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Bibi Arifa Shah
Municipal Corporation Quetta
Personal and Professional Background
Ms. Bibi Arifa Shah has a service record in local government just short of one year. At present,
she holds the position of Councillor of the Municipal Corporation Quetta. She is affiliated with
the Pakhtoon Khawa Milli Awami Party. Her areas of responsibility include attending weekly
meetings of councillor groups, managing the Area Development Budget, and chairing the
Women Development Committee. Additionally, she’s a member of the All Balochistan Political
Women’s Forum and the Liberal Forum. Ms. Shah is in her twenties and holds a tertiary degree,
currently working as Programme Officer for the Aurat Foundation. She is single, has no
dependent children or other family members and describes herself as part of the middle-income
group of her community.
Entering and Working in Urban Local Government
Ms. Shah has several close relatives in politics and/or government, including her brothers, father
and uncle, all affiliated with the Pakhtoon Khawa Milli Awami Party. Her reasons for entering
local government were a desire to work for local development, ensure a proper allocation of
resources, establish training centres for women and develop direct contacts with the community.
Ms. Shah was encouraged by family and colleagues to run for office. During the electoral
process she experienced difficulties, owing to her gender, as the tribal norms do not favour
women’s participation in politics or public offices, little less single women. Once elected and in
office, she also faced difficulties and discrimination, mainly from her colleagues, due to the fact
that she is a woman. Ms. Shah’s personal feeling is that women Councillors were only allocated
a limited budget, and further received little support from public officials deeming them
incompetent participants in development. Through efforts, funds are now distributed equally
between men and women Councillors.
Breaking the Barriers
Ms. Shah sees herself as a leader. Her activities aimed at improving the status of women in her
city include establishing women’s development committee for addressing women’s issue, field
visits, and setting up an office of women Councillors in the Municipal Corporation building.
She has also participated in the successful All Balochistan Political Women’s Forum campaign
for a 100% increase in women’s seats. Ms. Shah has also initiated projects and programmes for
the development or improvement of her municipality of which she is proud. These include
establishing a training centre for women and infrastructure development. On the whole, Ms.
Shah feels that people’s perceptions of women in urban local government have changed for the
better over the past 10 years, as is evidenced in the increasing number of women contesting
women’s seats in local government, and women contesting general seats for the first time. Ms.
Shah thinks her contribution to urban local government has clearly made a difference to the way
in which her city functions, as the municipality now grants equal funds to women Councillors,
and addresses women’s issues. Ms. Shah feels her approach and/or work style in urban local
government is intrinsically different to that of her male colleagues, in that she is more concerned
with gender issues and a balanced developmental approach. Bibi Shah feels that male dominance
and attitudes, as well as the indirect election of women Councillors create barriers that might
prevent or restrict women from entering the urban local government arena. In order to make
circumstances more favourable for women to participate in local government, she suggests direct
elections for women’s seats, equal budget for male and female Councillors, and strengthening
women’s position in parties through political education. Ms. Shah’s future ambition is to
continue in local government fighting for a gender balanced approach to development.
A Woman’s Perspective on Urban Local Government Issues
Ms. Shah thinks women’s concerns and priorities about urban local government and urban issues
generally differ from those of men, in that women focus on issues such as education, health and
training, while men focus on infrastructure development, construction and the likes. In her view,
increasing the number of women representatives and officials in urban local government would
have a direct effect on the status of women, as it would imply more support for women’s issues,
stronger and more effective advocacy, and a greater pressure for gender sensitive policies. Ms.
Shah believes that women leaders in urban local government have a responsibility to promote
female participation in politics at all levels and at the same time improve the status of women in
society in general. Women leaders should especially focus on advocacy with government,
awareness raising, and legal literacy training. On a personal note she finds the proposed electoral
framework providing for equal representation and direct elections good if implemented, and
suggests international visits and exchanges of women Councillors enabling a better
understanding of women’s issues.