Only 170 women have the chance to contest polls in the third phase of local government elections in Punjab, despite a whopping number of registered votes standing at around 8 million in 12 districts of the province. The number of women contesting on general seats in these districts is lesser than that taking part in the polls held in Islamabad districts where 351 females participated in the exercise.

Politicians do not encourage women to represent the society- they only want them to be voters. But it is not wholly the politician’s fault; society is to blame as well. A daughter, sister or wife active in politics, loud, vocal, and publicly visible, is not something that majority of men in Pakistan would be able to digest (not to mention women themselves, who are taught and perpetuate the myth that women, if they are not homemakers and mothers, are irresponsible and immoral).

However, this is where leadership can come in and advocate equality. Established politicians have the power to make the system inclusive, if they could just look beyond their own egos. Women are sidelined in the decision-making processes, just like religions and ethnic minorities are. Parties are reluctant to award tickets to their women supporters. PPP nominated only two women leaders for the slots of general members in the garrison district- despite claiming to be a party built on equality. Other parties did even less. Most are content with flaunting their few women leaders as evidence of their “progressive” politics.

These 170 women candidates will be in the race as against 37,099 male aspirants in the polls for all slots. If by some miracle they get a seat, whether through winning, or affirmative action, they are put under so much more pressure and scrutiny than men that their scope for political growth is always limited. Democracies across the world have struggled to ensure equal participation of women. Pakistan seems to be going in reverse. Equality of women in politics is not on any party’s agenda, and it is often argued (mostly by men in-charge) that off all of Pakistan’s problems, gender equality is not worthy of prioritization. Thus, half the Pakistani citizenry is told they are worthless and weak, and no one even bats an eyelash. Women do not need funds, or anything extra. They just need fairness, access and end to harassment and violence- something that can be offered without spending a single penny, something that society owes them as human beings.