Pakistan is, sadly, a country known for its misogyny. Thus the burden of raising awareness of women’s issues at public forums typically falls to our women politicians and lawmakers. That the latter’s participation in the national discourse is on the decline should be a matter of grave concern to everyone. According to a research study shared this week with Sindh’s lawmakers, this has been ongoing since 2013.Indeed, of the 11 parliamentary secretaries appointed by the Prime Minister last year — only two are women. Similarly, just four of the Sindh Assembly’s 30 standing committees are chaired by women. Even a cursory browse through official parliamentary websites shows that the number of women on non-reserved seats falls below that of men. Moreover, those who are given reserved seats are barred from re-contesting from their respective constituencies on the basis of merit; meaning that women’s political representation is extremely fragile, especially in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) where all 22 women members are on quota. And then there is the matter of how party leaders are said to allot women’s tickets on the basis of personal preference alone. Not only is this unjust — it creates an environment conducive to sexual harassment. Similarly, women parliamentarians are often subjected to chauvinistic language. Back in June 2016, then Defence Minister Khawaja Asif advised PTI’s Shireen Mazari to “make her voice more feminine”. Many of us are still waiting for the PML-N to take to task Senator Nisar Muhammad after video footage emerged of him groping a young girl at a protest against the extra-judicial killing of Naqeebullah Mehsud in late January. All of this has had a trickle-down effect to the lowest level of politics, as is evidenced by the not uncommon sexual harassment of women at public political gatherings; such as that of PML-N women’s wing member Zeba Rana at Pattoki and the widespread physical assault of women at PTI’s Lahore rally in March 2016. Thus the message for women could not be clearer: participate in this country’s political discourse at your own risk. The only way to counter this is if the leadership of the major parties prioritises women’s participation and input within the political process. Ironically, it was Gen (rtd) Pervez Musharraf who, back in 2002, oversaw the number of reserved seats for women in the National Assembly going up to 66. This was something that the elected governments of Nawaz Sharif and even Benazir Bhutto could not achieve in the 1990s. Yet our national and provincial assemblies must not be allowed to turn into gentlemen’s clubs. Until there is more gender parity within state institutions women all over this country will continue to suffer. * Published in Daily Times, March 1st 2018.