KHYBER AGENCY  - Tribesmen and political parties have welcomed candidature of a woman from Bajaur Agency for a national assembly seat, saying this development heralds a new era in progress and development, for a region neglected by successive governments over decades.

Badam Zari will be the first woman to contest polls from NA-44 – a tribal constituency – since the creation of Pakistan. But it is unclear if Zari could rope in women voters given the fact that their turnout in the 2008 elections in NA-45 was just five per cent.

Asked to comment on (tribal) women participation in elections, a tribal elder said it was an encouraging sign indeed, provided the tribal women were facilitated within their frame of culture to use their franchise right. He said he considered women participation in election process mandatory for development.

Afrasiab Afridi, Jamaat-e-Islami’s vice-chief for Khyber Agency, remarked his party’s ideology viewed both men and women as important ingredients as regards women participation in elections. He related Quran learning classes for men and women by his party to the subject.

“We have reservations about the prevailing political system, but we want to bring a better change without disturbing it,” Afridi said while adding, “A number of women have been elected to Parliament from Jamaat-e-Islami’s platform, and we are ready to offer all-out support to women folks willing to join politics.” Afridi however suggested that whether they took part in elections or cast vote, the tribal women should strictly adhere to the Islamic principles and tribal customs.

Sharing his views, Tawheedul Islam vice-chief Meethak Afridi expressed apprehensions over the fear evident among the tribal people, especially women, saying women were reluctant to participate in the election process because of this. He however noticed peace in most parts of Zekha Khel bazaar at this point in time. To a query, he said the Tawheedul Islam was providing assistance to remove the stumbling blocks in way of turnout of women voters on the polling day.

Haji Pervez, a Shinwari tribe chieftain, spoke in favour of participation of women in elections, saying women comprised more than half of the total population of the country’s tribal region and every possible help would be extended to ensure their contribution in the upcoming elections.

When contacted, representatives of the FAFEN (Free and Fair Election Network), which has disseminated knowledge to among tribal women regarding the impact of elections in the area, refused to comment.

The introduction of adult franchise in 1997-98 and extension of political parties act in August 2012 encouraged the tribesmen to allow women to take part in politics.