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Feature: Women politicians angry at being passed over for male candidates

Feature: Women politicians angry at being passed over for male candidates

There was a slight upsurge of nomination papers filed by women to contest the general elections this year, compared to the polls in 2013, perhaps because of a special provision in the Elections Act 2017, requiring all political parties to allot five per cent of their tickets for general seats.

Yet despite the attempt to increase their representation, it was clear that most parties only grudgingly accepted the nomination papers filed by women from their parties, preferring to go along, instead, with familiar faces from prominent political families.

Editorial: Missing women voters

In the previous election, data shared by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) reveals that 50 women from Balochistan, 78 from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, including Fata, 123 from Punjab and 99 from Sindh had filed papers to contest on NA seats. In this election, 36 women from Balochistan, 88 from KP and Fata, 236 from the Punjab and 76 from Sindh are trying for the NA seat.

Likewise, in 2013, 114 women from Balochistan, 229 from KP, 231 from Punjab and 247 from Sindh filed nomination papers to contest the provincial assembly elections, while this year the numbers are 116 women from Balochistan, 262 from KP, 664 from Punjab and 213 women have filed nomination papers to contest on provincial seats in Sindh.

If there is a decrease anywhere, it was perhaps because of a spike in the security fee. For NA seats, the security fee was raised from Rs4,000 to Rs30,000 while for the PA seats, it increased from Rs2,000 to Rs20,000; the fee is non-refundable.

Across political parties, women political workers have complained that their involvement in the elections comes down to appeasing the ECP by fulfilling the minimum criteria for representation set for them.

Across political parties, women political workers have complained that their involvement in the elections comes down to appeasing the ECP by fulfilling the minimum criteria for representation set for them.

“The real spirit of this rule is not being followed… in fact, political parties have given tickets to women on those seats where they know they are bound to lose,” says Faiza Malik, who had filed nomination papers with the Pakistan Peoples Party but did not receive a ticket. Ms Malik has previously remained an MPA of the Punjab Assembly for three terms on reserved seats. She has also been president of the PPP Women’s Wing in Lahore.

Ms Malik says it is unfortunate that most women who received tickets to contest on general seats are those who belong to prominent families. For example, Natasha Daultana from southern Punjab, who is contesting the polls from what was originally her late brother Azeem’s seat, until he died in a road accident. “It is women from ordinary families who get tickets to fight in constituencies where they are bound to end up losing,” she says. “As for the women from prominent families, they will always get tickets but we don’t know if they will win either.”

To be sure, Ms Daultana, who ran for the NA seat in 2013, from Vehari (NA 168), lost to Syed Sajid Mehdi.

Political workers Farzana Butt and Naseem Bano of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) were, similarly, passed over for tickets. The disgruntled party women believe they deserved tickets for all the hard work they had done.

“The women who are encouraged [to contest elections] are mostly those who have spent their so-called political life hosting parties in air conditioned rooms,” comments an irate Ms Butt. “We, on the other hand, have been fighting on the streets, suffering jails and putting our entire families on the sideline,” she says, adding that it appears that this was a party tactic to get less controversial women into the assembly, as they would be malleable.

Ms Bano is at a loss over why her party did not favour the women who had been working on the ground. “All I know is that we, as political workers, cannot really quit the party, nor can we feel motivated enough to stay, but eventually we have to be with a team. The problem remains that most men in our party do not want to see women progress. I too have been inside prison but nothing has improved my prospects.”

Ms Bano has decided that she would split the vote bank in her constituency by running as an independent candidate against Aleem Khan and her own party’s Ayaz Sadiq.

Talking about contesting against her own party member, she says, “I was the one who rallied support for Ayaz Sadiq even when I was injured… I went door to door to garner support for him. Unfortunately, the bigwigs will never remember anything you do for them.”

Even Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s Sadia Sohail Rana — who is protective about her party, but peeved at not receiving a ticket — agrees that women have it worst when contesting elections. “The biggest challenge for women is the expenses,” she says. “Not all women can fight elections without money and now instead of removing the cost of fighting elections, the ECP is only adding to it. In this manner, no woman or any other marginalised person can easily make it in the elections.”

However, she adds that it was unfortunate how many women had not been given tickets because the party had to accommodate ‘electables’ — a new buzzword which means handing tickets to anyone thought to be influential. “If it comes to that I could have won the elections too, because the public is sick of seeing the same faces in my constituency,” she says. “But I stepped back anyway on party directives. Although if they don’t clear the area for new people to come to the forefront, how will things ever change? Maybe I could have been an ‘electable’ too.”

Senior politician Mahnaz Rafi says this has been happening since day one. Ms Rafi served as a parliamentarian under the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid regime, and helped fix the 33pc quota for women on reserved seats. “I remember when in the early 90s, I wanted to contest from the Icchra area and one of my party (Tehreek-i-Istaqlal) influentials — now a well-known man — refused to give me a ticket, because according to him, a woman would not be able to show any strength. This is the general mindset.”

Eventually it comes down to just that. And the fact that many of the male politicians are more interested in lining their own pockets, says an officer of the election watchdog FAFEN.

“This five per cent quota is nothing, it should be 50 per cent, only then can change come,” he says. “But the fact is that the parties do not want strong women in the assembly because these are the women who will then challenge their own party politics later. If they give space to women to contest, what will they do themselves?”

Published in Dawn, July 1st, 2018

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