka would support my candidature and therefore the talks were successful.

Q:During your visit did you have any interaction with Sri Lanka women politicians? If so what is your impression?

I met one opposition MP Chandrani Bandara and several male MPs including Dr. Jayalath Jayawardena and Ravi Karunanayake. Ms. Bandara and myself had something in common as she also felt that women representation in Parliament should be increased. Apart from that they said they will back my candidature just like their opponents in the Sri Lankan government.

Q:As a women’s rights activist, how do you analyze the role of women play in various spheres in the two countries –Pakistan and Sri Lanka?

Sri Lanka has come a long way in enabling the women to play a role in many spheres and even went on to the extent of appointing a women as the chief justice which is the highest position in the country’s judiciary. Pakistan too had come a long way in appointing women in highest positions in the country. There are 70 women members in Parliament out 342 members. But both countries have to achieve more and increase the women representation in Parliament. However women in Pakistan are successfully competing with men in any given field.  Even Pakistan has to go further in having 30 percent women representation in Parliament to meet the standard fixed by the CPU and UN.

Q:What kind of approach should be made by the SAARC countries to address the gender issues?

The most important thing is to increase the women representation in Parliament. Both the UN and the Commonwealth Parliamentary Union are of the view that there should be 30 percent women representation in Parliament. Therefore every country in the region has to achieve this. Besides each country should have 50 /50 for men and women when it comes to rights and in the participation of each country’s decision making process.

Q:Can you compare and contrast approaches made by individual countries in this case in the region. ?

All the countries in the region including India and the Maldives have come a long way in dealing with women rights. Women are represented in decision making bodies in each of these countries and it is increasing. This is a positive move

Q:Sri Lanka is now in post war period. In that context, how have bilateral relations between these two countries evolved?

Pakistan and Sri Lanka had enjoyed a long friendship in many sectors including culture, trading and in politically. We have to maintain this relationship and strengthen it further

Q:What are the areas which you have identified as ones to be focued more?

It is trading. Both countries have to increase trade relationship and have more of this going between the countries. I am sure this would be achieved in the time to come as you have potential now as the country is enjoying peace. We must also have to talk about the psychological factor which had taken the people of our countries out of fear. We have to highlight this fact. This is a fact when it comes to women’s rights too and the world should be aware of this.

Q:Pakistan and Sri Lanka were gripped by terrorism. What are the lessons both the countries should learn in this context?

When it comes to Sri Lanka it is enjoying peace. I am breathing freedom now. You can move about any where without the fear of bombs. In Pakistan we have made some progress in this regard. We women in Pakistan had come a long way and are involved in decision making processes despite the fear. Both countries should show the West that we had come a long way and had overcome the fear our people were gripped with in the past and that we are capable of achieving more.

Our head of state is in praise of your president who had achieved peace for the country. I am sure we have much to learn from your country.

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