Taskeen Zahra talks to politician and human rights activist about the struggles of women and children across Pakistan
Tell us a little about yourself.
I have inherited a passion for political activism from my late mother, Rehana Butt. My life has revolved around political and social activism, and my work helps explain who I am as a person. I was elected by the Pakistan Muslim League Q as a member of the National Assembly in the 2002 election, on a Women Reserve Seat from Punjab. Being one of the youngest members of the parliament at the time, I was the Federal Parliamentary Secretary for Human Rights, and also worked on the NA Standing Committees on health, environment and interior. Additionally, I helped introduce children related legislation. During my time, I represented the criminal amendment bill in 2005 (regarding the repeal of Hudood Laws) and got about ninety women released from Adiala jail. I have also been fortunate enough to represent women, and our social issues of Pakistan, on many international forums, such as the United Nations and the European Parliament.
What position do you hold currently?
I am presently serving as Chairperson of the Rehana Butt Foundation, and I take a keen interest in issues pertaining to children. I have always been an activist for children rights, human rights and gender justice. To me, a child stands for beauty, hope and innocence. After all, they are the saplings of today, who become the fruit bearing trees of tomorrow.
What do you think about the current state of children rights in Pakistan?
I feel that Pakistan is among those countries that lag behind in the implementation of the convention on the rights of children. Our country still has a long way to go before the necessary provisions of those rights are reflected in our national laws. Currently, Pakistan has laws and ordinances that are arguably in conflict with principles and provisions of this convention. Changes to this are underway, and I aspire to be the pioneer of implementing this change, as I am seriously concerned over the increasing number of female dropouts from school.
Did you always want to be involved in politics?
Actually, no. My parents wanted me to be a doctor and I was always interested in the visual arts. I did my masters in Business Economics, but it was a twist of fate that I got elected as Vice President of the Muslim League and as a member of the National Assembly, from where I formally began my career in politics.
How did being a part of Pakistani politics change you on a personal level?
Politics is a challenging and full time passion. It has made me more driven, and taught me the culture of compassion. I am happy to say that my career has been very rewarding and satisfying up till now.
Being a women’s rights activist, what do you think is the biggest hurdle in the path of women being more politically active?
A lack of self-awareness and identity consciousness.
What holds more importance in your eyes, the political life or social activism?
Politics and social activism are two dimensions of the same reality, as both are equally rewarding and important.
If you ever wrote an autobiography surrounding your political career, what title would you give it?
I am a humble political worker with a mission and a cause. The title of my autobiography would be “Making The Mark.”
How has your mother, the late Rehana Ehsan Butt, influenced your political and personal life?
My mother was my source of inspiration. She was a philanthropist and contributed a lot towards my career. She was a woman of substance and commitment; politics to her was only a source of public service. That is why she transformed all the responsibilities on her plate into a mission for human welfare. Honestly, I idolize her.
What political personality has been your mentor?
My mother has always been my mentor. And in humanism and struggle for minorities, Salmaan Taseer has been a great source of inspiration and motivation.
What do you love and hate about the political dynamics in Pakistan?
l love the humanism and culture of compassion here, but also hate the hypocrisy and duel standards of our political culture.
Where do you see Pakistan in the next 10 years? And how actively involved do you envision our women?
In ten years I hope to see Pakistan as a great prosperous country, and our women as equal partners.
What advice would you give to a younger you?
Be what you want to be.
What advice would you give to women in Pakistan, especially those that aspire to enter mainstream politics?
Politics is a full time commitment, so empower yourselves to accept it with all its dimensions. As women, we can convert challenges into opportunities.
What do you do when you are not involved in politics?
I love to teach and play with kids. Devotion to children is my core commitment.