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Breaking the chains: Women take charge across political landscape

KARACHI: In retrospect, May 11 was far from perfect.

Yet, May 11 was also about newfound optimism, clearly illustrated by the unprecedented number of urban women who voted, campaigned and volunteered, despite the gross mismanagement, the uncooperative weather and the risky business of being part of what are being seen as the country’s most important elections. The following protests against alleged rigging in elections that now seem to have cooled down also saw women in the forefront – strong, opinionated and defiant.

Not just political awakening

Yet, it is not just the political process that has seen women in the forefront. Women activists, forever the needed noise-makers of civil society, have always been part of the change.

“I think the credit for mobilizing women in Pakistan goes to nothing but the situation. When oppression and troubles reach this level, women know that they have no option but to step up. Pakistani women have now broken the shackles,” says Asma Zafar, Manger Institutional Support, Institute for Development Studies & Practices (IDSP). Currently, she is working on empowering women from Balochistan’s troubled areas who have migrated to Karachi, which is Asma’s way of being part of the conflict-resolution process in Pakistan.

The catalyst for change

It seems the women of Pakistan are taking ownership in the country’s walk towards betterment. As Asma said, the bad situation is bringing out the best in women. And when it comes to political awareness, many women give several reasons for this, amongst which Imran Khan tops the list.

“In Karachi, we finally saw another face of the urban woman, a new consciousness,” says Uzma Noorani, council member of the Women’s Action Forum and member of the Sindh National Commission on the Status of Women. “For the first time, I saw a class of people, those who previously just sat in their drawing rooms, come out and get involved.”

Durdana Haidri, a Karachi housewife from NA-250 who voted after a gap of many years, agrees with Noorani. “There certainly is a newfound consciousness within me, and among my friends,” she says in a strong voice. “I think women finally realized that a sink or swim situation was upon us. If we didn’t go out to vote, didn’t do something, we would drown.”

Amna Malik, a young consultant who has recently relocated to Islamabad from Canada, also credits Imran for the increased activism of women.

“Imran attracts a certain class of Pakistanis who, before today, had been disillusioned enough by the system to have excluded themselves from it completely,” she says. “Most people only need something to believe in order to be mobilized enough.”

This view is reiterated by Noorani. “PTI really stirred the urban elite and the middle class,” she says, adding that the ECP also played a positive role.

Not just the PTI

Fatima*, a beautician from NA-252, says Imran had nothing to do with her decision to become a polling agent for the first time. “Everyone is talking about the PTI, but we volunteered because the Majlis-e-Wahdat-ul-Muslimeen (MWM) needed us. There were no PTI lady workers visible in our area at all,” she reveals.

Meanwhile, although Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) worker Shahida Ghafoor admits that Imran’s campaigning can largely be credited for the shift, she is quick to point out that female MQM supporters have been actively working for many years.
“I’ve been volunteering since the 1980s,” claims Ghafoor. “Our party, the MQM, has always encouraged the inclusion of women. This is nothing new to us.”

Guarded Optimism

Talking of the electoral process, Noorani says “The process was flawed in many ways, and many women in Dir and other areas were disenfranchised. However, let’s not forget that we saw history in the making, and let’s move forward from here. Women have come out in large numbers with a clear mandate: They want democracy to sustain, they don’t want interventions. This is a very strong, very powerful message.”

Source: The Express Tribune

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