The devolution of party power: A pathway for women

It is only when these women step onto the lower rungs, that they have the opportunity to rise up to the higher ones, and actually gain authentic power which will be a catalyst for direct change

As a governmental structure, the Pakistani system is built more so on political parties rather than independent candidates. Such parties range from being dynastic, populous, newly-sprung, secular – a plethora of types, qualities and manifestos. And as political parties, each of them has a branching network. It is never just about the ministers or the MNAs, but so many different, diverse individuals, that work to form one cohesive unit. These look like individuals working under the MNAs, supervising them, collecting data, carrying out tasks delegated to them, and much more. They could be citizen volunteers whose surveys aid in reforming the party aims. Or the campaign heads and strategists which assure a party victory. 

Such a concept is also notably called the devolution of power. While on the surface it seems to disadvantage a political party by expanding its influence, diluting responsibilities down the ladder tends to allow these parties to work comparatively more efficiently. On a surface-level practicality analysis, the more the people on ground, the quicker it is to survey, analyze, deduce and implement ideas. This time efficiency is inadvertently linked to the party saving costs in the long run. Along with this, the devolution allows political parties to harness local efforts within their respective communities. It is also a way to educate individuals on politics, by allowing party members not as high-strung, to mingle within the common voter base. Take, for instance, the NDI’s Political Party Development Program of 2011, in which individuals signed up to create a more inclusive system. Nearly 57% of these participants were youth, the future voter base, allowing over 10 political parties to survey the grassroots. As a possible correlation, the 2013 elections, for the time, had the highest voter turnout in Pakistan.

Over ten years down the lane, the grassroots of the political system, while growing more and more youth-centric, have not been fully explored from the feminist perspective. Having more women bringing forth concerns ranging from the Aurat March manifesto to working conditions is not a particularly new-fangled idea, but its execution requires a nuance that the current system is lacking. Empowering more women into the lower rungs of the political party ladder helps in more ways than one.

It is an understatement to say that within the country, it is difficult for women to get into politics. Be it societal scrutiny, the stubbornness of a historically male-dominated field, or dynastic hierarchies, we rarely see women in the higher-ups. Case in point, the new Sindh cabinet: despite having 13 members, Azra Fazal Pechuho was the only woman sworn in. To combat this, the entry of female policymakers must be made more accessible. The devolution system, due to high recruitment, provides easier entry points for politically inclined individuals. The usual intimidation of politics is shunned in light of the availability of women of your stature, class and locality. This familiarity draws them in.

 Other than the upper-class, educated, and privileged women, who make up a minority within the country, the nation is made up of a majority of women either working within the informal sector, with little to no higher education, who find it hard to venture into the political system while juggling everyday life. Wanting to bring mobile change shouldn't just be a case for directly meeting party leaders and making waves, but the principle of having your concerns heard should be upheld. Localized party efforts focus on such women - those standing on the fringes of their society, who now have a closer vantage point towards the political system. 

In continuation, having just a handful of privileged individuals present the views of 49% of a population is ineffective and selective at best. Promotion of policies like the Trans-Bill, or quotas in the Assembly, while all necessary and important steps into the future, do little to help the minorities at a local level for the short-term. And humans, as we know them, are short-term minded beings. They would be more concerned about walking their children to school safely, rather than having some penalty reviewed. So the idea of devolution here, allows local resolutions throughout the country to be factored, in rather than just the loudest spokesperson. From creating more job opportunities to better working environments in specific areas, the little steps aid in providing a safer pathway for women. 

 The aim of all this, as most aims for women-in-politics-in-Pakistan, is to allow greater inclusivity and empower these individuals. At the point in time where the growth of women in politics is stagnated, and only a few, select and monetarily privileged individuals rise up the ranks – it could be said they were born on those ranks too – it calls for more of the middle and lower class to step in. After all, the majority of the gender’s grievances with the state lie within such sectors of the community, which most female political leaders fail to address, due to their detachment. Once political parties focus their attempts to draw in women towards the grassroots of their cause, and give them positions on lower rungs of the power ladder – be it as advisors, campaigners, or surveyors, it’s a small change, but one that ushers in greater development. The idea of allowing a portion of your population easier entry within a difficult sphere, allows those historically marginalized, to be emboldened by their efforts. Politics, by optics and general viewpoint, is a progressive and exciting field, within which, those who are included, are regarded with a certain awe. To capitalize off this awe, by allowing more women in, parties not only allow their manifestos and campaigns to be tilted towards feminist causes, but as most parties move to adopt this shift in devolution targeting, it brings a cumulative campaigning for such issues. On another note, it is only when these women step onto the lower rungs, that they have the opportunity to rise up to the higher ones, and actually gain authentic power which will be a catalyst for direct change. Political parties are powerhouses of influence, funds, voices, and change. They should be utilized as such.

The author is a student of Advanced Cambridge Level Year 1, in Lahore Grammar School 55 Main. She is currently serving as the Head Girl. She can be reached at 

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