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Among the 100

GOING from a bonded labourer held in a private jail in Pakistan to the country’s upper house of parliament is a dizzying enough trajectory, but Krishna Kumari now has another feather in her cap.

The senator from an obscure village in one of the nation’s most deprived areas, Tharparkar, has been named among the BBC 100 Women for this year.

The list, as the BBC website describes it, pays tribute to “inspiring and influential women from around the world … leaders, trailblazers and everyday heroes”.

It includes the likes of internationally celebrated South American writer Isabel Allende, but also people like Helena Ndume, an ophthalmologist who has restored the sight of 35,000 of her fellow Namibians free of charge, and our very own Ms Kumari.

She is evidence that in Pakistan even a woman from the downtrodden Kohli caste of ‘untouchables’ can find a place among the people’s representatives.

Yet, inspirational though her story is, Ms Kumari is an outlier, present in the Senate only because the PPP, to its credit, selected her as a candidate on a reserved seat for women.

It would be glossing over reality to suggest that most people from underprivileged backgrounds, particularly women belonging to minority communities, have anything more than a remote chance of scaling institutional barriers to social mobility.

These barriers are rooted in history, politics, class differences, and gender, ethnic and religious biases.

If parties were actually invested in raising women’s profile in the political arena, they would opt to nominate on reserved seats women who deserve to be in parliament on their own merit.

That, after all, was the original purpose of having such a mechanism.

Instead, they use these seats to bring in assorted female relatives of elected legislators or as a favour to powerful political patrons, a form of opportunism that causes much resentment among genuine women political workers after every election.

Women like Ms Kumari who can make parliament a more inclusive and diverse space must become the norm, not remain an exception.

Published in Dawn, November 21st, 2018

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