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Fahmida Mirza, Fehmida Mirza, National Assembly speaker Fahmida Mirza
B. K. Bangash/AP

Fahmida Mirza, First Woman to Serve as Speaker of Pakistan’s National Assembly

December 20, 2009
by Soojung Chang
In March 2008, Fahmida Mirza became the first female National Assembly speaker in Pakistan’s 60-year history with the support of the Pakistan Peoples Party, the party of assassinated former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.

How She Got There

A longtime politician, Fahmida Mirza first ran for public office in 1997. She has served three terms in parliament, winning the National Assembly seat in 1997, 2002 and 2008. Mirza represents Sindh, the home province of Pakistan’s first female prime minister, Benazir Bhutto, who was assassinated in 2007. She is married to Zulfiqar Ali Mirza, a close friend of Asif Ali Zardari, the widower of Bhutto and Bhutto’s successor as head of the PPP.

Mirza was born on December 20, 1956, in the Badin district of Sindh. She is a member of the politically active Qazi family, known for its involvement in the Pakistani independence movement. Her grandfather, Qazi Abdul Qayyum, was the first Muslim leader of Hyderabad Municipality. A graduate of Nazareth College in Hyderabad and Liaquat Medical College in Jamshoro, Mirza practiced as a medical doctor from 1982 to 1989.

What She Did

Mirza defeated opponent Israr Tareen with 249 votes in the 342-seat lower house of Pakistan’s parliament. She ran as a joint candidate of the PPP; the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), led by former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif; the Awami National Party (ANP) and other parties. Tareen, who is a supporter of Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, ran with the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q). Mirza is one of few women to win a general position, rather than one reserved for female politicians; 20 percent of the seats in the National Assembly are allocated for women.

“This is my third tenure in the national assembly and I believe it is time that we all work together to address the challenges facing the country,” Mirza said before the election, according to Al Jazeera. The newspaper called her election “largely a formality” after her nomination by the PPP, as it has the most seats in the assembly. “I am sure we will be able to face these challenges with the support of parliamentarians, our people and Pakistani media,” Mirza said.

The Times of London, which described Mirza as bearing “a striking resemblance to Benazir Bhutto,” reported that she said, “I am honoured and humbled … This chair carries a big responsibility. I am feeling that responsibility today and will, God willing, come up to expectations.”

As speaker, Mirza oversees the parliament’s proceedings and determines which debates or motions will be allowed on the floor. “The election of Fahmida Mirza as speaker will be a big step towards the empowerment of women in Pakistan,” said PPP leader Shah Mahmood Qureshi, according to the Hindustan Times.

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