Press Release – ISSI marks International Women’s Day with Roundtable on “Women’s Inclusion in Policy Discourse of Pakistan”


Press Release
ISSI marks International Women’s Day with Roundtable on “Women’s Inclusion in Policy Discourse of Pakistan”
March 8, 2024

Marking the International Women’s Day (IWD), the Centre for Strategic Perspectives (CSP) at the Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad (ISSI) hosted a roundtable discussion titled, “Women’s Inclusion in Policy Discourse of Pakistan.” The keynote speaker at the roundtable discussion was Ms. Fauzia Viqar, Federal Ombudsperson for Protection Against Harassment of Women at the Workplace. Other discussants included: former Ambassador Seema Ilahi Baloch; Dr. Salma Malik, Associate Professor, QAU; Major Wajiha Arhsad, Assistant Director, Information Operations Division, ISPR; Ms. Atiya Amir, Deputy Controller Program, Radio Pakistan; Ms. Shanza Faiq, Assistant Director, Foreign Minister’s Office; and Dr. Fareeha Armughan, Head-Center of Evidence Action Research, SDPI.

In her introductory remarks, Dr. Neelum Nigar, Director CSP, aligned the discussion with IWD 2024 theme, envisioning a gender-equal world free from bias. She emphasized that the conversation will shed light on the pivotal role of women in shaping and participating in policy discourse across key domains such as the economy, foreign policy, diplomacy, energy, and the media within the specific context of Pakistan.

In his remarks on the occasion, DG ISSI Ambassador Sohail Mahmood emphasized the pivotal role of women in shaping policies for Pakistan’s socio-economic development and fostering an inclusive decision-making process. He said that beyond equality, addressing unique challenges faced by women unlocks the nation’s full potential. Women, with their diverse perspectives, enrich policy discourse, offering essential insights to address multifaceted challenges. Ambassador Sohail Mahmood also highlighted role of historical figures such as Fatima Jinnah, Begum Ra’ana Liaquat Ali Khan and Shaista Ikramullah as well as contemporary leaders, underscoring Pakistan’s commitment to human rights and gender equality across various sectors. Additionally, Pakistan’s global advocacy, particularly at the United Nations, reflects efforts to enhance women’s protection in conflict and post-conflict settings. The 2022 National Gender Policy Framework stands as a testament to the country’s ongoing commitment to women’s empowerment. While notable progress has been made, he pointed out, disparities exist with women lagging behind men in all sectors and fields. Therefore, it is imperative to not only raise awareness but also persist with sustained efforts and practical steps to enhance gender equality, women’s empowerment, and women’s place in society.

In her remarks, Ambassador Seema emphasized that women’s inclusion in policy discourse is a fundamental prerequisite for gender equality and democracy. Addressing gender inequality is imperative for achieving women’s empowerment and their active involvement in policymaking. While Pakistan is moving in the right direction, alarming figures and facts highlight the urgent need for progress. She noted that as per available data only 5% women hold senior positions. Ambassador Seema further elaborated on the fact that although women in Pakistan contribute across various sectors such as health, education, forces, policy, academia, etc., they face significant under-representation in higher positions and politics, despite constituting half of the population.

Major Wajiha shed light on how women in the Pakistani forces and UN peacekeeping are paving the way in the international world. Similarly, within the Pakistan armed forces, women’s participation is growing and even extending to combat role as well. However, this journey has not been without challenges. It is becoming increasingly important to understand that gender is not a limitation but a strength. She highlighted that women in uniform bring new experiences and strength to the table. The increase in women’s representation in the forces indicates that there are no limits to what women cannot achieve.

Dr. Salma Malik in her remarks elucidated that to empower women, it is pivotal to provide safe social space, respect, and security. Pakistan in the past few decades has had many ‘first women’ who were able to break the glass ceiling and cultural barriers to excel in a male-dominated society. Talking about women in conflict, Dr. Salma highlighted that women are the direct and indirect victims of a conflict and often remain at the end of the line in the receiving queue and post-conflict rehabilitation; at the same time, women also stand the agency of the conflict in certain scenarios.

Dr. Fareeha during her remarks shed light on the existing ‘implicit bias’ that exists, preventing women from achieving their full potential in workplaces. Due to the systemic biases institutions behave in ways that are biased and not gender inclusive. This bias is also deep-rooted in societal norms, culture, hierarchy, and general social conditioning. To address these challenges it is imperative to bring gradual change in the architecture of the society through interventions and discussions. Equally important is to define and enhance women’s role in institutions, departments, and government by first identifying gender issues and then implementing policies to address them.

Ms. Shanza in her remarks highlighted the increased role and inclusivity of women in the foreign office of Pakistan. Women work side by side with their male counterparts at different desks and departments and undertake important roles at the forefront of diplomacy and foreign affairs in the Foreign Office without any gender bias. Some strong women are contributing to the policy discourse. However, much still needs to be done. Women’s participation must be made more inclusive in areas such as conflict resolution, peace-building dialogue, and policy discourse. While Pakistan has achieved numerous strides in making its institutions such as the foreign office a women-inclusive institution, further steps need to be taken to improve women’s representation in all facets.  Consideration should also be given to developing what is characterized as ‘feminist’ foreign policy.

In her keynote remarks, Ms. Fauzia Viqar underscored the critical need for gender-friendly economic inclusion with a view to removing the primary obstacle to women’s economic and financial empowerment. Pakistan ranks significantly low in economic empowerment and performs inadequately in the women’s peace and security index. Despite these disheartening statistics, substantial measures have been implemented to address the challenges, empowering women to claim their rightful place in society. Ms. Viqar emphasized the urgency of removing roadblocks—societal, institutional, and systemic—to ensure women’s equal competence. This aligns with ongoing efforts in Pakistan to foster a more inclusive and empowering environment for women.

In order to ensure consistent progress, Ms. Fauzia Viqar proposed a range of measures, including: (i) women refusing to believe that they are not equal; (ii) persistent efforts towards realization of the guarantees on women’s equality and rights enshrined in the Constitution; (iii) continued endeavours to meet Pakistan’s international obligations under the relevant Conventions/treaties; (iv) upscaling of women’s representation across-the-board; (v) instituting measures to include women’s perspectives on all aspects of the policy discourse; (vi) development of ‘solidarity networks’ and ‘mentorship’ among women themselves; and (vii) the imperative of women displaying leadership in all areas of their endeavour.

Following the presentations, participants engaged in an interactive discussion. In the end, Ambassador Khalid Mahmood, Chairman of the Board of Governors, ISSI presented the Institute’s memento to the Keynote Speaker followed by a group photo.