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The woman factor

Women candidates and voters seem determined not to be intimidated by bomb blasts in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Karachi and elsewhere in the country

By Javed Aziz Khan

Fear grips politicians in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Women candidates contesting on party tickets or looking for a reserved seat feel threatened too. And not without reason.

On April 28 in the morning, Khurshid Begum’s supporters were busy displaying banners and posters at one of her election offices in Kacha Pakka area of the Kohat district when a powerful bomb planted just outside the office went off, killing five people and injuring many.

Khurshid is the Awami National Party’s only female candidate for National Assembly NA-14 Kohat. She was ANP’s MNA on reserved seats in the 2008 general elections.

So far, she has survived two attacks on her life in the past few months. Khurshid decided to contest election after Dilawar Shah, ANP MNA from Kohat switched loyalties.

“A female lawyer from Kohat district was making up her mind to contest polls but she stepped back due to threats,” says Khurram Zeeshan, a lawyer from district Kohat. “More women would have been contesting elections in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa had peace prevailed in the province,” believes Zeeshan.

Not only party candidates but a large number of voters, especially women, are scared of going to vote due to bleak law and order situation.

This is understandable following a series of suicide attacks and bomb blasts targeting politicians and elections rallies in Peshawar and parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Fata.

Many expect women voter turnout on May 11 polls to be low. “We have launched a campaign to increase the female turnout,” says Musarrat Qadeem, KP’s information minister, adding female cops would be deployed at women polling stations.

A total of around 100 female contestants are participating in the general polls from all over the country with over 60 per cent of them contesting independently. A total of 36 candidates are lucky enough to have got party tickets. The number of female candidates having party tickets was 34 in general elections in 2008 and 38 in 2002.

As per statistics, the Pakistan Peoples’ Party has fielded the biggest number of number of female candidates for the National Assembly. Eleven women are contesting polls on the PPP’s ticket while in the previous election the number was 15.

Muttahida Qaumi Movement has fielded seven women candidates. Pakistan Muslim League-Q has fielded four female candidates. Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf has allotted party tickets to five women while Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz has fielded seven female candidates for the general elections. The nationalist ANP has fielded three women to contest elections on general seats.

“Apart from Khurshid Begum, Irum Fatima is contesting on the ticket of the ANP for a provincial assembly seat from Haripur while Nayyar Sultana has been fielded from Karachi to contest for a Sindh Assembly seat,” informs Khushal Khattak, member of ANP’s media cell.

Ameer Haider Khan Hoti, ANP’s senior leader and former chief minister KP, has been challenged by a female PPP candidate, Shazia Aurangzeb, from NA-9 Mardan.

Actress-turned-politician, Musarrat Shaheen, is contesting against Maulana Fazlur Rahman from NA-24, Dera Ismail Khan.

Actress Meera also announced last month that she was contesting against Imran Khan from NA-126 Lahore. Later, she withdrew and announced that her mother, Shafqat Zara Bukhari, is contesting for PP-283 Haroonabad and that she will be her supporter.

Besides new faces, a number of prominent female politicians are in the run for the upcoming general elections. These include former speaker of National Assembly, Dr Fahmida Mirza, who is contesting from her constituency in Badin while sisters of President Asif Ali Zardari — Faryal Talpur and Dr Azra Pechuho, are trying their luck from Larkana and Nawabshah.

Former federal minister, Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan, is in the race from Sialkot. Samina Khalid Ghurki is contesting from Lahore. Sumaira Malik is trying her luck from Khushab. Tehmina Daultana is contesting from Vehari. Bhutto family’s daughter-in-law, Ghinwa Bhutto, is also trying her luck.

Twelve women are contesting for 35 National Assembly seats in KP but only five of them have managed to get party tickets. Statistics show that around 60 women are contesting for 148 National Assembly seats from Punjab, 30 for 61 slots in Sindh, three women are in the run for 15 seats from Balochistan while one woman is in the contest from Fata.

None of the daughters of heads of political parties are in the run for national or provincial assembly seats. Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz leader and former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s daughter, Maryam Nawaz Sharif, was very much expected to enter the National Assembly from a seat in Lahore but she decided to stay away from polls at the eleventh hour.

Maryam is actively spearheading the campaign of her father and other PML-N candidates in Lahore by addressing rallies and supervising activities of youth and women voters.

Bringing out women voters to vote in rural and suburban areas is a tough job. There are around 37 million female voters all over the country with ten million women still unregistered.

It’s quite shocking to know that only 90 women out of the total 59,177 registered female voters polled their votes in by-election in Shangla district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in January 2011. The record shows that the in last general elections not a single vote was polled at 564 female polling stations, over 50 per cent of which were in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Things have started improving though with three successive elections since 2002. Women are not only contesting polls from urban constituencies but some have broken the tribal barriers and have opted for direct elections for the first time in history.

Badam Zari, wife of a school teacher from Bajaur, is a history-maker for becoming the first ever female contesting elections from NA-44 Bajaur Agency, Pakistan’s tribal areas.

There are 186,000 voters in NA-44 out of which 67,000 are women. Another woman, Nusrat Begum, has filed nomination papers from NA-34 from Dir Lower while Gulana Bibi wanted to contest polls from Tank.

Tank and Dir are settled districts of KP but many women were not even allowed to cast their votes till previous elections. The security situation has forced Gulana Bibi to withdraw her papers. Nusrat Begum, once district vice president of Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf who had applied for a party ticket that she was not allotted, is still in the run.

There is still some hope. “Female voters who were not coming out of their homes to cast vote for male candidates have promised me to come out in my favour,” says Nusrat Begum. Her spouse Karim Khan is a watchman and the poor family resides in a small two-room mud house in Warsak village in Adnezai sub division of Dir Lower.

A female journalist from Peshawar, Anila Shaheen, is also hoping that female voters will come out of their homes to cast their votes in her favour. “My Chamkani town has 22,000 votes. I have encouraged women in rural towns to come out as they can change the results.”

Anila, who had to leave her job with a national news channel to contest polls from NA-4 Peshawar, tells The News on Sunday that she has not applied for any party ticket and has preferred to contest independently.

“There are threats but I have arranged for my own security. My brothers, brothers-in-law and uncles are taking care of me as I haven’t asked for police security,” says Anila, who is contesting from the most troubled constituency of the country.

She has probably gained confidence by contesting elections of the Khyber Union of Journalists that she won to become the first ever female general secretary of the largest journalist body of the KP.

“I am receiving a warm welcome everywhere I go in my constituency. I just attended a big rally of women in Maryamzai area after visiting my voters in Matani, Badaber, Shiekhan and other areas,” says Anila. She is optimistic of her success even against mighty candidates like former MNA and Jamat-e-Islami candidate, Sabir Hussain Awan, Awami National Party’s Arbab Ayub Jan, and Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf’s Gulzar Khan.

The writer is senior reporter at The News Peshawar and can be contacted at javedaziz1@gmail.com and followed on Twitter @JavedAzizKhan

Source: The News

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