Woman scholar’s cry heard at last – 06 Jun 2022

Shaheera battled for three years to get the bill seeking 30% youth representation in leadership

Navigating institutional roadblocks, complex rules and an almost impenetrable procedural maze, Shaheera Jalil Albasit battled for three years to get her ambitious bill — seeking to re-author the fate of millions of young people in the country — tabled in the National Assembly.

The piece of legislation has finally forced its way to the desk of the concerned committee. But it still faces an uncertain future.

The bill seeks to give at least 30 per cent electoral and political representation to the young populace of Pakistan — a country considered to be the fifth-largest young country in the world.

Walking through the Kafkaesque labyrinth of power corridors for all these years trying to persuade the parliamentarians, if they met her at all, to take the bill for debate, her ordeal seemed endless. Many poured cold water on the idea while others remained tentative about taking it to the legislature.

Shaheera, a Fulbright scholar, has written and introduced in the US three federal gun bills — named after Pakistani exchange student and her cousin, Sabika Sheikh, who was killed in a Texas school shooting — waited for three years until MNA Rana Iradat agreed to present the bill in the National Assembly.

Speaking to The Express Tribune, Shaheera said that she wrote the youth quota bill in 2019 and pitched it to 25 parliamentarians during the last three years, including top PTI, PML-N and PPP leadership. She also filed petitions with the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), the president and PM Offices and sought help from lawyers and human rights groups but to no avail.

However, the story of her presenting bills back in the US is in sharp contrast to what she faced at the hands of the lawmakers and the staff of the parliament.

Out of the three US bills, two of her bills, including the Sabika Sheikh Firearm Licensing and Registration Act, were reintroduced in the current US Congress and were currently with House Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security.

In Pakistan, she said, Iradat finally agreed to move the bill because he agreed on the principle that youth electoral representation needs to be increased in Pakistan. “It was Shaheera’s idea and I presented the bill in National Assembly after fine-tuning it a bit,” Iradat said while giving credit to her for coming up with the idea and never giving up on it despite facing difficulties in persuading lawmakers to take the bill to the assembly.

“I think we should encourage her and others like her to come forward with ideas,” he said, adding that he had sought the party’s support for sending the bill to the committee concerned and see if it goes through the committee stage.

The bill was finally introduced in the NA on May 24. Both Shaheera and Iradat said that another mover of her bill was PTI’s Uzma Riaz but since the PTI has quit the lower house en masse, only Iradat introduced it.

After coming back to Pakistan from the US, Shaheera said that she started meeting parliamentarians in Islamabad in August 2020 and thus the three-year-long ordeal began.

In one of her Facebook posts, she said that when one finally gets a 10-minute meeting with an MNA or Senator, one will be allowed to speak only for a minute before the lawmaker launches into a speech for nine minutes.

“They’re not at all interested in all the research you did all these months to counter their arguments. They tell you what they think and the meeting is over,” she writes in her post.

“Yes, they want us to go wild when Aseefa’s political career is launched. Yes, they want us to hype Maryam Nawaz as some ‘youth’ icon of democracy. Yes, they want us to volunteer in Tiger Force as some lollipop youth representation,” Sheheera said, “But no, they don’t want us to lead this country’s policy and politics ourselves.”

The bill’s statement of objects and reasons states that around 64 per cent of Pakistan’s population is consisted of people under the age of 30 years, saying it is a historic and unique demographic opportunity for the country but Pakistan can’t benefit from the enormous potential and innovative edge of its youth bulge unless young people are most directly involved in creating legislation which impacts them and their constituencies.

The bill seeks to amend sections 206 and 208 of the Election Act, 2017. In section 206, the bill seeks to incorporate two new sub-sections. One states: “A political party, while making the selection of candidate on general seats, shall ensure at least thirty per cent representation of youth candidates, especially, those from under-represented sections of society.”

The second sub-section states: “a political party shall provide campaign finance support to its youth candidates selected under sub-section (2).”

In section 208, the bill seeks a sub-section which read: “A political party shall ensure at least thirty per cent youth representation in its central office-bearers and executive committee members, by whatever name called.”

With millions of struggling young people with no job, no family business, no dynasties but a passion to serve their communities, Shaheera call for change. “Not only what policies are made but who gets to make policies in this country must change,” she concluded.

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