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The Asian side of the world - II

Jean-François Sabouret

Part Two. National challenges and strategies

Feminising and “modernising” political life: Comments on cases in India and Pakistan

Virginie Dutoya

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August 2013

“Paradox” is a word that is often used when it comes to qualifying the position of women in public life in countries in south Asia. For instance, many find it surprising that India was led by a woman in the 1960s, as was Pakistan in the 1980s, ahead of many European countries. It is considered a paradox because gender equality still appears as a distant objective in these countries, as shown by the declining gender ratio (in favour of men) or cases of violence against women. Obviously, such “surprise” is fuelled by stereotypes. Yet, it remains intriguing that Indira Gandhi in India or Benazir Bhutto in Pakistan were able to lead their party and their country. The paradox can be understood by emphasising the exceptionality of such women, who were the respective daughters of former Prime Ministers, Jawaharlal Nehru and Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, and who owe their access to power only through ties to their family and background.

However, since the 1990s, women have been actively en...

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