Making it mandatory for all political parties to allocate 5% of their tickets to women and at least 10 percent women voters in each constituency, as a requirement for valid election are no doubt commendable under Election Act 2017. Nevertheless, how much these two steps could help to politically mobilize 46.62pc women voters in July 2018 election is still a subject, to be seen.
After completion of yet another five year “democratic” term , as soon as the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) announced the schedule of 2018 elections, argument over the selection of (male and female) candidates by political parties began. In the process, selection of particularly female candidates on reserved and general seats became a daunting task for political parties. Record number of 171 women are contesting for National Assembly seats, 105 on party Tickets and 66 as independent candidates. Three major political parties Pakistan Peoples Party(PPP), Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PMLN) and Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI) are prepared to send highest number of female candidates as compare to 2008 and 2013 elections. In July 2018 elections, for National Assembly seats, PTI took a lead by finalizing 14 female out of 244 candidates followed by 12 out of 176 of PPP and 5 out of 125 candidates of PMLN. For Provincial Assemblies, PPP awarded 19, whereas PMLN and PTI allocated 11 tickets to women candidate. Nevertheless there are some provinces, where these parties could not allocate 5% tickets to women, as established by Election Act 2017. For example, PTI awarded ticket to only one woman, out of 40 candidates in Baluchistan, whereas 4 women out of 97 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly.
Women Members in National and Provincial Legislative Assemblies of Pakistan
Elections Senate National Provincial
2013 19 70 141
2008 17 76 140
2002 17 73 141
The above table makes a comparative study of women present in national and provincial legislatures, in last three general elections. In 2013, the party which allocated most tickets to women as compared to the rest was PPP with 13 women, followed by 8 and 6 of PMLN and PTI. It is important to point out that 61 women received party tickets in 2013 elections, while 74 contested as independent candidates. Whereas in 2008, 41 women received party ticket and 31 opted to contest election as an independent candidates. While evaluating the increased women participation in elections as a candidate, one can not overlook the year of 2002, when first time in general elections, the condition to possess Bachelor’s degree was announced by Pervaiz Musharaff, which barred many male candidates at last minute and provided a space to educated female family members of influential families to contest elections. Even before this only elite women from political families were participating in politics. The increased women participation after 2002 was by default, instead of any conviction. In the same year, women reserved seats were also increased to 17 percent (at local bodies women quota was increased to 33 percent).
We cannot deny the fact that throughout our political history, women representation in legislative chambers remained marginal, despite of Article 25 of the constitution that ensures equal rights to all citizens irrespective of gender. In upcoming elections, in order to understand the women under-representation in legislative assemblies, three facts are most important.
One, in over-whelming patriarchal socio-political structure of Pakistani, despite of sharing almost half of the total population (49%), women are unable to receive even 5 % of the total allocated tickets by each party, for National and Provincial assembly candidatures. Particularly PMLN and PPP gave tickets to women with political backgrounds and those who were a part of former legislatures like Dr Nafeesa Shah, Shehla Raza, Dr Farzana, Faryal Talpur, Shazia Marri and Samina Ghurki of PPP; Saira Afzall Tarar, Shezra Mansab Ali Kharral, Tehmina Daultana, Sumaira Malik and Maryam Nawaz (disqualified in Avenfield Verdict by Accountability Court on 6th July) of PMLN. Although PTI also provided ticket to some those “electable” women, who abandoned a party and joined it prior to July Election (like Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan, Ghulam Bibi Bharwana, Tehmina Dasti, Syeda Zehra Basit Bokhari), but unlike other parties, PTI not only gave ticket to new female faces like Flight Lt Mussarat Shah, Nargis Naz and Ghazala Hussain but also took a bold move by selecting women in tough constituencies like PK-10 Upper Dir and Larkana, where even to mobilize female voter is a daunting task. The reluctance of leadership, while allocating tickets to women is because of two prominent reasons; first the process of electioneering is itself patriarchal; second it involve considerable monetary and human support, which in Pakistani culture is absent for women unless she has influential political background. This situation will not improve unless women are empowered with financial independence, accompanied by higher education and occupation. In this situation, it is important to praise courageous women like, Ali Begum Khan (only woman to contest for NA-46 from Kurram Agency, against 23 men candidates) and Hamida Ali Hazara (contesting for PB-26 from Jamhoori Watan Party and known as Hazara community rights activist), who are challenging all types of handicaps, ranging from socio-economic to political.
Secondly, to encourage more women in politics, political parties need to invest in them, realising that female members of party have full potential to contest elections even on general seats. While even nominating on reserved seats, experienced legislators should be a choice of a party, instead of considering sister, mothers, wives and daughters of party loyalists. For this political parties should devise a mechanism of supporting their female candidates, in case they need financial help.
Third, women political mobilisation does not only signify their representation at legislative chamber but it also reside in their vibrant participation in election campaign. There are areas in Pakistan like Dhurnal (a village in Chakwal district of Punjab), Jahan Khan (15 kilometres to the south of Sahiwal city), Devidas Pura (situated between Gojra and Toba Tek Singh) and Khungi Bala (Lower Dir), where still women are struggling for their basic right to vote. As I hinted above that Election Act 2017 has made it mandatory that every constituency should have 10% women voters to be declared as a valid election, there are chances that the socio-religious card would not be used anymore to bar women from voting. May be as a consequence, but it is encouraging that Mutihidda Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) itself has also allocated tickets to 13 female candidates for direct National Assembly seats and often quoted at rallies for their encouraging remarks regarding female participation.
Concluding, there is a hope that 2018 election will set new patterns on country’s political landscape, bringing more women to polling booths and electing maximum female legislators on general seats, so that the half of total population could have a voice in policy making of the country.
The writer is Assistant Professor Political Science Department at Forman Christian College University Lahore.