It is indeed shocking that most political parties in lower Dir in the NWFP have decided not to field women candidates for the local bodies by-elections scheduled toward the end of this month.
Citing “cultural reasons” for their decision, these parties, which include the Jamaat-i-Islami and the PPP, have said that they would not allow women to cast votes on polling day.
In the past, too, pressure tactics have been adopted to prevent women from filing nomination papers. The result is that only six out of the 136 seats reserved for women in the district are currently occupied while the rest have been lying vacant.
While the NWFP is generally regarded as a conservative region, it is a crying shame that even those parties that otherwise have broad-based support all over the country have colluded with rightwing elements to take such a retrogressive step.
Their blinkered vision does not allow them to see that, by disenfranchising women and discouraging them from participating in politics they are, in effect, depriving half the population of its constitutional rights.
Some of these political parties pride themselves on their “liberal” values, and they have women office-bearers in their hierarchy, and women representatives in the Senate and the National Assembly.
For them to side with politicians whose outlook on the empowerment of women can only be termed primitive is indeed reprehensible. One hopes that the central leaderships of these parties will make their Dir branches take back this decision.
While the deadline for filing nomination papers is nearly over, the Election Commission must take serious notice of what is happening in lower Dir and elsewhere in the province.
It must also call upon the government to take stern action against those who are obstructing women from taking part in the forthcoming polls. Meanwhile, the government would do well to form a committee with the task of looking into the grievances of women who are being actively prevented by religious and tribal elements from participating in the local government elections.