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KHYBER: Tribal customs and traditions are the main hurdle to three women candidates for general seats of provincial assembly in Khyber district as they run a restricted door-to-door campaign and focus mostly on female voters.

Shakira Shinwari, Lal Zaida and Naseem Riaz have filed their nominations for PK-69, PK-70 and PK-71, respectively, alongside 76 other male contestants for the three provincial assembly seats in Landi Kotal, Jamrud and Bara.

Shakira Shinwari and Naseem Riaz are contesting elections as independent candidates while Lal Zaida has the backing of Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf-Parliamentarians.

None of these three female candidates have so far organised any public meeting nor are their personal posters or banners anywhere in sight in their respective constituencies. Motivated by her family support and backing to try her luck in the February 8 general elections for the first time, Shakira Shinwari believes that she can be a better choice to raise voice for the legitimate rights of the otherwise political and economically deprived tribal women as all the former male lawmakers have failed to bring about a qualitative change in the life of local women.

Local elders look at participation of women in polls with sarcasm

“With my canvassing and persuasion, I also want to change the otherwise biased mentality of tribal men towards their womenfolk. Tribal men do not allow their women to get equal rights and have access to basic health and education facilities,” she told this scribe in a committed voice.

But in the same vein she acknowledged the challenges she was faced with in her electoral campaign in the male-dominated tribal society while also conceding that she herself would focus on approaching only female voters, the male members of her family would reach out to male voters as she was not able to pay visits to ’hujra and jumaath (mosque) for canvassing.

Naseem Riaz from Bara believes that concrete legislation is required for women empowerment as tribal women are lagging behind their male counterparts in this field and she is in the contest with the same objective.

“My main purpose of contesting elections is to financially empower tribal women as they are now entirely dependent on male members of their families. I will work hard for the achievement of these legitimate goals,” she told Dawn.

She said that financial empowerment of tribal women would not mean that she would be going out of her home for jobs but would rather focus on provision of profitable skills to them to make them ‘stand on their own feet’ while staying at their homes.

She was also quick to add that she had no intentions to challenge the local tribal customs. She insisted that she would rather focus on raising awareness both among tribal women and men to secure due rights for the tribal women while living a peaceful life with their families.

But her campaign too was hampered by the tribal customs and traditions as she admitted that she was approaching only female voters and had assigned the responsibility of contacting male voters to her male family members.

Both Shakira Shinwari and Naseem Riaz insisted that there was a lot to be done in improving the quality of education for tribal girls along with provision of better health facilities to local women as those were denied to them in the name of tribal customs and traditions.

Lal Zaida was yet to devise her campaign strategy and was in a ‘confused state of mind’ when she was asked about her decision to contest elections. “My focus would be on health and education” was her only reply through a male interlocutor when she was approached by this scribe to ascertain her campaign strategy and election manifesto. She is yet to make a public appearance or start approaching female voters.

Traditional tribal elders, who strongly believe in strict adherence to local traditions, looked at participation of women in the upcoming general elections with sarcasm and termed it a revolt against their authority.

“Our tribal traditions do not permit a woman to contest elections and challenge the authority of men but the current situation in tribal districts has taken such a turn that we as elders have lost control over our womenfolk as they take such vital decisions on their own,” said Malak Abdur Razzaq, a Zakhakhel elder, while indirectly referring to the abolition of the previous status of erstwhile Fata after its merger with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

These ‘harsh’ sentiments of a tribal elder were, however, rejected by Turab Ali, a young social activist, who insisted that tribal women deserved to be equally represented in the parliament as they constituted half of the region’s population.

He said that with no representation in the assemblies, most of the issues confronted by tribal women remained unresolved as male parliamentarians were least interested in giving any attention to those longstanding problems.

Source: Dawn