It seems that the infamous row between Defence Minister Khawaja Asif and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) leader Shireen Mazari, has adversely affected the Women’s Parliamentary Caucus (WPC), the formation of which was a historic step taken towards improving women’s rights. While the caucus was created to ensure that women parliamentarians are not denied meaningful political participation, this issue has created a worrisome division between different members. Most of the female opposition members have voiced concerns that under the PML-N’s leadership in the caucus,  they have not been able to achieve anything substantial for the issues of women. Dr Shireen Mazari herself has remarked that the WPC under the ruling party has proven to be useless because the PML-N women members are mostly related to the male parliamentarians and are proxies for their stance on political issues.

The WPC was created with the hope of great promise. Pakistan’s Parliament has tried to encourage fair gender participation in law-making and introduced a 17 percent gender quota in 2002, in all legislative houses. Despite the quota, indicators of women’s meaningful political participation remained low.

This has proven the research and global experience that gender quotas alone cannot alter the quality of women’s representation. Unless they are adapted into women’s direct representation, in which more women would win elections rather than taking up reserved seats, meaningful participation will remain elusive to Pakistani female lawmakers.

In 2008, many women parliamentarians began to display a collaborative spirit and worked together on important issues. For a fleeting while they even transcended their party politics for the common goal of women’s empowerment.

During this time, they achieved seven landmark legislations on women’s rights, including the Amendment to Women in Distress and Detention Fund Act that provided for mandatory financial and legal assistance to women in prisons; the Domestic Violence (Prevention and Protection) Act; and the Protection Against Harassment of Women at the Workplace Act among others. In addition to legislation, they also highlighted a wide range of women’s issues on the floors of the Houses.

The effectiveness of WPCs as a centre of gravity to establish cross-party consensus among women parliamentarians has been witnessed multiple times. It would be a shame if the efforts that brought together the different representatives on a common goal were to be undone due to disagreements between the political parties over one thing or the other. If anything, the WPC should condemn demeaning remarks made against a fellow colleague instead of condoning such behaviour.