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Parties scramble to woo women voters

By: Zulfiqar Ali

PESHAWAR: The secular as well as religious political parties have undertaken focused campaigns to win support of women voters in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, trying to improve their prospects in the next general elections, according to sources.

The move is being seen, on the part of political activists, as a measure to facilitate women empowerment in a province that is known for its tribal conservativeness and a traditional society.

The Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam has also joined the fray with Awami National Party, Pakistan People’s Party, Jamaat-i-Islami, Pakistan Muslim League, and Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf, focusing on bringing women supports into its fold.

Breaking away from their past, ANP, which did not have a separate women wing and JUI-F, a religious outfit previously opposed to women’s role in active politics, have established their separate chapters for women members.

Both the parties held polls to elect office-bearers of their recently set up women wings.

Other major political parties including PPP, PML, JI and PTI have already set up women wings and enrolled thousands of women as their members.

The structure and outlook of JUI-F conservative, so it has not allowed women till 2002 to set up separate wing for themselves. Like other religious parties JUI-F was against rule of women and had a stance that female could not become head of state.

But after landmark victory of Mutahidda Majlis-i-Amal (MMA) in 2002 general elections, the party introduced its women members for the first time in parliamentary politics and got elected its candidates on reserved seats in National and provincial assemblies.

Presently, according to the party sources, about 100,000 females have been enrolled as its basic members.

The female office-bearers have now got separate office at the JUI provincial headquarters in Peshawar where they conduct meetings and organise programmes. The party is likely to elect its office-bearers for the provincial office after Ramazan for second term.

Presently former MPA Naeema Kishwar from Peshawar has been appointed convener of the women wing. She said that training workshops for female workers were being held at the district level across the province to create political awareness among them.

JUI provincial spokesman Abdul Jalil Jan said that there was no restrictions by the party on women’s participation in politics.

In fact the party did not focus on womenfolk in the past, he said.

“Time has changed. JUI has become major political force in the province winning 10 to 20 seats in the provincial assembly. It is now need of the hour to recognise role of women in politics,” he remarked, adding that after 2002 general elections it was realised to bank on the women voters in future.

The Maulana Sameeul Haq faction of JUI, one of the strong proponents of Taliban style Sharia in the country, has also softened its stand regarding women’s involvement in politics.

The Sami group’s provincial head, Maulana Yousuf Shah, said that his party was not against women participation in politics provided they worked within the ambit of Sharia. He said that like men, women had a right to take part in politics. He said that owing to some reasons his party unlike others had yet to establish separate wing for women members.

Analysts said that Provisional Constitution Order (PCO) through which women got 30 per cent seats in the National Assembly and four provincial assemblies forced those parties to bring females into practical politics.

“Participation of women in politics in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is a major development and can be an opportunity for wide empowerment of women in this region,” said M. Ilyas Khan, senior journalist in Islamabad.The former military regime of Gen (retired) Pervez Musharraf had promulgated PCO to reserve 30 per cent quota for women, which was later provided constitutional cover.

On the other hand ANP with secular posture has changed its previous policy and established a full-fledged wing for women.

Previously, according to the party leaders, ANP had no culture to set up independent wing of women because, what they said, the party did not believe in gender segregation.

The central president of ANP woman wing, Zahira Khattak, said that the party might field few women candidates on general seats in the next elections. “Some of women MNAs and MPAs of the party have worked hard in their respective constituencies and they will contest on general seats in the upcoming elections,” she said.

Ms Khattak said that ANP was not only encouraging women to take part in politics but was also educating them about their fundamental rights. “We think that level of awareness among women in the province has increased and they are raising voice for their rights,” she observed.

Source: Dawn