Women and Representation in Pakistan: Voices from Below and Voices from Above

IDRC's Democratic Governance, Women's Rights and Gender Equality initiative is supporting a body of comparative research on whether and how democratic processes and institutions are responding to women's rights and gender equality. The projects under this initiative will investigate issues surrounding women's participation in political decision-making, the judiciary and the public sector, and explore ways in which state institutions, political parties, civil society and kin-based social organizations can be influenced to advance women's choices and entitlements as citizens, including through increased representation.

Pakistan has one of the lowest scores in terms of indicators of human and women's development. Women's vulnerability manifests itself in the home, in society, in law and in traditional forms of justice. Nevertheless, women have been resisting since the early 1950s, demanding equal rights under the constitution, in law and in the public sphere, as well as liberal interpretations of Islam in family law. Women have continuously struggled for representation at all levels of decision-making on the grounds that women can best understand and represent the interests of women. This is the area in which the women's rights movement has been most successful. Not only has Pakistan had a women Prime Minister (elected twice), the country has seen the election/appointment of women cabinet ministers, members of Parliament, governors, ambassadors and leaders of social movements. However, the impact of these advances appears to have been nominal in terms of reflecting the aspirations of women in the lower echelons of society. The voices of the majority of women have yet to be heard within the power structure.

This project will endeavor to understand this anomaly by revisiting the rationale and modalities of political reservations. Researchers will examine whether women selected by political parties to run for office on the basis of quota represent women in general or the political party with which they are affiliated. Extensive fieldwork will be carried out in Islamabad, the provincial capitals, Azad Jammu and Kashmir, and Gilgit and Baltistan. The overall aim is to find out whether or not affirmative action and the quota system give legitimacy to women's aspirations and articulate the interests of women as a constituency.

Project ID


Project status


Start Date

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

End Date

Monday, June 3, 2013


24 months

IDRC Officer

Singh, Navsharan

Total funding

CA$ 125,700


Pakistan, Central Asia, Far East Asia, South Asia


Governance and Justice

Project Leader

Dr. Nighat Said Khan


Applied Socio Economic Research (ASR)

Institution Country


Institution Website